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There are a few things that stood out as ‘must do’s’ while we were visiting Duluth, Minnesota. From their iconic lift bridge to their hidden hiking trails that are just off the beaten path.
There are so many things to do in Duluth MN it’s hard to keep my list down to just 28. It’s no wonder so many people like to head up to Duluth for a Day Trip or even a weekend getaway from Minneapolis.
The entire family has a great time when we go up to Duluth, either for a day trip o when we stay along the north shore. The summer months tend to get the most love, but I actually enjoy winter there better!
Fewer crows and the epic ice formations along Lake Superior. Some of the best things include finding hidden areas not many people know about. After 5 years of blogging, I’m finally sharing my family’s list of fun things to do in Duluth MN.
Why Duluth MN as your Families Weekend Getaway?
When people from Minneapolis always ask, where should I go this weekend, the first place I think of I Duluth MN. It’s the perfect day trip location or weekend getaway.
Sitting alongside one of the biggest great lakes, there are so many Duluth attractions it was hard to keep my list to only 28.
In trying to keep the list filled with non-seasonal festivals like the Bentleyville Tours of Lights and universally appealing, sorry Duluth Children’s Museum, there are many more I could have added.
I hope you enjoy your escape from the Twin Cities and do a few of these fun attractions on your next trip to Duluth.
The Glensheen Mansion
The Glensheen Mansions is one of Duluth’s most iconic residences. That’s because it sits right along Lake Superior and has one of the most pristine gardens around.
Schedule a tour online and make sure you visit the mansion. It’s just a short drive from Canal Park.
This part of town is really quaint; homes are constructed very close together in narrow lots lined up almost like an old English village street. The Glenseen Mansion is enormous with its lake-side views and immaculate grounds.
On the tour, you’ll hear all about the history of the Congdon family, the original owners of the establishment. He was a US Attorney for the District of Minnesota and a house of Representatives for Minnesota from 1909-1913. Glensheen Mansion can be toured most days.
I was fortunate enough to go inside and I have to say it was breathtaking. I only wish it wasn’t raining or I’d have spent more time viewing the lake and grounds. This is a must-see on your visit.
This is a great tour to find out more about life in the 1900s. You’ll get to see inside many of the rooms and servant quarters. I recommend it for older families with kids 8+. If you’d like to see a little more about what a tour is like, check out Glensheen Mansion Tour | Duluth’s Downton Abbey
Canal Park in Duluth
In Duluth, Minnesota, there are many things that you can do. One of the main attractions for visitors is Canal Park. At over 700 acres, this is one of the largest public parks in the country. It is located just south of Duluth’s downtown.
The park has a lighthouse, breakwater, shopping, walking paths, museums, and much more. Canal Park is a great place to start your trip because there are so many things to see and do. There are many trails and areas you can explore.
Start off by driving to the main parking on Canal park. After you park get out and explore the great shopping. Stop at one of the two lighthouses. Watch the ships come through and the Arial Lift Bridge go up.
Get a bite to eat at Grandma’s Restaurant. When it comes to Duluth, Canal Park is the best place to start as it has something for everyone! You could easily spend the whole day here.
See a Lighthouse or all three
Duluth MN has one of the most beautiful views of the lake in the world. It’s also an amazing place to hike and explore its natural beauty. It’s also a great place to eat! And it’s a perfect place to go see the lighthouse.
The two most accessible lighthouses are right along the breakwater. One on each side of the Aerial Lift Bridge. The third one is the ruins of an old lighthouse.
Drive all the way to Minnesota Point and take a short hike to the ruins of Minnesota Point Lighthouse. It’s hidden behind a fence but is a relic of the old shipping lanes. This is one of the fun things to do in Duluth MN the whole family will love it!
Hiking in Duluth
If you’re in Duluth, Minnesota, you’ve likely noticed that it’s the perfect place to hike. The city is situated at the base of the North Shore line ridge and offers a variety of trails that take hikers through varied terrains and ecosystems.
This includes trail walks from Duluth, as well as its outskirts, where there are hiking opportunities in parks like Canal Park and Glensheen Mansion. Not only is this beautiful land perfect for outdoor adventures, but also has plenty of history to offer.
Some of my favorite hikes are hidden in the parks and have waterfalls. Pick up a copy of Waterfalls of Minnesota’s North Shore and find out some great locations you can’t miss.
Duluth is a wonderland of waterfalls in Northern Minnesota. You can experience many of them. My favorite stretch is Congdon park. There are all three easily accessible by your car. Parking on the road or in the small lots, you can see all different kinds of falls, each with its own personality.
Another great location to check out is Seven Bridges Road. All along the road are different parking spots to check out the running water. It’s not to be missed.
Enger Park and Tower
The 80-foot Enger Tower is on a site once called Grand Mountain. The park and golf course is built on lands donated by West End furniture dealer Bert Egner in 1921.
The Tower was built in his honor. Today you can stroll the park and visit the gardens and see the American-Japanese Peace Bell. It was a gift from their sister city of Ohara-Isumi.
The park is open during the summers and you can even climb up the tower. It holds one of the best views of Duluth in my personal opinion.
Swimming in Lake Superior
Looking to relax a little? Consider taking a dip in Lake Superior. There are a couple of great places to do so. My favorite is on Minnesota Point. At the end of the road is a great beach, Park Point Beach.
While most people only walk along the sandy beach there are a few that will get into Lake Superiors’ chilly waters during the summer. I have only dipped in my toes. If you aren’t in the mood for a swim, stop by the nearby park. It’s spectacular.
Only true Minnesotans will put on dry suits and brave the waters during wintertime. There is a great spot along the northern side of Duluth near the North Shore Visors center that is popular with surfers.
Aerial Lift Bridge
The Aerial Lift Bridge across the Duluth Ship Canal. Thought of as a shortcut for shopping, the bridge is the only way for people to get from the island to Duluth.
The bridge is located in downtown Duluth, Minnesota, and connects Lake Superior with the east side of Duluth. The Aerial Lift Bridge was built in 1905 and modified in 1927 and is 502ft long.
The bridge goes up almost 26 times a day and can be seen from almost any spot in Duluth. Make sure to check out the https://canalpark.com/duluth-ship-schedule/ to find out when it will go up.
You can also stop at the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center while you are there to get a peak at the schedule. There is also a pedestrian crossing spot on the bridge for those wishing to see the second lighthouse.
Canoeing or Kayaking in Duluth
When deciding to visit Duluth and Lake Superior consider taking a canoe or Kayak Tour of the water. There are so many cool parts of the city, and the best way to see it all is by water.
One of the best tour companies out there is Day Tripper of Duluth. They offer tours all along the north shore but also do a tour riverside of the Glensheen Mansion. You have to check it out.
Leif Erikson Park
Leif Erikson Park is just a short walk away from the downtown area of Duluth. The park sits along the shoreline of Lake Superior at the foot of 13th Avenue East. Directly accessible from the Lakewalk, it’s a popular local park.
Its also home to the Rose Garden. Featuring over 3,000 rose bushes and plants, a statue of Leif Erikson, and a fountain. It becomes a sought-after spot for weddings.
Looking to stay the weekend in Duluth? There are tons of places for every type of trip. From romantic waterfront, to family friendly and pet friendly accommodations. Make sure to check out: 14 Best Places to stay in Duluth MN
Lake Superior Maritime Visitors Center
The history of Duluth is intertwined with the history of the Great Lakes, and some of the most interesting places to visit are located in our region. Our city has a rich maritime heritage, and one of the best places to get close to it is at Lake Superior Maritime Visitors Center.
Visitors will learn how Duluth became a major port town, and how visitors and locals alike enjoyed spending time on Lake Superior in the 19th century.
The center has been housed at the old post office since 2004 but has since been renovated and expanded. A new addition includes an interactive exhibit that showcases early 20th-century life on Lake Superior during “the Golden Age of Transportation” with vintage “steamboats” that traveled between Duluth and Milwaukee.
Walk along Duluth’s Lakewalk
Lakewalk is something I’ve already brought up a few times, that’s because it connects everything. The Lakewalk is a 7.25 mile walking trail in Duluth, Minnesota.
It starts at the Bayfront Festival Park and ends just past Lester Park. The paved trail runs along the shoreline of Lake Superior.
The trail passes through several neighborhoods and offers nice views of Lake Superior. From this trial, you can see a bunch of the items on the list.
It passes by the Lift Bridge, the Boardwalk, Shopping, Leif Erickson Park and Rose Garden, and the Edgewater Resort.
Lake Superior Zoo
Lake Superior Zoo is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Duluth. The zoo offered us a unique and fun way to spend our day. It’s located in the heart of Lake Superior, a few miles north of downtown.
The building itself is very unique. You’re not going to find anything like it in other zoos or big cities, or even nature parks or botanical gardens. Its a built-in steep ravine that runs right through the center of the park, providing a stunning view of Lake Superior.
We saw a huge variety of animals wandering around, from polar bears to wolves. This zoo has the trifecta of Lions and Tigers and Bears. Always the sign for me of a good zoo.
They have a variety of different enclosures and zone. It reminded me of the small zoo experience from We Bought a Zoo. It’s definitely a lot more intimate than the bigger zoos.
I really enjoyed getting to experience this zoo as part of my trip exploring Duluth MN. It’s definitely worth your time! If you love animals then you have no reason not to visit this place . . . especially if you live anywhere near Duluth MN. It truly is an amazing experience.
North Shore Scenic Railroad
The North Shore Scenic Railroad (NSSR) is a traveling railroad museum and tourist attraction located in Duluth, Minnesota. The NSRS is operated by the Duluth Foundation, which has been operating since its inception in 1971.
The NSRS has a fleet of historic steam locomotives and diesel-powered locomotives that are used to transport visitors on train rides through the Great Lakes Region.
The most popular ride is the scenic train ride taking passengers on the Duluth Zephyr, a 75 minute round trip ride up the North Shore.
They also have a Two Harbors Full day excursion. Trains run during Summer and Fall and fill up fast. Make sure to reserve a time if you plan on heading up there.
Great Lakes Aquarium
We’ve all heard it – the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” The same goes for museums, aquariums, and nature reserves. You can’t just walk in and expect to see anything you want to see.
Located on Canal Park it opened in 2000 with a state-of-the-art three-story building. It features animals and habitats found within the Great Lakes basin and other freshwater ecosystems.
Aquarium houses 205 different species of fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. It’s one of only a few aquariums that focuses only on freshwater species.
Brighton Beach in Duluth is the perfect place to spend a day with your family. The beach is wide and sandy, the water is clear and cold, and there are plenty of places to get food and drinks.
It’s also easy to find parking, so you can spend all day without feeling rushed. This is a great relaxing place along the north shore of Lake Superior.
Spirit Mountain Adventure Park
On the outskirts of Duluth, High on the hill before you even get to the city is Spirit Mountain. Know to many in winter as the Ski area, it offers fun year-round.
During winter, people come from near and far to go on the mountain’s second largest vertical drop in the Midwest. For those that don’t want skies or snowboards stuck to their feet, there is also snow tubing.
Stay at one of the slop-side loggings designed for ski-in/out adventure. Or take part in one of their races. They even have an area for fat biking on the hill.
During the summertime go mountain biking, or disk golfing’s. Stay onside at their campground. You can join in on their adventure park’s timber twister alpine slide. They also have a seated zip ride and chairlifts. Seriously, you need to check it out the next time you are in Duluth.
Skyline Parkway is a river gorge forested parkway that runs through Duluth, Minnesota. The parkway is a popular destination for hiking, biking, as well as other outdoor activities.
The trail features several excellent viewpoints and overlooks along its length, including views of Lake Superior and downtown Duluth.
A few places you need to stop along the drive is the Thompson hill Travel Information Center, Enger Park, Twin Ponds, Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, Seven Bridges Road, and Kitchi Gammi Park.
Love hiking? MN has some great state parks close by to continue the adventure. Check out:
Gooseberry Falls Trails | Hiking to Fifth Falls
Jay Cooke State Park Hiking Club Trail: Swinging Bridge, Waterfalls and more
If you live in Minnesota, you may have already heard about Lester Park. Lester Park offers a great place for a hike. It’s around 2 miles from downtown Duluth, so it will take about an hour for the entire loop.
The grounds will be beautiful with flowers blooming everywhere. There’s even a picnic area if you want to rest your feet on the grass and enjoy some food or drink.
The park has waterfalls, boardwalks and tunnels along with 9 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails. The park at the bottom of Seven Bridges, Road. It is truly a gem of Duluth that you don’t want to miss.
S.S. William A Irvin Museum
The S.S William A Irvin Museum tells the story of how one man’s dream became an American reality. S.S. William A Irving has carried iron ore and coal for over 40 years through the storms of Lake Superior.
Today you can walk on board and tour the flagship of the US Steels Great Lakes Fleet. The ship is an icon within Duluth.
In October the S.S. William A Irving Museum becomes a haunted attraction.
Hawk Ridge Observatory
The 26.5-mile Hawk Ridge Trek from Duluth is a must-do hiking trail in the middle of Minnesota. The best time to head out to the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory during their migration is to see more great birds.
It’s a trail that gets you away from the city and really puts you in touch with nature. The hike takes you through wooded areas, and to the top of Hawk Ridge. In Duluth, we can see this mountain like a beacon for those that live here.
The trail is mostly hilly and becomes more challenging as you go further into the woods after a few miles. There are several ways to reach the trail: From Lake Street, take Quarry Rd (the dirt road), which leads directly to Hawk Ridge Rd (the gravel road). From North Shore Drive, take Hwy 61 West or East and follow signs for Hawksnest Trail.
From Lake Street, take Quarry Road which leads directly to Hawk Ridge Road (the gravel road).
The Duluth Depot
The Duluth Depot is the main center of activity in Duluth. It has attractions for everyone. The Depot was built by the Minnesota Northern Pacific Railroad in 1885 to replace the original depot on Lake Street at the foot of downtown Duluth.
The Depot is owned by the city of Duluth and operated as a public park. The Depot has so much to see and do inside, including interactive exhibits and the chance to hop on a train.
The entire museum includes the Duluth Art Institute, Duluth Playhouse, Lake Superior Railroad Museum, North Shore Scenic Railroad, and the St Louis Historical Society.
One of the spaces is free, while others have admission. While I love exploring everything there the most memorable part was the Tran Museum. With full-size trains parked in the deep, you can jump on board and explore.
Watch Grandmas Marathon
The Grandma’s Marathon is a community-run event that celebrates the spirit of motherhood and provides families a way to bond while spending time outdoors.
This annual event helps improve the health and well-being of people by promoting fitness and raising funds for local charities. Starting in 1977, Grandmas Marathon is an iconic tradition.
Held every year in June, the course runs point to point from the city of Two Harbors along the old scenic 61 and continues on to Duluth.
If you are curious about how long the route is, (26.2 miles) you can drive it. Drive up to Two Harbors and turn onto the old scenic route. Shortly after turning on you’ll see the mile markers painted on the road. I shake my head every time we drive it in disbelief that people can run this.
Willard Munger State Trail stretches 70 miles between Hinkley and Duluth. This trail passes by three MN State Parks; Jay Cooke State Park, Moose Lake State Park and Banning State Park. Enjoy some of the great northern woods. During the Winter Months, Cross Country Skiers and Snowmobilers take advantage of the trails.
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
Located in Canal Park, the Rock Mountain Chocolate Factory has created Duluth’s favorite caramel apples, homemade fudge and more.
While this is a franchise, as we don’t have Rocky Mountains in MN, they still make the most inciting fine chocolates using traditional methods.
Watch as chocolatiers make up the company’s signature piece, the bear, a paw-sized concoction of chewy Carmel, roasted nuts coated in chocolate. Let your nose lead you right to the store.
Edgewater Hotel and Waterpark in Duluth
The hotel is located in the center of it all, right on the shores of Lake Superior and is definitely kid-friendly! The hotel boasts a full-blown water park, picnic areas, an arcade, and pet-friendly rooms.
It’s an ideal place for families who want to enjoy waterparks and other family-friendly attractions near their hotel.
During the summer they have Free outdoor miniature golf, firepits, and free bicycle use. Get some coffee at the shop or stop in at Tiki Tom’s Grill.
The Edgewater Hotel offers many amenities people are looking for when searching for a place to stay in Duluth or any other destination on Lake Superior.
If you’re looking for something different than your typical hotel, look no further than the Edgewater Hotel. Its location is one of its biggest draws and why so many people choose this little gem on Lake Superior as their vacation home.
Tavern on the Hill
Looking for a nice sit-down restaurant that you don’t have to dress up for but won’t break the budget? I was so excited to find Tavern on the Hill. This restaurant has great locally sourced food.
With wood-fired pizza and seasonal bites. They are right next to the university of Duluth Campus. There is a great outdoor patio to relax at. My favorite part was it wasn’t in downtown Duluth so you don’t have to worry about finding parking.
I could not do a post about the best places to visit without mentioning my husband’s favorite stop, Coney Island. This place has its own unique no-frills charm. Located in downtown Duluth, the restaurants serve coney does and Gyros. The first time my husband mentioned it to me I was a little skeptical.
But they’ve been doing this since 1928. They have a no-frills menu with the prices to match. You have to give them a try.
There are more family-friendly things to do in Duluth MN than just this
Duluth is the gateway to Minnesota’s North Shore. There are so many more things to do along there if you want to keep driving, like Grand Marais, Gooseberry Falls State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Grand Portage. If you like the area, I highly recommend taking a North Shore Scenic Drive.
I like many others often will drive right through it on to other adventures, but it really deserves its own weekend. Make sure to get up there during the summer. Or Winter!