17 Best Things to Do in Duluth, MN

Duluth, MN

Settled comfortably at the westernmost tip of the magnificent Lake Superior, Duluth, Minnesota, is where my heart truly resides.

There's something indescribably poignant about waking up to the sight of the sun rising over the vast expanse of the lake, painting the sky with hues of orange and pink.

Duluth isn't just a city; it's an experience.

From captivating historical landmarks to outdoor adventures, Duluth has many thrilling activities that cater to all tastes.

It's a city full of surprises whose every nook and cranny tells a story.

Get ready to embark on a journey as I share the 17 best things to do in Duluth, Minnesota!

About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it's important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the city for yourself.

See Duluth's Iconic Aerial Lift Bridge

Night view of Aerial Lift Bridge
JL Jahn / Shutterstock.com

You wouldn't believe how many times I've been "bridged."

You can even look at the Aerial Lift Bridge, a landmark 1905 steel bridge, while you wait.

It's an engineering marvel and a sight to behold.

The bridge is nestled in Canal Park and is visible from many sections of Duluth.

Whether it's a sunny day or a snowy evening, the view mesmerizes.

A ship passing through the Aerial Lift Bridge
Edgar Lee Espe / Shutterstock.com

Around the bridge, you've got the Lake Superior Maritime Museum, North Pier Lighthouse, and drool-worthy eateries like Grandma's Saloon & Grill.

And then there's the shipping season, from late March, the harbor buzzes with activity.

The spectacle of the bridge lifting and lowering for the ships is something I never tire of.

It's a tradition for us locals to line the North and South Piers to watch the action.

But one of my favorite things to do in Duluth is to walk across the bridge when it's in the down position.

It's a bit windy, but you've got a sidewalk wide enough to safely cross, and the views of the harbor and the bridge structure are worth braving the wind.

And the best part? There is no charge to do this.

Closer view of Aerial Lift Bridge
LaNae Christenson / Shutterstock.com

Discover Hidden Gems at the Tweed Museum of Art

Entrance to Tweed Museum of Art
McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I've always found art to be fascinating. It can be a window into the artist's mind, a snapshot of a culture or historical period, or simply a beautiful image to admire.

One of my favorite places to get lost in art is the Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

I still remember the first time I wandered into the Tweed.

It was a crisp fall afternoon, and I had some free time after running errands nearby.

Tucked away on the university's campus, it's a bit of a hidden gem that you might miss if you're not specifically looking for it.

But once you find it, you'll be glad you did.

What immediately struck me was the eclectic range of works on display.

From traditional paintings and sculptures to contemporary multimedia installations, there's something to capture anyone's interest.

And it's not just works from established artists that are showcased here.

The museum also often features pieces created by the university's own art students, a refreshing testament to the ongoing evolution of artistic expression.

One of the things I love most about the Tweed is the way it encourages exploration and learning.

Aside from the exhibitions, they also host educational tours and a lecture series.

It's a wonderful opportunity to delve deeper into the stories behind the art, understand different artistic techniques, and engage in stimulating discussions about art and its impact on society.

Unwind at Minnesota Point

One of my absolute favorite places to unwind is Minnesota Point.

The sandy beach is a dream come true, especially on sunny days. It's the perfect spot to lay back and soak in the warmth.

What sets Minnesota Point apart is the beautiful park that accompanies it.

It's a divine location for a picnic with friends and family, with the picturesque Lake Superior as a backdrop.

The shallow water ensures that it's not too cold, and the sun does a wonderful job of warming it up. Trust me, once you're in, you won't want to come out.

Swimming here is like dipping into a gentle ocean. Small waves, sand, driftwood, and fun rocks make it a unique experience.

I've spent countless afternoons collecting and examining these rocks with my kids. They make wonderful keepsakes and even fun jewelry projects.

The beach is very accessible, and there's plenty of room for everyone. Just remember to bring sandals for the initial stretch of the beach where washed-up sticks often reside. Once you're past that, the sand is soft and inviting.

Explore the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory

Hawk at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
natmac stock / Shutterstock.com

Breathtaking views, informative displays, and endless trails are some things you'll find at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory.

It's as if Mother Nature herself decided to paint a masterpiece, with Lake Superior as her canvas.

It's always a joy to wander along the trails, and I always find myself learning something new from the displays.

Whether I'm strolling through the woods in the early mornings or enjoying the breathtaking view of Lake Superior at sunset, this place never ceases to amaze me.

The hiking trails are perfect for a leisurely walk or a more vigorous hike, and the little creeks that cross paths are simply adorable.

There's always something exciting happening at Hawk Ridge.

One evening, I went there hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern lights.

Falconer holding a hawk at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
natmac stock / Shutterstock.com

Although I didn't manage to see them, I did have a fun encounter with a group of young adults who were up there having a great time.

They kept to themselves, and we shared a quiet understanding and mutual respect for the beauty of nature.

As a lover of birds, this spot is like a paradise to me.

With its reputation as a remarkable place for birdwatching, I often find myself lost in the beauty of these magnificent creatures.

But even if you're not into birdwatching, the beauty of the outdoors and the joy of walking, hiking, or biking in this area is a treat.

Close up of a hawk at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
natmac stock / Shutterstock.com

Stroll Through History at Glensheen Mansion

Exterior view of Glensheen Mansion
Craig Hinton / Shutterstock.com

In the heart of Duluth rests a relic of the past, the Glensheen Mansion, a historic 39-room mansion that breathes life into the rich history of the 20th century.

Affectionately known as "Duluth's Downton Abbey," stepping into the mansion is like stepping into a time machine.

As someone who often takes advantage of the Wednesday evening music events, I've made it a ritual to arrive early to snag a prime parking spot.

The mansion, with its original furnishings intact, offers a mesmerizing narrative of the affluent family who once lived here.

The full mansion tour, which I strongly recommend, leads you through the boys' rooms on the third floor and the attic storage space, areas not covered in the classic tour.

The classic tour, however, does cover the master bedroom, girls' rooms, main floor, and the fascinating basement with the servants' quarters.

Horse stable at Glensheen Mansion
Edgar Lee Espe / Shutterstock.com

The beauty of the Glensheen Mansion does not confine itself to its interiors.

The sprawling grounds, meticulously maintained, are perfect for a leisurely hour-long stroll.

The estate also houses a gift shop filled with nostalgic keepsakes, an ice cream shop, and a cart selling beverages, which can be enjoyed at the outdoor seating by the tranquil waterside.

Of all the rooms I've explored, the breakfast room, with its stunning oak leaf stained glass, and Helen's room, with the unique pink and green tiled fireplace, have etched a special place in my heart.

Interior view of Glensheen Mansion
Brian Kenney / Shutterstock.com

Trek the Trails of Hartley Nature Center

One of the highlights of living in Duluth is having Hartley Nature Center almost at my doorstep.

It's a place where you can lose yourself in the wilderness and forget about the hustle and bustle of city life.

My weekends usually involve a trip to the center. The hiking trails are diverse and offer something for everyone.

I particularly enjoy the trail that leads up to the rocks.

The splendid view from the top, with leaves showing off their stunning colors, is something I look forward to every time.

And sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll encounter the friendliest of wildlife.

Once, I met a quail on my hike that was so comfortable with human presence, it came right up to me, creating a moment I still remember fondly.

But perhaps my most favorite part of the center is the nature play area.

It takes me back to my childhood days, and I love seeing children exploring and immersing themselves in nature.

They're always so engrossed, looking under rocks and chasing butterflies, that they lose track of time.

It's a safe space where they can truly connect with the great outdoors.

See the Historical Treasures of Lake Superior Railroad Museum

Exhibits at Lake Superior Railroad Museum
kitmasterbloke, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After spending countless weekends at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, I appreciate the deep dive into history it offers.

Each visit is an adventure filled with opportunities to explore historic train cars and locomotives, some dating back to the 1900s.

I'm always captivated by the chance to step into these majestic pieces of history, the most massive being a steam engine that commands awe and respect.

One of my favorite parts of the museum is the Hobo sign game โ€“ an ingenious little activity for children.

I've seen it entertain even the most energetic kids, including my restless nephew, who usually can't sit still for five minutes.

It's a unique and fun way to engage the younger generation while subtly teaching them about a fascinating aspect of train history.

For a more immersive experience, the museum offers train rides.

I've taken the short, scenic trip along the lake numerous times, and it never gets old.

The view is absolutely breathtaking, more so on the lake side of the train.

View of Lake Superior Railroad Museum
SoftwareSimian, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the ride, I often migrate to the snack car, where large windows offer a better view of the picturesque surroundings described in the recorded narration.

It's especially enchanting during the fall season, although securing a spot then can be a challenge - the fall 2023 rides, for instance, are already sold out!

Another highlight is the array of interactive exhibits designed for all age groups.

The train tables are a hit with preschoolers, including my little one who enjoys climbing onto the trains with her older sibling.

They even have a cabin with a pretend garden for kids and two movie theaters featuring different films.

The museum does an excellent job blending education with entertainment, making it a great place to spend a rainy day.

The Lake Superior Railroad Museum is a treasure trove of historical artifacts, each meticulously restored and preserved.

View of the train engine parts at Lake Superior Railroad Museum
James St. John, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Unveil the Maritime Wonders at Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center

Exterior of Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center
McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ever get lost in the mesmerizing tales of old sailors or find yourself captivated by the intricate engineering behind ancient maritime technology?

Let me tell you, the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center is a treasure trove of such experiences.

The museum may be small, but it overflows with rich maritime history and fascinating exhibits.

Walking through the museum, the displays and photographs narrate a beautiful tale of Lake Superior's maritime past.

The striking images of the Aerial Lift Bridge are a sight to behold.

But the fun doesn't stop at perusing through photographs and artifacts; you can immerse yourself in the "control room" exhibit, giving you a feel of being on a large boat.

Stepping outside onto the balcony, you're treated to a breathtaking view of the bridge.

As the boats pass under, you can almost hear the echoes of seafarers of yesteryears.

And if you're like me, who loves to take home a piece of my adventures, their gift shop is a haven full of diverse selections that represent Lake Superior and its rich maritime history.

The museum isn't just an informative escape; it's also well-maintained and clean.

From the exhibits to the restrooms, everything is kept in pristine condition.

This makes the experience even more enjoyable.

Explore the Bentleyville USA

Each year, as the chill of winter begins to nip at our noses, my heart fills with anticipation for Bentleyville USA, the grand lighting event that sets our small city ablaze with holiday cheer.

From the moment you step into the illuminated wonderland, a comforting cup of hot cocoa and a sweet cookie are handed to you, adding a delightful touch to the wintry spectacle.

Strolling through the shimmering spectacle is an enchanting experience, like stepping into a holiday card.

The path through Bentleyville USA always leads to the popcorn shack, where a bag of freshly popped corn is handed out at no cost.

The crunching sound of the popcorn mixes with the soft Christmas carols in the background, creating a memorable symphony for the senses.

During the walk, you will spot fire pits scattered around, lending a cozy warmth to the cold evening.

It's a delightful sight to watch children and adults alike roast marshmallows over the open flames, their faces glowing under the twinkling lights.

One of the charms of this place is the location, right off the lake.

The lights reflecting off the icy water create a magical display, although it can get quite chilly.

A piece of advice - layer up! The cold wind off the lake can be biting.

Also, if you plan your visit right, you might even get to see a ship passing through the harbor during your stroll, adding another layer of wonder to the experience.

The gift shop is a pleasant surprise too, with prices that are a bargain, especially considering the free entry to the event.

Experience Festivals at Bayfront Festival Park

Christmas decorations at Bayfront Park
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com

Every year, I find myself drawn to the myriad of outdoor activities that take place at Bayfront Festival Park.

Nestled next to the mesmerizing Lake Superior, this public plaza is more than just a hub of summer festivals and winter ice skating.

It's a place where I've made countless memories, relished in the natural beauty around me, and truly lost myself in the rhythm of music and festival spirit.

Each festival has its own unique charm, but the Bon Iver concert I attended last year stood out for me.

Though the concert setup could have been a little more organized, the experience was still unforgettable.

The Indigenous artists and performers were phenomenal, their words about protecting our sacred land and water echoing in the park, making the event even more meaningful.

The Reggae fest was another fun-filled affair with groovy music that you could hear, loud and clear, even from a distance.

The park, always well-maintained, took on a vibrant look during this time, with people dancing, laughing, and simply having the time of their lives.

The Porta potties were kept clean, making it a comfortable experience for everyone.

Enjoy Daily Strolls at Leif Erikson Park

A stone gazebo at Leif Erikson Park
Lorch / Shutterstock.com

There is something incredibly charming about the simple act of strolling through the serene landscape of Leif Erikson Park.

The park, beloved by many in our city, is a medley of greenery, blooming flowers, and the gentle whisper of the Great Lake.

My daily walks at the park are nothing short of enchanting.

A typical day starts with the sun heralding a new dawn as it rises over the lake's horizon.

The parkโ€™s well-kept flower gardens, filled with many vibrant blooms, come alive in the morning light.

The rose garden, in particular, is a sight to behold.

Although on some days, there are only a few roses in bloom, the park never fails to impress with its array of other beautiful flowers.

The park features a small stage where local events often take place.

I've had the joy of stumbling upon impromptu performances, which add a touch of magic to my already perfect day.

View of the waters from Leif Erikson Park
Sharon Mollerus, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I relish these moments of unexpected amusement as I walk along the well-maintained paths.

And let's not forget the Lakewalk, a 1.7-mile paved trail that runs from the park all the way to the pier and canal park.

This trail offers a stunning view of the city on one side and the great lake on the other.

Along the path, there are places to eat or shop and even a small sandy beach to rest and soak in the beauty of the surroundings.

Occasionally, I discover art installations, monuments, or old anchors - each adding a unique touch to the overall charm of the place.

Leif Erikson Park is more than just a park to me; it's a daily reminder of the city's charm, a testament to the beauty of nature, and a sanctuary that I cherish deeply.

It's my haven in the heart of the city, a place where I can immerse myself in the wonders of nature and rejuvenate my mind, body, and soul.

Have Fun at Spirit Mountain Recreation Area

Each time winter rolls around, I find myself eagerly waiting for the first flurry of snowflakes to grace Spirit Mountain.

The moment the landscape transforms into a snow-covered wonderland, ready for an exciting ski season, is one I look forward to with a sense of childlike anticipation.

I strap on my skis and head down those long, thrilling runs, painting quicksilver trails against the untouched white.

As I'm whizzing downhill, I can't help but steal glances at the breathtaking view of the twin ports from above.

It's absolutely mesmerizing! And after an adventurous day on the slopes, I love to unwind at the food court.

The chalet there is always spotless, and the variety of food options invariably hits the spot.

Summer at Spirit Mountain has its own charm.

The moment the snow melts, the Adventure Park opens up for an entirely different kind of fun.

My personal favorite is the alpine coaster. The ride is exhilarating, and the views are stunning.

The landscape is bathed in shades of green, with tall trees swaying gently in the breeze.

But the thing I love most about Spirit Mountain is the walk through the woods in spring.

As soon as the snow thaws, a carpet of trilliums and wild woodland flowers comes to life, painting the woods in a riot of colors.

Embrace the Wild at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve

Scenic view from Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve
Northfielder, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Whenever I want to break away from the city's hustle and bustle, I find solace at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve.

This vast observatory is not just for bird enthusiasts, it's a place where anyone can appreciate and learn about the majesty of birds of prey that migrate through here.

The view from the ridge is breathtaking, with the rolling vista of the lake and city of Duluth stretching out below.

You might not be there during the season for demonstrations and outreach by UMD staff, but those occasions are truly enriching.

They offer detailed and interactive sessions that deepen your understanding of these fascinating creatures.

Just be warned though, during those times, cars will be parked along the side of the road since there are no designated parking lots.

This is a good thing in my opinion. It ensures that we don't disturb the wildlife too much.

Hawk Ridge is not just for birdwatching. There are trails for multiple uses, including hiking and biking.

The snowmobile trail is a fan favorite during the snowy season.

Here, the wild is left as wild as it can be. The trails are marked by color, so it's easy to stay on the path.

At the entrance, there are free tours conducted three times a day.

You can also find a stand selling light snacks and drinks.

Spend a Day at The St. Louis County Depot

Exterior of St. Louis County Depot
McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine stepping back in time to an age when steam locomotives were the fastest mode of transportation.

The St. Louis County Depot is just that place for me.

This historic 1892 depot has been transformed into a living museum and arts space that simply takes my breath away.

As I step into the Depot, I am immediately transported to a world of gleaming steel, thunderous engines, and a simpler time.

The rail museum is a particular favorite of mine, with its impressive collection of antique trains.

I can easily spend hours marveling at the intricate details of these titanic machines from a bygone era.

During the summer months, the Depot is transformed into a children's paradise.

I still recall the jubilant faces of my own children when Thomas the Train rolled into the station during one August visit.

As Christmas approaches, the magic of the Depot truly comes alive.

The mesmerizing sight of the Christmas train, decked out in festive lights, arriving at the Depot from Fitgers is an experience that has become a cherished holiday tradition.

And when night falls, the Depot takes on an eerily beautiful aura.

Experience a Train Journey Through History

There's something incredibly nostalgic about the sound of a train horn echoing through the open air.

It reminds me of my grandfather's stories about his days working on the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad.

I was compelled to experience this historical gem for myself.

Just outside my doorstep in Duluth, MN, you can find yourself on the original tracks of the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad.

This isn't just a regular train ride though, it's an adventure that transports you back to a time when railroads were the arteries of the United States.

As soon as you step onto the train, you will feel the history reverberating through the wooden benches and vintage fixtures.

While the train chugs along, you get to feast your eyes on the breathtaking views of the St.

Louis River and the dense forests that surround it.

I still remember the first time I saw a bald eagle soaring over the river.

It was a sight that filled me with awe and reaffirmed the importance of preserving our natural wonders.

On several occasions, I have had the pleasure of being joined by a group of enthusiastic volunteers who share fascinating tidbits about the history of the railroad during the ride.

Their passion is infectious and adds a layer of richness to the experience that you can't find in any book or documentary.

But this is not just another tourist attraction.

It's a piece of Duluth's history, a testament to our past, and a symbol of our resilience and spirit.

Discover Underwater Wonders at the Great Lakes Aquarium

Exterior view of Great Lakes Aquarium
Crown Star Images, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Whenever I want to spend a day exploring the wonders of the underwater world, I find myself drawn to the Great Lakes Aquarium.

The moment I step inside, I'm always struck by the sheer variety of life on display.

From fish and reptiles to birds and other animals, there's something here to captivate everyone.

I always get a thrill seeing the fossils of ancient amphibians and reptiles. And the lake fish exhibitions?

Interior view of Great Lakes Aquarium
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com

They're simply out of this world. I've lost count of how many times I've discovered a species I'd never seen before.

The hands-on touch tanks are also a big hit, especially with younger visitors.

More than once, I've watched kids' faces light up in awe as they gently touch a starfish or a jellyfish for the first time.

And the educational talks, like the ones about sturgeons, are not just for kids. I've learned so much from them!

Fishes at Great Lakes Aquarium
Crown Star Images, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Revisit History Aboard the William A. Irvin

Exterior of the William A. Irvin
McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I've always had a soft spot for maritime history, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the William A. Irvin Museum is one of my favorite local spots.

There's something fascinating about stepping foot on the deck of this grand vessel, once the flagship iron ore and coal freight vessel, launched in 1937.

It's like being transported back in time, experiencing a slice of the ship's history right here in the present.

The staff aboard the William A. Irvin are more than well-versed in their knowledge of the ship's history.

They're always there to answer questions and provide fascinating snippets about the ship's past.

The self-guided tour is a pretty neat feature too โ€“ it's well-organized, and meandering through the boat at your own pace really gives you a chance to soak in all the details.

Final Thoughts

Every day in Duluth feels like a vacation.

This city has a lot to offer, whether you're seeking a rich history, serene nature, or exciting recreation.

I would encourage everyone to take a moment and truly experience the essence of Duluth.

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