Blake Walsh

16 Free Things to Do in Duluth, MN

  • Published 2023/01/08

Duluth, Minnesota, is an all-season destination, and the best part is it’s only about two hours north of the state capital, St. Paul.

Named after the region’s earliest known European explorer, Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, the city is the county seat of St. Louis County and Minnesota’s port city.

Duluth is a popular tourist destination in the Midwest, home to the Great Lakes Aquarium, the longest freshwater bay mouth bar in the world at 6 miles long, and the Aerial Lift Bridge, connecting Canal Park to the Duluth Ship Canal and the Duluth-Superior port.

Vehicle tours of the North Shore of Lake Superior to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, begin at this city.

In Duluth, there is no shortage of free activities to experience.

Located in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior, the area provides a wealth of inexpensive recreational opportunities and outdoor pursuits.

After all, residents here take advantage of the city’s many free opportunities for hiking, snowshoeing, swimming, and exploring historical sites.

Read on to discover the free things to do in Duluth, Minnesota!

Take in the Sights at Enger Park

Tower at Enger Park

John Brueske /

Enger Park, above Duluth’s West End, attracts visitors as they can enjoy a breathtaking panorama of the Aerial Lift Bridge from the Enger Tower.

The view from Enger Park

Randy Runtsch /

To get a bird’s eye view of Duluth and Lake Superior, visitors can ascend the tower’s 105 steps.

You may stay until the afternoon at the Enger Tower since there are restrooms and picnic areas accessible.

The grounds of Enger Park

Darcy Jardine /

There are many places to explore at Enger Park, including a Japanese peace garden.

Get to Know the Area’s Shipping History at Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center

Exterior of the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center

McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The United States Army Corps of Engineers maintains a free maritime museum called the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center.

Canal Park is home to the museum and offers stunning views of the Duluth-Superior port entry and the Aerial Lift Bridge.

The center’s display includes schedules for the arrival and departure of freight vessels and information about shipping on the Great Lakes.

Here, you may also gain knowledge about the Aerial Lift Bridge and the development of commercial shipping in the upper Great Lakes.

Tourists love the museum because it includes three authentic reproduction cabins and a pilothouse from classic ships that formerly plied the waters of Lake Superior.

Both the museum and its grounds are technically federal property.

Visits to this museum are entirely free of charge for all guests.

Donations to the Lake Superior Marine Museum Association are used for general maintenance, the development and purchase of new exhibits, and the hiring of more personnel.

The Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center is excellent for photo ops and picnics since it combines a rich maritime history with scenic beauty.

Cruise the North Shore Scenic Drive

The North Shore Scenic Drive is an excellent way to explore the city and discover its beauty.

There’s a lot of ground to cover since the distance is 154 miles.

From Duluth to Grand Portage, just below the Canadian border, is a route along the shore of Lake Superior.

Fantastic scenery is still visible without leaving the convenience of your vehicle.

You may also pull over and take in the sights in several rest areas.

Popular destinations on the North Shore Scenic Drive include Palisade Head and Black Beach.

You can also visit one of North Shore’s eight state parks and learn more about the region’s history at one of the park’s visitor centers.

Explore the Region’s Art Scene at Tweed Museum of Art

Entrance doors of Tweed Museum of Art

McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On the University of Minnesota Duluth campus sits the Tweed Museum of Art.

Before the opening of the museum room in 1958, the donated collection was at the home of George P. Tweed and Alice Tweed Tuohy, which became the Tweed Gallery on September 20, 1950.

Today, it is under the care of the University of Minnesota Duluth campus, featuring a permanent collection of approximately 10,000 items from a wide range of historical eras, and is a critical educational and cultural resource for the Upper Midwest.

Through its care of the collection, scholarly investigation, and visual arts programming for the University and surrounding communities, the Tweed Museum of Art serves as an educational institution that welcomes visitors from all over the world.

The museum’s collection spans from the 15th to the 21st centuries.

It features the work of brilliant regional, national, and international artists, highlighting the excellent work of Upper Midwest and Minnesota artists.

You may visit the museum without spending a dime.

Take a Walk along Lakewalk

Entrance to the Lakewalk

melissamn /

Canal Park is the starting point for a network of accessible outdoor walking pathways that extends more than seven kilometers, called Lakewalk.

Beginning there, you may take in the sight of passing ships and snap a photo of the Lift Bridge before winding through various parks and other scenic spots.

With most of the Lakewalk paved, it is an excellent alternative for folks who want to take a leisurely stroll.

View of the waters from Lakewalk

ClubhouseArts /

The Lakewalk also features a boarded walking route and a paved path for bikes, rollerblades, and strollers.

It’s a long hike, so bring some food if you intend to go the distance.

Benches along Lakewalk

Amy Mingo from Minnetonka, MN, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Join a Storytime at Duluth Public Library

When it comes to kid-friendly activities, the Duluth Public Library is hard to beat.

It offers a vast collection of children’s books that can be checked out or read at the library.

Duluth Public Library is also home to various family-friendly events, such as storytimes and arts and crafts workshops for toddlers.

Visit the Duluth Public Library to foster your kids’ interest in reading and learning.

Cross the Aerial Lift Bridge

Night lights of the Aerial Lift Bridge

JL Jahn /

The Aerial Lift Bridge is the city’s most famous and stunning landmark.

The seven-mile-long peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior and forms the community of Park Point is connected to Canal Park by an aerial lift bridge built over a century ago.

Over a year, the bridge rises and lowers more than 5,000 times to let large ships and boats pass below it.

A ship passing under the Aerial Lift Bridge

Marstar /

Watching this is like being at a movie!

Crossing the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth on foot or in a private car is free.

The Aerial Lift Bridge features a covered pedestrian walkway that provides an alternative to driving across the bridge.

Duluth’s giant bridge is one of the top free attractions for families to enjoy when visiting the city.

A car along the Aerial Lift Bridge

melissamn /

Take Snaps of Duluth North Pier Lighthouse

Daytime view of Duluth North Pier Lighthouse

Nancy J Lindberg /

Explore Duluth North Pier Lighthouse, which extends from Canal Park into Lake Superior.

Since its original construction in 1910, it has made significant contributions to the Great Lakes lighthouse engineering and maritime endeavors.

In 2016, the lighthouse was included in the National Register of Historic Places; visitors can now get up close to examine its historic structure.

Exterior of Duluth North Pier Lighthouse

melissamn /

You can’t go inside the North Pier Lighthouse, but you can reach it and enjoy the stunning vistas from the deck.

Top part of Duluth North Pier Lighthouse

Brian Kenney /

Feast Your Eyes on the Bentleyville “Tour of Lights”

Duluth transforms into a magical paradise in the winter with festive decorations, visits from Santa, and live music.

Nathan Bentley started Bentleyville as a home improvement project for his house in Esko, Minnesota, but it has now become a beloved Duluth tradition.

Over a million lights were switched on for the first time in Bayfront Park in downtown Duluth on Friday, November 27, 2009, for the Bentleyville “Tour of Lights.”

The Bentleyville “Tour of Lights” is an incredible event to experience the Christmas spirit.

The event, once a modest show in a Duluthian’s garden, has become a popular holiday tradition.

Visit Santa, get some complimentary treats, and see over 45,000 lights without spending a dime!

Go Sunbathing at Park Point

People at Park Point

Edgar Lee Espe /

Park Point is a free sandy beach for the public; however, swimming in Lake Superior only appeals to visitors during the warmer months.

Sand dunes at Park Point

Jacob Boomsma /

Driftwood on the beach gives it that exotic, secluded atmosphere.

It’s perfect for families who want to enjoy some outdoor fun.

There are also picnic spots, pine trees, and places to cook at Park Point.

It is located on 45th Street & Minnesota Avenue.

The waters of Park Point

Jacob Boomsma /

Explore the Stalls and Meet Locals at Duluth Farmer’s Market

Given that the idea of going there is to shop, it may seem counterintuitive that the Duluth Farmer’s Market (open on Wednesdays and Saturdays for most of the year) doesn’t charge admission.

You may find fresh produce, canned products, baked goods, jellies, syrup, eggs, cosmetics, and more at this great market.

In the winter, it also hosts a variety of free events.

It is a great spot to hang around, get to know some local merchants, and take adorable photos to share on Instagram.

The Duluth Farmer’s Market is at the corner of 14th Ave E. and 3rd Street.

Walk around the Rose Beds at Leif Erikson Park

Trail at Leif Erikson Park

Klanker /

Duluth’s historic Leif Erickson Park is home to the city’s Rose Garden.

Its name is after the Norwegian ship called Leif Erickson, which Burt Enger bought and brought to the city in 1927.

The ship is currently in storage in Bayfront Park.

Flowers at Leif Erikson Park

Lena Paly /

The park is a favorite location for weddings and other large gatherings, and its many pathways provide pleasant strolls.

Fabulous vistas of Lake Superior complement the stunning flora at Leif Erickson Park.

It is located at 11th Avenue E & London Road.

Observation platform at Leif Erikson Park

Lorch /

Let Your Kids Run Free at Bayfront Festival Park

Bayfront Festival Park is home to Playfront Park, Duluth’s most expansive playground.

Those traveling to Duluth with young children who like physical activity may find Playfront Park an excellent, no-cost option.

This state-of-the-art educational playground lies near Canal Park.

Some of Lake Superior is visible here, while the enormous and vibrant Great Lakes Aquarium is in the backdrop.

A covered pavilion is available for picnics, and both men’s and women’s facilities are spotless and easily accessible.

Children of all ages are welcome to use Bayfront Festival Park, and there’s no cost to park there.

Go Skiing at Hartley Nature Center during Winter

Winter landscape of Hartley Nature Center

Lorch /

Hartley Nature Center provides an alternative to the hustle and bustle of downtown Duluth.

The nature center is worth exploring, and its 600-plus acres of natural terrain set it apart.

This region comes alive in the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing because of the abundance of frozen ponds and streams.

Meanwhile, summer is the perfect time to hit the trails on your bike, slip on tennis shoes, and enjoy a stroll in the woods.

In addition to Hartley Pond, several vernal ponds and streams provide canoeists and kayakers picturesque spots to fish, observe ducks, and investigate beaver ponds.

Hartley Nature Center is on Woodland Avenue.

Watch Grandma’s Marathon

People at Grandma's Marathon

Jacob Boomsma /

Duluth’s most well-attended annual event is the Grandma’s Marathon.

You may mistake this as a race for grannies, but it got its name from the restaurant that sponsored the then-fledgling event.

This marathon is a June tradition in Duluth, with runners making their way from Two Harbors around Lake Superior into the city.

Runners at Grandma's Marathon

Jacob Boomsma /

Since its inception in 1977, Grandma’s Marathon has expanded into something far more extensive than a simple 26.2-mile run along Minnesota’s beautiful North Shore.

Each year, about 9,000 individuals take part in the marathon.

It’s one of the city’s genuine “heartbeat” events, and everyone comes out to watch and cheer them on because it’s free and takes place in the summer.

Daytime view of Grandma's Marathon

Jacob Boomsma /

Celebrate Art and Culture at Lake Superior Harvest Festival

Lake Superior Harvest Festival at Bayfront Festival Park is one of the best free events in the area and is perfect for the whole family.

Every September, it draws thousands of people to Duluth.

This festival, hosted by the Sustainable Farming Association’s Lake Superior branch, offers a massive farmer’s market exhibiting the area’s agricultural abundance and artisanal delicacies.

In addition to an all-day art and craft market, a sustainable energy fair, and educational demos, it also has a delectable selection of cuisine.

The best thing is that it’s all made, cultivated, and prepared in the area.

The Lake Superior Harvest Festival also features a variety of live performances throughout the day.

Final Thoughts

Duluth has a thriving cultural scene thanks to its museums, theaters, colleges, and festivals.

It is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike due to its small-town appeal and the wealth of water-related activities due to its proximity to Lake Superior.

Experience the best of this city with this list of free things to do in Duluth, Minnesota.

© All rights reserved.