One of the most scenic cities in the Midwest, Duluth is situated on the north shore of Lake Superior backed by steep hills and prominent bluffs. Home to the largest and busiest port on the Great Lakes, it has a rich maritime history and heritage for you to delve into with plenty of pretty parks, gardens, and viewpoints also dotted about.
An increasingly popular tourist destination, the sizeable lakeside city has lots of diverse attractions and impressive landmarks to check out, as well as lively waterfront neighborhoods like Canal Park.
As it was once home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the US, it also has some impressive estates and amazing old mansions to visit alongside its countless museums and industrial sites. With so much sublime scenery to enjoy and so many things to do in Duluth, the city definitely merits a stop when exploring Minnesota and the Midwest.
12. S.S. William A. Irvin Boat Museum
Now preserved as a historic museum ship, the enormous S.S. William A. Irvin is a fascinating place to wander around and explore. Still in pristine condition after decades spent hauling iron and coal around the Great Lakes, the striking vessel is now permanently moored along the Duluth waterfront.
An excellent example of a classic laker, it was once the flagship freighter of US Steel’s fleet, serving from 1938 to 1978. Due to its innovative engineering and design, the boat now offers an interesting insight into the history of maritime transportation and travel around the Great Lakes. On tours, you can see its huge engines and luxury dining room as well as the decks, kitchens, and bridge which all contain original nautical artifacts and equipment.
11. Lake Superior Railroad Museum
Just a stone’s throw from the ship is another great museum to visit if you are interested in the history of transport and travel in the States: the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. Housed in and around the delightful old Duluth Depot are dozens of steam, diesel and electric trains with lots of interactive exhibits also on show.
Now one of the biggest, best, and most respected railway museums in the country, it was established in 1973 and has been one of Duluth’s most popular draws ever since. Besides seeing all its vintage locomotives, visitors can peruse cabooses, freight cars, and other old equipment while informative displays teach you about the history and evolution of the railroads. Just as impressive is the elegant architecture and interior of the depot which dates to 1892, with the museum also offering scenic trips in historic trains in the summer months.
10. Bent Paddle Brewing Company
After having explored some of the city’s many museums, the Bent Paddle Brewing Company is the perfect place to relax, unwind, and wet your whistle. At the microbrewery you can either take tours around its state-of-the-art facility or simply sit and enjoy a freshly pulled pint in its atmospheric on-site taproom.
Located just a short drive south of the center, the craft brewing company first started producing and distributing kegs and cans in 2013. Over the years, they have won numerous awards for their tasty brews with its lagers, ales, and IPAs being a firm favorite of the local bar scene. Aside from sipping one of their signature beers, it is well worth taking a tour to see how they are all produced using the clear, fresh waters of Lake Superior.
9. Park Point Beach
Although it lies only fifteen minutes’ drive away, the peaceful Park Point Beach feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Duluth. From the busy Canal Park, the long, narrow sand spit extends out into the lake with its scenic confines offering all kinds of fun outdoor activities and recreation opportunities.
Due to its soft sands, divine views, and close proximity, the beach is a very popular and picturesque place to visit, particularly in the sunny summer months. In addition to lounging lazily on its warm sands and swimming and splashing about in the lake, you can play volleyball on its courts or enjoy picnics and barbecues in its pavilions while some lovely little trails weave their way about the park.
8. Leif Erickson Park
Home to lots of gorgeous grounds and landscaped gardens, the quiet and serene Leif Erickson Park can be found just a short distance up the coast from downtown. Connected to both Canal Park and the center by the pretty Lakewalk promenade, it has plenty of colorful flower beds for you to amble past with fountains, statues, and gazebos also dotted about.
As well as being named after the famous Norse explorer, the park also contains a splendid sculpture of Leif Erickson and a remarkable replica of his ship, although the latter is currently being restored in the center. Besides these fetching features, the park has the picture-perfect Duluth Rose Garden for visitors to explore and also boasts breathtaking vistas from its lakeside setting.
7. Maritime Visitor Center
If you are interested in learning more about the history of shipping on Lake Superior, make sure to stop by the magnificent Maritime Visitor Center. Perched at the end of Canal Park, it overlooks the entrance to the Duluth-Superior harbor where a steady stream of ships, yachts, and boats pass under the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge each hour.
Established in 1973, the museum has a huge collection of models, maps, and memorabilia for guests to peruse, while informative exhibits document the development of the city, its canals, and shipping industry.
Aside from learning about various ships and sailing disasters, highlights include exploring its historically accurate replica cabins and fantastic old pilothouse. In addition, you can also watch short educational clips and enjoy superb views over the nearby bridge, lake, and harbour.
6. Enger Tower
Besides the Aerial Lift Bridge, one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks is the incredible Enger Tower to the southwest of the center. Set atop a prominent hill surrounded by lush gardens, the five-storey stone tower provides phenomenal panoramas over the Twin Ports and Lake Superior.
Built out of bluestone, it was erected in 1939 as a tribute to Bert Enger – a Norwegian immigrant, businessman, and philanthropist. Shaped like an octagon, its sturdy stone walls are punctuated by countless windows while the lofty observation deck at the top of its winding staircase is adorned by a green beacon. After having basked in its beautiful views, you can always wander around both the pristine park and Japanese garden that lie at the foot of the tower.
5. North Shore Scenic Drive
As Lake Superior boasts so much dramatic coastal scenery, no trip to town can be complete without venturing along at least part of the North Shore Scenic Drive. Meandering its way along the side of the lake, the romantic route takes you past lots of lovely little towns, historic sites, and state parks with spectacular vistas and nature spots on show wherever you go.
From Duluth’s waterfront Canal Park, the scenic byway heads straight northeast, terminating some 150 miles later at the Canadian border, just outside of Grand Portage. While the views as you drive are simply spellbinding, it is well worth stopping from time to time to visit sights such as the charming Two Harbors town, historic Split Rock Lighthouse, and stunning Gooseberry Falls.
4. Great Lakes Aquarium
Also located along the city’s waterfront is the excellent Great Lakes Aquarium which houses a vast number of fish, reptiles, and amphibians, with even some birds and mammals on display. Nestled in between the Amsoil Arena and Bayfront Festival Park, it attracts both locals and tourists alike with its extensive array of amazing aquaria and animal exhibits.
One of the few aquariums in the country to focus primarily on freshwater species and ecosystems, it now occupies a large modern building overlooking the harbour.
Inside guests can view ‘slices’ of different rivers, such as the Amazon and Saint Louis, with otters, piranhas, and jellyfish all residing within its spacious enclosures. In addition, you can stroke various kinds of fish in its tide pool touch sections and see frogs, salamanders, and snakes at Critter Corner.
3. Canal Park & the Lakewalk
Formerly a dilapidated old warehouse district, the rejuvenated Canal Park is now the main place to head along Duluth’s waterfront. Set between downtown and the Park Point sandbar, it has countless shops and restaurants to try out with the area also being home to many of Duluth’s main attractions.
Aside from taking in the astounding old industrial architecture, visitors can peruse its art galleries or stop by the lively neighborhood’s breweries, boutiques, and jazz clubs. While the unmissable Aerial Lift Bridge, Maritime Visitor Center, and S.S. William A. Irvin Boat Museum attract lots of people, ambling peacefully along the Lakewalk is also a very popular pastime.
Stretching just over 2.5 miles in length, the picturesque promenade takes you along the lakefront with fabulous views to be enjoyed the whole way along.
2. Glensheen Mansion
Perched atop a prominent bluff overlooking the city and Lake Superior, you can spy the massive and majestic Glensheen Mansion; one of the state’s most visited historic homes. Surrounded by lush grounds and gardens, it exhibits some truly exquisite Jacobean Revival architecture with its elegant interior being just as delightful to explore.
Built between 1905 and 1908, the wonderful waterfront property impressively has 39 rooms for you to tour around, all full of elaborate furnishings and fine period pieces. Now preserved as a National Historic Landmark, it was originally the lavish home of the wealthy industrialist Chester Congdon, his family, and heirs.
After having seen all its decadently decorated halls and bedrooms, make sure to stroll around the rest of the attractive estate as various outhouses and expertly manicured gardens are dotted about the lakeside.
1. Aerial Lift Bridge
Undoubtedly Duluth’s most important and impressive landmark is the enormous Aerial Lift Bridge, which connects the center of the city and Canal Park to Park Point. Making for a visually arresting sight, the incredible engineering and architectural marvel spans the busy Duluth Ship Canal at the entrance to the harbor.
The first transporter bridge to be built in the US, the gigantic steel structure was completed in 1905 before being converted into a vertical-lift bridge several decades later. As it is quite an unusual kind of bridge, watching its central span be raised up and down is now one of the most popular things to see in town.
While its striking size, shape and silhouette make for some fantastic photos, the bridge is also well worth checking out at night when it is beautifully lit up by hundreds of little LED lights.