Best Hiking at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is one of that epic north shore parks you have to visit. What I didn’t realize is how much hiking there is to do. Most visitors stop at the lighthouse and go no further. They are missing out on so much! Here are some of the best hiking at Split Rock Lighthouse and other things to see.
It took two attempts but we made it to Split Rock Lighthouse’s Hiking Club Trail Password. Our first attempt was during winter and we were assured the password was accessible. It probably was but it would have us tackling Bob’s Staircase and we followed the Hiking Club Trail signs instead of the winter map. It sent us straight uphill on an ungroomed trail. On the coldest day of the year, we gave up.
This time we decided to try it in Fall. If you follow Explore MN Fall color tracker, you can almost guarantee the best time to hike. Sometimes that means having to make some last-minute hiking plans to catch the window. Unfortunately for us, we had some prior obligations during peak colors but decided to go anyway after the peak. There were still plenty of fall vibes to enjoy.
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Split Rock Lighthouse State Park Hiking Club Trail
Miles: 5.8 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 170.6 miles
The Hiking Club Trail at Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the best views of the coast. I’m not sure how many people actually do it either. I’m kind of shocked. Most people stop by to see the Lighthouse. While it is beautiful with a unique history, they are missing out on a big part of the state park.
When it comes to hiking club trails over four miles, we have a rule in our family, save it for cooler months. Seriously, you don’t want to be sweating your butt off on a longer hike or being eaten alive. Fall is definitely the sweet spot for Hiking at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
Pebble Beach & Little Two Harbors
Starting out at the parking lot, the first thing you’ll find is Pebble Beach. This stunning area has a quick staircase leading to the beach. There are plenty of good skipping stones used on a calm day.
You’ll also be able to see Split Rock Lighthouse from there. The calm waters make it a great spot to drop a Kayak or Paddle Board. We even saw a few people doing it last winter. Or dip your toes in for a quick cool-off.
Just next to Pebble Beach is Little Two Harbors. You’ll recognize it by Ellingson Island just offshore. During the winter when it ices over, it is accessible. Though I’m not sure I’d ever recommend walking the ice on Lake Superior.
Little Two Harbors was the site of a small fishing village in the early 20th century. There are still remnants of this time.
Nearby you’ll also find picnic tables and a shelter. From personal experience, if you drive up early morning from the Twi Cities, you’ll arrive just about lunchtime. This is a great place to have lunch before you start you hiking.
Want to get up close and personal with Split Rock Lighthouse? Our first summer on the North Shore we stopped in and was surprised to find it costs! Since then I’ve been sharing my favorite tips to see Split Rock Lighthouse without breaking the bank. Make sure to check them out!
One of the best campsites on Minnesota’s North Shore is Split Rock Lighthouse Campground. Until recently this was the only campground at the park. They are all cart-in or backpack sites. With 10 sites along the shoreline, it’s hard to have a bad one. There are another 9 sites in the campground on the other side of the trail.
One thing I liked about that hiking club trail is that you go through the Cart-in Sites, getting a chance to scope your favorite spot. For the record, it’s spot 11.
In 2022 they opened up Spiwrek Creek Campground which opens the door to car camping, with back-in sites. There are 46 sites with parking pads at least 70 feet long. This is great for travel trailer owners. The only downside is there is no dump station or water fill-up.
The north shore is littered with epic staircases. Split Rock is no expectation. The most well know staircase is probably next to Split Rock Lighthouse on the tram route. What I wasn’t expecting was to find one on the hiking club trail.
Known as Bob’s Staircase, this epic staircase was first brought to my attention when I was in the car on the way to the park. I like to troll Facebook Groups and see other hikers’ pics to know what I’m getting myself into.
Almost every person made sure to include the stairs so I knew it was probably part of the hiking club trail. I made sure to leave that part off to the rest of the carload of less enthusiastic hikers!
The staircase has over 174 steps. Thankfully we were going down. The staircase is on a fairly steep grade and there is a portion that levels out before going back up.
Pro Tip: Park by Pebble Beach, and go clockwise, following the shoreline if you want to go down the stairs.
Corundum Mining Operation
If there’s one thing I’ve found hiking at MN State Parks, there is so much history that is often overlooked. Hiking at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is no expectation.
Back in 1901, a Duluth prospector named Ed Lewis thought he discovered Corundum. This was a valuable stone used in grinding wheels and sandpaper. Its discovery led to the 3M’s formation and mining in Minnesota. By 1904 the North Shore Abrasive Company began to mine the point.
They soon after found out that it wasn’t corundum, but a softer mineral called anorthosite. They closed up the operation pretty quickly and in 1908 a fire destroyed the mine. Today you can still see the foundations of the shaft off the spur trail.
Gitchi-Gami State Trail
On the back half of the hiking club trail, you venture on the Gitchi-Gami State Traill. This paved portion is a multi-use trail but is most commonly used for bikers. The Gitchi-Gami State Trail is a bike trail, currently complete in different sections, but one day will stretch the entire length of the North Shore.
The longest paved section of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail runs through Split Rock Lighthouse. The trail runs from Gooseberry Falls, through Split Rock, and ends in the city of Silver Bay. Parking is available at the Trail Center in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park or in the lower picnic area lot at Gooseberry Falls State Park.
The Split Rock section of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail was absolutely beautiful. We loved getting a reason to explore it. And truthfully it was nice to be on a flat section for a little bit without worrying about mud.
The Gitch-Gami State Trail also connects to Gooseberry Falls. It’s a great place to hike as well. Check out these hikes: Gooseberry Falls Trails | Hiking to Fifth Falls
Day Hill Hike
If you want to see Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, the best place is Day Hill. Behind the cart-in campground, you’ll find a trail taking you straight up an area of volcanic rock. The hike is short but is a great spur trail from the Hiking Club Trail. From the top, you can see the Lighthouse, Corundum Point, and of course plenty of the state park.
The most prominent feature of Day Hill is the mysterious stone fireplace high on the hilltop. The park has speculated as to why the fireplace is there and who built it.
According to legend is that it was built by Frank Day, who built it for his fiance. He was planning on building a home up there for them with the fireplace as the first feature. When the wedding was called off, he gave up on the idea.
Day Hill is a fun hike we had to do while we were there. While I admit it was a bit of a climb, mostly because we saved it for last, it was a special view. For people staying at the campground, it’s the best place to see the sunrise over Lake Superior.
When we climbed the top of the hill, we found some amazing crystalize ice crystals on the trail. Just another fun find hiking in the fall.
And the password is?
Haha, nice try. In 2021-early 2022 it was reported that the password sign was damaged. Thankfully a new one was put up and it’s visible. It’s at a bend in the trail so people going clockwise could miss it as it’s more parallel to the trail. If you are going counterclockwise, as the hiking club trail signs lead you, it should be staring you in the face. Otherwise, happy hunting!
Other Hiking at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park?
The other hiking trial you must do is the Split Rock River Loop from the DOT wayside parking lot just south of the State Park’s entrance. Start off at the wayside parking just south of the state park.
Take the spur trail a half mile, following along split rock creek. At the first waterfall, you’ll then jump onto the superior hiking trail.
Then you’ll head over the bridge and back around when it connects with the Miners Logging Trail. The trail connects with the Gitchi-Gami Trail and loops back to the parking lot. The entire loop is 5 miles.
Aside from the waterfalls, the trail has some red rhyolite rock towers. These are near the park’s boundaries. These towers look like they could have been one rock, split down the center.
The wayside parking doesn’t require a state park pass, so you could technically see the park without having a permit. From there, take the underpass to the Gitchi-Gami State Trail and onto the Corundum Mine Trial and you’re back on the hiking club trail.
Curious about what the park looks like in winter? Is it worth a drive? I’d say so, but check out these pictures to confirm for yourself!
Would I do more Hiking at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park Again?
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is a beautiful place to hike. The hiking club trail is well-maintained. You’re bound to see many people on the trail with you, but plenty of opportunities to have your quiet time in the park.
I highly recommend hiking at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park again. After completing the hike, I’m not sure we could have tackled Bob’s Staircase in Winter. There are plenty of places to explore!
Want more ideas on things to do on the North Shore? There are so many great travel books on the subject. Here are some of my favorites: 10 of the Best Minnesota Travel Guides Every Day Tripper Needs