The Duluth Sampler Trip – Reliving Our Childhoods

We decided to take a quick break and head “up north” which has been a required task of  Minnesotans in the summer for several generations.

For most people, Duluth is the gateway to vacations along the north shore of Lake Superior. Both our families took trips up north throughout our childhoods and we thought it would be fun to share one together.

In my mind, Duluth has always been a small and gritty port city that served the mining industry. Not that that is a bad thing, I am actually partial to industrial cities like Minneapolis and Manchester, England where we spent time back in the 90’s. So, I am happy to see the updated harbor front that is drawing more tourists to Duluth.

Our trip was a simple overnight so we explored a sampling of easy hikes and parks that showcased the variety of the local landscape.


Gooseberry Falls State Park

The water here is only slightly cold so hordes of people come here to swim – even with the warning signs. Both our families made this journey repeatedly when we were kids. It can be crowded but I think it is still worth making this traditional stop.

Lower Falls

Some of the swimmers enjoying the Middle Falls


Lower Falls 2

The Lower Falls

The hike to the upper falls and the 5th Falls is much less traveled if you want to enjoy some quiet time in this state park.

Upper Falls and Bridge

Upper Gooseberry Falls

Split Rock Lighthouse

We arrived 15 minutes before closing but were told that if we waited until 6 it was free to roam the grounds. It meant that we didn’t get to climb the light house stairs or other buildings but we also didn’t have to make a return trip the next day to this, our farthest point north.

Light House Close Up

The historical park includes dramatic reenactments

The ruins of the old tramway that was used to hoist supplies up the cliff from the lake shore has a staircase next to it that makes for a fun climb. Don’t skip a visit to the shore since it provides gorgeous, iconic views of the light house perched on the cliff.

Light House Trees

Viewed from the lake shore

Wandering the shoreline shows how treacherous it can be for boats in Lake Superior.


Canal Park and the Aerial Lift Bridge

Duluth is a working port that includes a unique lift bridge which goes straight up and down in one section versus having the deck split in the middle and rotate up. Cargo ships and sailboats will signal the bridge operator upon their approach close to the scheduled openings on the hour and half hour.

Bridge is Up

Viewed from Enger park, the bridge is up for the cargo ship coming into the port

Filled with hotels and restaurants, the Canal Park waterfront has been turned into a convention and tourist destination. Most famous is Grandma’s Saloon (sponsor of Grandma’s Marathon) with it’s bar and outdoor deck that overlooks the lift bridge. We arrived around dusk and were too hungry to settle for the limited bar menu so we ate in the restaurant which sadly, looks like many family-style chain restaurants. Points to them for having a tasty wild rice veggie burger!


Congdon Park Trail

This short trail is surprisingly good, running alongside Tischer Creek where the volcanic rock makes for a series of small waterfalls. The wooded parkland feels isolated from the surrounding neighborhoods. Both a traditional hiking trail and a paved hike/bike trail run through this linear park.

Cogdon Trail

What a gorgeous neighborhood park!

Kitchi Gammi Park

The beautiful, rocky shoreline makes a perfect picnic spot for both people and sea gulls.

Gull Standing

Keeping watch over this great lake

Enger Park and Zen Garden

We parked below Enger Park at Twin Ponds and hiked a small section of the Lake Superior Trail up to the Zen Garden. The flowers were in full bloom in this lovely, shaded park. The Enger Tower is the park’s centerpiece and is another fun stair climb for an expansive view overlooking the harbor.

Peace Bell

The peace bell from Duluth’s sister city in Japan

Other Fun

Minnesota has really embraced rails-to-trails style bike paths, especially in the resort towns. Throughout the area we saw families of all ages riding the trails. Duluth itself has some bike lanes and separated trails that would make for a fun day along the lake. Next time!


Pie. You can’t forget about the pie.

Tobie's Pie

Wild blueberry ala mode was delicious!

I hadn’t remembered this as such a big deal but apparently it is. Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors had a line out the door and the town of Hinckley with Tobie’s Bakery just off the interstate made the drive home a little sweeter.


You can’t always go home again but for Joel and me it was nice to relive some of our childhood memories of family vacations and comparing them to the many places we’ve shared together.


Have you been “Up North”?