We first glimpsed Lake Superior in the background as we approached Duluth, Minnesota in the early afternoon on day 1 of our Great Lakes Road Trip.
Just 290 miles (467 km) from home, we regarded Duluth as the gateway to the Great Lakes where we would revisit some of our favorite sights in the fourth largest city in Minnesota. We first headed straight to the Aerial Lift Bridge and found free parking on the other side.
Just as we walked onto to the bridge, we heard the announcement that the bridge was about to raise. Rather than hurry across, we retraced our steps and watched from the far side.
The landmark opened in 1905 and was modified in 1929. It raises an average of 26 times per day to a clearance of 138 ft. to accommodate large ships, pleasure craft, and sailboats entering the harbor. It’s really quite a sight to watch the bridge raise and lower.
Having now checked off the number one sight on our list for Duluth, we proceeded across the bridge to Canal Park where lighthouse lovers can view not one but a lighthouse trifecta. Lighthouses have long fascinated me so, of course, I was drawn like a moth to the flame.
We have fond memories of the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Canal Park and made for the museum after a walk out to the South Breakwater Outer Lighthouse. Here we were reminded Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and contains more water than all the other Great Lakes combined. It is the world’s largest freshwater lake containing 10% of all the earth’s fresh water. In addition to information about Lake Superior and regional history, this little gem also displays photos and artifacts from maritime disasters and recovery efforts. And, admission is free.
There are many other attractions in Duluth including a great aquarium, Glennsheen Mansion, and the 7.5-mile Lakewalk among others but we were anxious to commence our drive along Lake Superior. Near Brighton Beach just outside Duluth where Minnesota State Highway 61 splits from old 61, we continued along the old scenic highway following the lake more closely and captured views like this.
I remarked over and over that I’ve never seen Lake Superior as calm as it was on this lovely day in September. Jim, however, has seen it like this but he used to drive along the lake every year on his way to Canada for the family fishing trip.
We stopped at every historical marker we spotted and the site where the town of Buchanan, named after President Buchanan, once stood intrigued us. Laid out in 1856, the town existed until the land office was removed in 1859 when it disappeared.
Old 61 rejoins the new highway just outside Two Harbors, MN and 12 miles further we pulled into Gooseberry Falls State Park. With easy paved trails, this park is very accessible and gets lots of visitors in the summer but we shared it with few other tourists late in the afternoon in September.
Our final stop on day 1 at Split Rock Lighthouse is one of my favorites and many must agree with me because it’s one of the most photographed sites in Minnesota. We’ve been there before but this time we paid $10 for the tour and access to the restored lighthouse and keeper’s home.
Built in response to a terrible storm in 1905 that damaged or destroyed 29 ships, construction of Split Rock Lighthouse was an engineering challenge with no roads to this remote location. Materials, supplies, and workers were delivered by boat and lifted to the top of the 110 ft cliffside using a steam-powered hoist and derrick. Commissioned in 1910, it would be 20 years before a road reached the lighthouse.
The lighthouse keeper and two assistant keepers lived on-site from May to December in three identical houses. Families typically stayed during the summer months until children had to return to school. One of the homes is open for visits.
Our tour guide told us we could take the path down to the shoreline after visiting the lighthouse and the keeper’s home. As we hiked down the trail, I spotted the stairs in the photo below and thought maybe it was a shortcut. About halfway down, I saw a sign explaining this was the site of the tramway that was built in 1916 to transport supplies up to the lighthouse. I decided maybe the path led somewhere else and not wanting to get lost, I retraced my steps and took the path to the shore. At the bottom, we saw the stairs and climbed them for our return trip. Unless you’re craving a workout, I would suggest other visitors do this in reverse–take the stairs down and walk the gently sloping trail to go back up. 😬
The views of the lighthouse from the shore were sublime and the light at this time of day was perfect.
We spent the night at a nice hotel, AmericInn, in the town of Silver Bay which struck me as mostly industrial and we ate a disappointing meal at an unnamed restaurant. I wanted local fish which wasn’t offered and Jim ordered a half chicken that was so small I said it had to be a Cornish hen. Nevertheless, it was a busy and fulfilling first day and we were looking forward to day 2 with enthusiasm.
Based on events from September 2017.