The Split Rock Lighthouse Road Trip Guide
Split Rock Lighthouse looks out over what has been called “the most dangerous piece of water in the world.” A place of storm-tossed waves and historical significance, the park should certainly be on your bucket list.
Today we’ll talk about Split Rock Lighthouse itself and fun ways to explore the local area.
Let’s get going!
Where is the Split Rock Lighthouse?
Split Rock Lighthouse is north of Duluth, Minnesota, on the southwest corner of Lake Superior. Specifically, the address is 3713 Split Rock Lighthouse Road in Two Harbors, which is part of the picturesque North Shore Scenic Drive.
The History of Split Rock Lighthouse
Lake Superior has lost a reported 350 ships over the years, and approximately 50 of those are presumed to be in Minnesota waters along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
In 1905, a strong gale sank 29 ships, many loaded with industrial goods. The owner of U.S. Steel held one-third of these lost ships. This spurred him to gather a group of other shipowners and lobby the government to create the lighthouse.
Engineers completed the lighthouse in 1910, and the oil lamp lit the seas for 22+ miles around until 1940. Then, they converted the lighthouse to electricity, and it ran for another 29 years until it was decommissioned in 1969. In 1971, Minnesota created Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and eventually amassed 2200 acres.
The North Shore Scenic Drive
Highway 61 from Duluth to the Canadian Border is 150 miles of incomparable beauty. Besides numerous small towns, you’ll find multiple state parks, dense forests, intriguing rock formations, and amazing waterfalls. In addition, you’ll see the lake through much of the drive.
It takes just under three hours to drive the entire North Shore. However, we suggest planning on at least a few days to explore. There are many things to see and do, such as the Lake Superior Maritime Museum and Grand Portage State Park, with a 120-foot waterfall and interpretive center. And, of course, Split Rock Lighthouse, which is about an hour north of Duluth.
Know Before You Go: There are so many things to see along North Shore Scenic Drive that it can be overwhelming. Use this helpful mile-by-mile list to plan your trip!
Split Rock Lighthouse offers a wide variety of fun and interesting things to do. A local photographer leads Photography at the Rock regularly, and picnic tables are available for a quick lunch while you’re there. If you go on November 10th, you’ll witness the lighting of the beacon. Staff perform this as a memorial for the 1975 sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald and other ships lost to the lake.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park offers a few different passes, some for self-guided tours around the grounds. The guided tour includes a trek to the top of the lighthouse. Other buildings include the original fog signal building, a lighthouse keeper’s home, and the oil house. Prices range from $8 to $25 per person.
All the paths around the main area are paved, and everything except the stairs to the top of the lighthouse is wheelchair accessible. The trails farther out, including down to the lake, are gravel.
In addition to the accessibility, Split Rock offers wheelchairs for those who need them, braille and large print visitor guides, and even ASL interpreters (if given a two-week notice.) Service dogs are allowed; however, pets are not.
For experienced hikers and backpackers, the Superior Hiking Trail is 205 miles and goes from Duluth to the Canadian border. A portion of the Superior Hiking Trail, Gitchi-Gami State Trail, takes you through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Besides hiking, you can bike or skate Gitchi-Gami. In addition, there are several short, easy trails on the state park property ranging from .25 miles to a few miles.
Pro Tip: Hiking is a wonderful way to connect with nature, but don’t get caught making one of these 5 Surprisingly Common Hiking Mistakes.
Kayaking and Canoeing
Minnesota also contains the Lake Superior State Trail, which includes paddle-in campsites such as Split Rock Creek Backpack/Kayak Campsite. The water trail starts at Boy Scout Landing in Duluth and ends at Pigeon Point on the Canadian Border.
Not ready for such a grand adventure? Feel free to bring your kayak or canoe and launch from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park’s campground.
Campgrounds Near Split Rock Lighthouse
The state park itself has a tent-only, cart-in or walk-in, campground. It’s dry camping but does offer flush toilets and showers. If you want power and a campsite you can drive into, wait until the Shipwreck Creek Campground opens in May 2022.
If you want full hookups with 50-Amp electric, you’ll need to look at Burlington Bay Campground about 20 miles south of Split Rock Lighthouse. Black Beach Campground also offers full hookups and is about 9 miles north of the lighthouse.
Pro Tip: Make the most of tent-only camping with one of these 5 Best Hanging Tents For Camping In 2021.
Is a Split Rock Lighthouse Road Trip Worth It?
If you’re in the western Great Lakes area, driving from Duluth to Split Rock Lighthouse is certainly worth the hour-long day trip. But why stop there? Take a few days or a week to drive the entire North Shore Scenic Drive and make the lighthouse just one experience of the many excellent ones you’ll enjoy. Have you been to Split Rock Lighthouse? Tell us about it!
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