Lake Superior appears to be as large as an ocean when you look out over its waters. The largest of all of the Great Lakes, it is 350 miles long and 160 miles wide. Located in the southwestern point of the lake are the cities of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. These two cities are also the primary ports.
Lake Superior’s North Shore Scenic Drive between Duluth and the Canadian border is a favorite destination for many people vacationing in MN. While David and I did not drive as far north as the border, we did drive about half of it and quickly understood why so many people come here. We were captivated by the North Shore’s breath-taking views, scenic lighthouses, impressive waterfalls, and delicious desserts. Here are a few places that we stopped along the way:
Split Rock Lighthouse
Visiting Split Rock Lighthouse Historic Site and State Park has been on our “bucket list” for a while so we chose to go here first. Shipping of goods, specifically iron ore mined in northern MN, dominated the economy of the region for many years. Large freighters moved tons of product to ports farther east. Sometimes the lake’s waters were calm but, at other times during the year, sailors had to endure treacherous storms that assailed them mercilessly. In 1905, there was a terrible storm that destroyed 29 ships and resulted in more than three million dollars worth of damage to ships and cargo. To help reduce the number of shipwrecks on this part of the lake, the government agreed to fund the construction of a lighthouse on a 130 ft. high cliff. The 54 ft. light with a beacon that extended 22 miles out over the lake opened on July 31, 1910. It had a third order Fresnel lens and a foghorn to help ships avoid the cliffs during storms. There were no roads to that site so all construction materials and light keeper’s supplies had to be shipped by sea and hauled up the cliff. The light served until 1969. Today the lighthouse and the other buildings are maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society.
Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most picturesque lights on Lake Superior. David and I hiked down to water level to catch a view of the structure and the cliff.
Next we went to take a closer look at the lighthouse. With admission to the park, you can climb up to the top of it and see the Fresnel lens. Nearby is the light keeper’s house that you can tour. The house has been restored and reflects the period when the keepers lived and worked here. On the premises, there are two museums to take in: one near the lighthouse and the other in the Visitor Center. There is an informative video on the history of the light at the Visitors Center as well.
A real treat for us was that the park had invited a local artist to display his work and talk to the public. When we were there, we had a wonderful conversation with David Barthel, a MN photographer, who photographs the area around Lake Superior. David and the photographer had a great time talking about their love of photography.
Split Rock Lighthouse is one of Minnesota’s iconic landmarks. It definitely lived up to its billing and we were thrilled that we got to visit it.
Two Harbors Lighthouse
Fifty six lighthouses dot Lake Superior’s shores. Just south of Split Rock light is another one in the small town of Two Harbors. This lighthouse is the oldest of all of them. It opened on April 14, 1892. This navigational aid pointed the way to the entrance to Agate Bay Harbor.
Unlike Split Rock, Two Harbors Lighthouse sits only 78 ft. above lake level and is built of bricks. There were usually three light keepers who lived on site to be sure that the fourth order Fresnel lens remained lit. Interestingly, the keeper’s quarters and the tower were joined together forming one structure. In 1969, the Coast Guard installed an aerobeacon at the end of a breakwater wall eliminating the necessity for the light. Today the Lake County Historical Society maintains and operates a Lighthouse B&B in the light keeper’s quarters to help support this site that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Another interesting fact about the town of Two Harbors is that five residents of the city started the 3M Company (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co.) here in 1902.
Gooseberry Falls State Park
When we asked a number of local residents what we should do while we were in the area, each of them encouraged us to go to Gooseberry Falls State Park. This park is on Lake Superior between Split Rock Lighthouse and the town of Two Harbors. It opened in 1937 with a mission to preserve this unique area that was formed by lava flows.
Gooseberry Falls State Park has five waterfalls: Upper, Middle (with its two falls), Lower, and Fifth Falls. It is a very popular destination on warm days. If you park at the Visitor Center, admission is free so many families come here to spend the day enjoying the falls and wading in the cool waters. There are also a number of trails through the park’s 700 acres of forest land.
David and I spend a good part of a day hiking to the falls and on the trails. Gooseberry Falls State Park is, as our friends suggested, a “must see” along the North Shore.
No trip to the North Shore would be complete without stopping at the famous Betty’s Pies. Originally, Betty’s father ran a fish shack in the area. In 1957, she began making goodies for the fishermen to pick up and take with them. The following year, she added pies to the menu and opened a cafe too. Although today they serve typical diner food, they are known for their pies. You can dine in or stop by the take out window and purchase desserts to go. Our friend Barb recommended that we stop there so, of course, we did. They offer a variety of cream and fruit pies. I was happy to learn that they also have GF pies from time to time. I was lucky and got a slice of Apple Crumb pie and David tried a slice of the Great Lakes pie which had a mix of different fruits. Both pies were amazing!
David and I had great time exploring the North Shore. Its natural beauty, unique lighthouses and towns, and good food are sure to delight and amaze anyone who travels there.