YOUR ULTIMATE TO DO LIST IN DULUTH, MINNESOTA
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Where is Duluth Located?
Duluth is located in the northeastern part of the state of Minnesota. You could almost consider it the armpit of the state as it located right where the state juts even more to the east. Pretty much everything from Brainerd, MN north is considered “Up North” from a locals perspective. Duluth, Minnesota is a port city on Lake Superior with plenty of attractions and things to do whether you want to be indoors or out. Perfect for a get away any time of year!
I consider it the “gateway” to the North Shore as it’s always a stop for me whether it’s a few hours or a day before heading to the smaller towns and more of a remote experience on the North shore along Lake Superior. Just across the bridge from Duluth is Superior, Wisconsin and you could extend your trip into the neighboring state by staying in a cabin in Wisconsin for some R&R.
Especially living in the metro area, Duluth is a great spot to head for a long weekend. It has a lot of great things to do, places to eat and drink but also has more of a chill outdoorsy smaller town vibe. The number one reason that keeps drawing me back is the fact that the views are amazing!
Duluth is such a great getaway from so many different locations in the state. Even if you’re not a local, it deserves some time to explore. You could choose to drive to Duluth or fly in as Duluth does have a small airport. I may be biased as a Minnesota local, but I typically like to drive just due to the fact that so many of the things you’re going to want to see you need a car to navigate to them.
Places to stay in Duluth
Duluth has many budget options as well as pricier more resort style options. Keep in mind that the swankier it is and the closer it is to Lake Superior will have an effect on the price point.
One of the newer hotels that has many amenities and is located near Canal Park and the Lake is Pier B Resort. Mentioned below under seasonal events, Pier B has a great view during the holidays of Bentleyville Christmas lights. If you’re really into craft beer like I am, check out Fitgers Inn for historic lodging in the same building as the Fitgers restaurant/brewery. If you love watching ships and you want to be close to all of the action and the aerial bridge, South Pier Inn would be the spot for you! There are several different lodging options in the Duluth area from more upscale to rustic.
Click here to explore more places to stay and plan your weekend getaway or a longer vacation to Duluth, Minnesota today!
Things to do in Duluth, Minnesota
The Lakewalk Trail is a great way to take in the scenic views of Duluth by walking near Lake Superior. This waterfront lakewalk trail starts in Canal Park. This walk spans 7 and a half miles. It is mostly paved with some areas having more of a boardwalk under foot.
I have such great memories of the lake walk trail from walking it with high school friends when we visited our friend at UMD to strolling down by the lake the day after my husband proposed to me.
The lakewalk is a great way to take in views of the lake and get some extra steps in!
Aerial Lift Bridge
The aerial lift bridge is one of the most photographed landmarks in Duluth, Minnesota. This historic landmark has been renovated multiple times for different reasons but has been an icon in Duluth since the early 1900’s. Once the bridge is lifted, 180 feet of clearance is granted. The most surprising thing is that the bridge weighs 900 tons! This bridge is truly unique as there is only one other bridge in the world that is similar located in Roen, France. In the 1970’s the Aerial Lift Bridge of Duluth was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
An iconic and fun experience while in duluth is watching the bridge go up and a large ship to pass through. Click here for information on the ship schedule and when you can expect the bridge to be lifted while you’re in Duluth.
Canal Park is a really fun and lively area of Duluth. It’s comprised of many restaurants, bars, hotels & being near the aerial lift bridge makes this destination a no brainer for anyone visiting Duluth.
One of my favorite restaurants for years and years in Canal Park is Little Angie’s. Tex Mex is literally my favorite type of cuisine and it’s so hard for me to say no to it! (Plus, margaritas! YUM!) My absolute favorite thing on the menu is the chicken fajitas. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out what kind of sauce it is, but it’s dang delightful! I’ve never had better fajitas than at Little Angie’s.
Being originally from Minnesota and surrounded by many lakes my entire life, I’ll still never get tired of Lake Superior. Of the great lakes, it’s the largest and most northern lake of them all. It houses over 10% of the world’s fresh water so I guess you could say it is the greatest of the great lakes.
Duluth sits near the mouth of the St. Louis River, at the western end of Lake Superior, which means there are many great site seeing opportunities. Imagine experiencing a sunrise or sunset over the waters of Lake Superior with Duluth off in the distance. You could experience Duluth, Minnesota from a different vantage point from the harbor and on the water in front of Park Point on Lake Superior. You could choose to book a boat charter to go fishing/sailing on the lake in the spring or summer.
Craft Beer in Duluth
Duluth has a number of great spots to have a pint or two. Many different craft beer venues make their home in Duluth, Minnesota making visiting a brewery (or two) a great thing to do while there. Check out my full post here on the best craft breweries in Duluth. I’ll be honest, I’ve spent the greater part of a handful of weekends in Duluth hopping from place to place.
Another fun event that occurs in Duluth is the All pints north beer fest. This typically is a rain or shine event and features many amazing MN breweries. It’s definitely a great excuse for a summer weekend in Duluth Minnesota!
Bars/cocktails in Duluth
I usually visit breweries over straight up bars. But, I have spent many evenings years ago at Dub Linn Brew Pub. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with an Irish pub! I just absolutely love the made from scratch food & Irish vibes. Their whiskey selection is very extensive as well if you prefer spirits.
Speaking of spirits, Vikre Distillery is a great spot for some fancy cocktails. They tend to mix things up seasonally in terms of cocktails as well as offering fun things like an outdoor ice bar when only outdoor dining was available. Bonus, it’s located really close to the aerial bridge and in canal park! If you’re walking around canal park or staying near here, you definitely should pop in for a refreshment.
Restaurants in Duluth
Of course, with exploring & adventuring comes having some great food to fuel up with. Eating is always one of my favorite things to do and that’s no different when I am in Duluth, Minnesota. Covering many different cusines, some of my favorite restaurants in Duluth include: Duluth Grill, OMC, Northern Waters Smokehaus, Hanabi, Little Angie’s.
Breakfast/lunch: Duluth Grill
Duluth Grill is a great spot for breakfast. Be sure to get there early as they’re a really hoppin’ place. They offer delicious breakfast fare, great coffee & brunch cocktails.
OMC stands for oink, moo, cluck and is phenomenal barbecue. I talk a little bit about it in my craft beer post as well. Due to the location being near Bent Paddle, it’s a great idea to grab some beers and food and get cozy in the taproom for a chill afternoon or evening.
Upscale Deli: Northern Waters Smokehaus
Northern Waters Smokehaus is amazing! I had this spot on my list to check out for far too long and it was definitely worth the wait. Everything we ordered was so good! If you’re a fan of fish, you definitely want to be sure to order a sandwich with smoked salmon on it. I was skeptical at first but I absolutely love any type of seafood and now it’s going to be hard for me order anything else on return visits.
Hanabi actually has a few sister restaurants that are located in the north metro area that we go to every so often. I honestly was really surprised to have such awesome sushi in northern Minnesota. If you’re a fan of sushi, this is definitely the best spot in Duluth to go.
Tex Mex: Little Angie’s
I already touched on it a little bit above, but Little Angie’s is amazing Tex Mex! Not only ae their margs great I recommend the chicken fajitas & chile rellenos. You won’t be disappointed! The food is great, plus the proximity to the lake walk either before or after you eat is perfect!
Constructed in 1908, Glensheen mansion is a large 20,000 square feet, 39 room mansion located next to Lake Superior. Historic grand estates, in my opinion are so intriguing. In 1977, there were murders that took place which gives this grand home an eerie vibe. There are several books that you can read to learn more about the murders & trials surrounding the crimes.
Currently, the historic home is managed by the University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD). The grand estate hosts several events throughout the year and you can even choose to tour the grounds. There are different options of viewing the whole property or only a portion of it.
Enger Tower is a fun stop to climb and take in views of Duluth, Lake Superior and beyond. Perched atop a location in Duluth that was once known as “Grand Mountain”, Enger Tower is an 80 ft tall tower located in Enger Park.
Keep in mind, the tower is only open seasonally and it does get pretty windy and cool up at the top. The tower is completely open and doesn’t have much wind break as it’s completely open to the elements. It opens in May and closes at the end of October. Essentially, it is closed during winter.
North Shore Scenic Drive
The North Shore of Lake Superior starts from Duluth all the way up to Grand Portage near the Canadian border. This scenic route includes 8 Minnesota State Parks & has earned a National designation of “All American Road“.
This drive is on Minnesota State Highway 61. From 35 in Duluth, you proceed onto highway 61 and it continues north east toward Canada. This stretch of road and the towns, state parks & views are what encompasses “The North Shore” in Minnesota.
The route from Duluth to Grand Portage is almost 150 miles, however, you don’t have to venture far from Duluth to see some gorgeous views. Like some of the State Parks listed below.
Popular Minnesota State Parks not far from Duluth: Jay Cooke, Gooseberry Falls & Split Rock Lighthouse
Jay Cooke State Park
Before you get to Duluth, about 10 miles south of the city is Jay Cooke State Park. With dramatic rocky landscape, the rushing river & the famous swinging bridge this state park deserves a visit regardless what season it is. I’ve been in the spring which was perfect for hiking, however, have heard that it’s the place to be in the fall when all of the leaves are changing. There are so many fun places along the side of the trails to go out on the rocks and see different parts of the river.
Despite being dubbed “the swinging bridge”, the bridge actually is pretty stable, it’s a 220 ft long suspension bridge crossing the St. Louis River. While we were there once we had the opportunity to watch some kayakers go over the rapids and under the bridge. I don’t know that I’d be brave enough to do that but it was really fun to be an onlooker!
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Now moving on to state parks that are north of Duluth. Just a little bit of a drive north from Duluth, you can visit several awesome State Parks near Lake Superior including Gooseberry Falls & Split Rock Lighthouse. Gooseberry Falls State park is located 40 miles north of Duluth, so within an hour drive making it a great day excursion to go to both from Duluth. Gooseberry Falls is especially gorgeous in the Spring & Fall. My husband and I actually got engaged here in the fall years ago so it holds a lot of special memories for us.
If you only have a few hours to explore, it’s easy to park at the visitor center and walk the falls trails. It’s an extremely easy hike as much of the path is paved as you make your way to Middle Falls. You can hike to upper, middle and lower falls all having a great view. Typically the water is the most active in the spring when the snow is melting and it’s getting warmer out. Another great idea while in the park is to plan ahead and pack some food for a picnic (Northern Waters would be a great option!) and drive to the picnic flow area at Gooseberry where you could enjoy your lunch and also explore the basalt rock shore and beaches along Lake Superior.
Split Rock Lighthouse & Split Rock State Park
Just about 6 miles more north from Gooseberry Falls is Split Rock Lighthouse and Split Rock State Park. So it’s about 50 miles from Duluth to Split Rock State Park. It definitely makes for an iconic photo opp of the rugged rocky landscape of Lake Superior with Split Rock Lighthouse in the distance.
Split Lighthouse itself, is a destination with a historic site and museum where you can actually tour the lighthouse. But, there is also another location nearby to get the pictures you want with the dramatic cliff and lighthouse in the background. In order to get these pictures, you’re going to want to go into the trailhead and camping area. (This entrance is prior to the turn off to the lighthouse if you’re heading there from Duluth.)
Directions to the perfect photo location of Split Rock Lighthouse: enter Split Rock State Park and take a right toward the campground. Park at the trail center. Continue toward the building to the left and take “Little Two Harbors Trail” for an epic view and photo location of Split Rock Lighthouse and Lake Superior.
Lake Superior Railroad Museum
If you’re into history, this Lake Superior Railroad Museum is located in a former train depot featuring vintage trains/locomotives. Some exhibits are indoors while others are outdoors.
But, what’s more fun is that the North Shore Scenic Railroad actually has train rides you can take departing from the historic Duluth Union Depot. The route includes, downtown Duluth, Canal Park, along Lake Superior and north of Duluth. There are several different themed train ride events that are available as well.
Duluth Curling Club or Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC)
Growing up curling, I spent a handful of weekends competing in bonspiels at the DECC. It definitely brings back fond memories. The town of Duluth has a very well rooted curling community & many of the Olympic curlers claim Duluth as their home ice.
The University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) bulldogs hockey team also has their games at the DECC. This event center hosts conventions, expos, concerts and other large events in the Duluth area.
Seasonal Activity: Biking
Spirit Mountain is the only lift access mountain biking available. But, there are other biking trails in the Duluth area as well. These include: Mission Creek, Hartley Park, Lester Park, Piedmont, Mont du Lac and Pokegama. Keep in mind that most are Intermediate/Advanced with the exception of Spirit Mountain & Mission Creek.
Seasonal Fun: Spirit Mountain
Technically Spirit Mountain is a year round destination. But, in my mind I always think of snowboarding and skiing over anything else. Spirit Mountain is located a little bit outside of Duluth proper but it’s definitely one of the better places to go for downhill skiing and snowboarding in the state of Minnesota.
I’ve stayed onsite here in the ski in and out villas, they’re super comfortable and will accommodate larger groups or families. I’m a huge fan of ski in and ski out accommodations making it easy to put food in the crockpot or to pop in mid day for a sandwich.
Seasonal Events: Bentleyville
Bentleyville is an experience! Along the shore of Lake Superior, it is a Minnesota Christmas Light event to make even the Grinch excited for Christmas. The holiday light display illuminates and shimmers off of Lake Superior making it a holiday must do.
Honestly, the best location to stay if you’re planning on traveling to Duluth for Bentleyville is Pier B. You can avoid the hecticness of parking at Bentleyville and hop on the shuttle from your hotel. Some of the hotel rooms even have views of the festive holiday lights.
Seasonal Events: Grandma’s Marathon
This annual road race is held in Duluth every June. Other than the marathon, the whole weekend has many events surrounding it in the Duluth area and the city is buzzing with people and energy. Registration begins in the fall for the event. I know many people who had ran this marathon many times, but running really isn’t my cup of tea. If you’re not a runner, there are droves of people that come to spectate the event as well.
Beyond things to do in Duluth, Minnesota:
Check out my comprehensive Minnesota Travel Guide for more details on other areas of the state and things to do!
Was there anything you thought I missed? Send me a message or comment to let me know!