Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

This Stunning Minnesota Landmark Has Sinking Ship and Storms to Thank

That haunting fog spilling over Lake Superior’s icy waters? It’s the same mesmerizing force that once caused dozens of shipwrecks, prompting the construction of Split Rock Lighthouse. This imposing beacon has guided vessels for over a century – and today lets you experience its dramatic history for yourself, without paying a fortune.

Split Rock Lighthouse in MN was built after a storm in 1905 that sank and damaged 29 ships that they put up Split Rock Lighthouse in Minnesota.

Today you can visit the light station on the shore of Lake Superior. Find out what makes this such a popular destination, all without breaking the bank.

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Split Rock Lighthouse in MN

The quick details

Location: 3713 Split Rock Lighthouse Rd. Two Harbors, MN 55616
Cost: $12 for Adults, $8 for Students (5-17), and Kids 4 and under are free. Ground Pass is $8
Open: April 30 – October 24th
More Info

Why the need for a lighthouse at Split Rock?

One of the deadliest storms on record in the Great Lakes region, the Lake Superior storm of November 27-28, 1905 killed more than 60 people and wrecked more than 20 vessels.

The storm was caused by a deep low-pressure system that formed over Ontario, Canada, and moved across Lake Superior. The storm was so powerful that it split a lighthouse in half and destroyed many ships.

The closest one is the Medeira’s. It crashed 75 miles from Split Rock on Gold Rock Point. The shipwreck is still visible to paddlers.

Getting to Split Rock Lighthouse

To reach Split Rock Lighthouse, take Highway 61 along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

The lighthouse is about 20 miles northeast of Two Harbors. You can reach it by taking a short hike from the parking lot.

The scenic drive on Highway 61 offers breathtaking views of the lake and is a popular tourist destination. 

Why is Split Rock Lighthouse famous?

They put Split Rock Lighthouse into service in July 1910. When the lighthouse was first built, it was only accessible by boat.

The lighthouse keepers and their families all lived on the grounds. Since there was no way to easily get to the house, they brought all the fuel up with a hoist system over the cliffs.

In 1915, they constructed a tram from the shoreline to bring up the supplies. This made for a little easier access to the lighthouse.

In 1934, they completed the road to the lighthouse, and they could now get their supplies directly from Duluth.

These unique methods of transportation created a variety of different overlooks to see the North Shore lighthouse.

The accessibility to Split Rock Lighthouse has made it one of the most photographed locations in Minnesota. It is also why it’s the fifth most visited State Park in Minnesota.

The lighthouse is currently managed by the Minnesota Historical Society.

You can take tours at Split Rock Lighthouse every 20 minutes and watch a short film about its history.

You are also welcome to explore the grounds on your own.

Bring your high-quality camera for this one. I used our Canon Rebel Series. Then on to a guided tour or opt to explore the grounds on your own.

For more great lighthouses in Minnesota, you can see for free, check out: 10 of the Most Picturesque Lighthouses in Minnesota

Split Rock Lighthouse MN Two Harbors Close Up

Split Rock Lighthouse Keeper

Light inside Lighthouse

Can you go inside Split Rock Lighthouse?  

Split Rock Lighthouse is one of only a few Lighthouses in Minnesota to explore. You can go inside both the fog signal building and find out exactly how the light beacon works.

My kids loved getting to climb up the stairs and see the light at the top of the house. It was a steep climb, so hang on to your little ones. The fog signal building is also open to visitors.

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Does Split Rock Lighthouse cost money?

Do you have to pay to see Split Rock Lighthouse?  Visitors who want to explore the on-site museum and climb the lighthouse tower will need to pay a fee of $8.

The Split Rock Light Station also includes other historic buildings that visitors can tour for an additional fee. 

Where is the best view of Split Rock Lighthouse?

If you want to get the classic Split Rock Lighthouse photo from the coastline, be prepared to climb. They have built steps along the former tram route, allowing visitors to hike down to the shoreline.

This is where you get the iconic photographs of Split Rock Lighthouse.

Once you get down there, you will have an amazing view. My daughter took this opportunity to get all kinds of pictures of the water and rocks. Not one picture of the Lighthouse itself. Oh, well.

One other great stop to photograph is Gold Rock Point. It is along the shoreline north of the lighthouse.

Don’t forget these 28+ Stops on Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive Hwy 61

Stairs to Split Rock Light House

Take your time down there because it’s 171 steps to get back to the top. Bring a water bottle!

It’s not until you have climbed 56 steps back up, staring at the 115 more steps in front of you that you wonder why haven’t they put the tram back in operation. It would make things so much easier.

The good news is, they have an overlook with a view of the lighthouse and Lake Superior there where you can take a break.

I recommend if you think the steps will be too much, only go to this platform to get a picture. You’ll only have to climb 115 steps back up and can still get a magnificent picture.

See Split Rock Lighthouse in Winter! So much fun. Check out all the details by clicking here.

Split Rock Lighthouse MN Two Harbors

The Hack to See Split Rock Lighthouse

If you are running short on cash or don’t have an interest in going into the lighthouse itself, go to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. It’s just south of the Lighthouse exit. A permit is required for this hack. It costs $7 a day, or an annual permit.

If you’re in the North Shore area visiting Gooseberry Falls and other parks, you probably already have it.

Also, if you are active-duty military or a disabled veteran, you can get free parking permits too. Get all the details here.

There are a few trails that lead you down to the rugged shore to get a better view of the Lighthouse. Take a quick stop at pebble beach and view it there.

The Minnesota Historical Society informed me that the epic stairway is now included in the admission area of Split Rock Lighthouse.

I don’t mind paying for a pass to enter and save some money, as it helps support the preservation of this Minnesota landmark for the future. Don’t forget to see the other stops along Minnesota’s Science North Shore Highway.

For more information about Split Rock Lighthouse and its history, I recommend reading the following books:

Split Rock Lighthouse Stairs

Climb up Split Rock Lighthouse at Night, November 10th

Every year, there is a ceremony to remember the sinking of the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. The ship sank on November 10, 1975 during a November gale, resulting in the loss of all 29 crew members.

It is also a moment to reflect on every life lost while sailing the Great Lakes.

One may visit the lighthouse keeper’s house, the center, and pass through the fog signal building of its size.

Visitors will be greeted by guides dressed in costumes who will provide information about the shipwreck and the historic site throughout the afternoon.

The film in its visitor center will follow the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the faithful storm.

At 4:30 pm, the lighthouse will close temporarily while the names of the crew members are read to the tolling of a ship’s bell and the Naval Hymn is played.

Following the ceremony, the beacon will be lit, and the tower will be open again to tour.

This is the only opportunity each year when visitors can climb the tower after dark and see the beacon lit.

Wonder what it looks like in the winter? We did a quick trip to the State Park on one of the coldest days of the year. The ice was epic. The grounds were closed, but you can still hike the state park, or even go paddleboarding if you are a real diehard!
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Winter: A Guide to Exploring the Park

Split Rock Lighthouse in Winter

Do they light Split Rock Lighthouse?

Yes, Split Rock Lighthouse is still lit today. It serves as a navigational aid to guide vessels safely through Lake Superior.

The light can be seen for up to 22 nautical miles and has been a landmark on the North Shore of Minnesota for over a century.

Is Split Rock Lighthouse still operating?

Split Rock Lighthouse is a great place to visit and explore the north shore of Lake Superior. Although it no longer operates as a navigational aid, the lighthouse is open year-round as a historic museum and attraction.

Visitors can enjoy tours, exhibits, and stunning views of the lake from this iconic landmark.

Are there other Lighthouses Nearby Split Rock Lighthouse?

Stop into Two Harbors to see the two Lighthouses right on the shoreline. The main white lighthouse is free, and you can walk right up the breakwater to its base.

Another nearby lighthouse is the Grand Marais Lighthouse, which is located about an hour’s drive northeast of Two Harbors. This lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse on the North Shore and was built in 1922.

You can visit the lighthouse and the nearby Coast Guard station for free, and there are different events happening there all year.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Make sure to stop into Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, located right next. The park offers plenty of great hiking, camping, kayaking and other activities right on site. 

Bring your bike and hit up the paved Gitchi-Gami State Trail. If you love hiking, you’ll want to check out the Split Rock Lighthouse loop trial.

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The most epic lighthouse view of Minnesota doesn’t have to cost you any money to see. That’s right free. Here is how to do it!

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