I grew up visiting Minnesota’s North Shore, but it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I learned to really appreciate just how much there is to enjoy and explore up north. A girlfriend of mine recently asked for advice on things to do in the Duluth area for a 3 day weekend with little kids, so naturally, I thought I’d whip together a blog post with all of my best tips. Below is a basic itinerary for a 3 day family vacation in Duluth. If you want to do as little planning as possible and still maximize your time, this should do the trick!
Before you go
There are a few things to keep in mind that might help you enhance your entire North Shore experience. Here are a few things I recommend looking into before you book your trip.
Choose car-free lodging
While there are so many places to choose from when it comes to staying in Duluth, I personally love staying right in the heart of the city, smack dab in the middle of Canal Park. Our family usually opts for The Canal Park Lodge because of it’s quality breakfast and accommodations as well as it’s central location.
If you are going to be spending your weekend getaway wrangling kids, I think having a hotel that gives you quick and easy access to a variety of things simply by walking out the door of your hotel can make everything so much easier on everyone.
Plus, if you have kids who would love seeing big ships, Canal Park Lodge offers great views that you can see from your room! That’s why, before you book your room, be sure to check the ship schedules. If ships happen to be coming in in the morning or during the day when you plan to be at the hotel, you can enhance your stay by booking a Lakeside room. This way your kids can enjoy the view of the ships and you don’t have to go anywhere!
Check the Ship Schedule
If you decide to stay in the heart of Duluth, near Canal Park, you will also find yourself with great views of any ships that might be passing under The Lift Bridge.
To make sure you are taking full advantage of this experience, you can check the ship schedule ahead of time so that you can plan to get a front-row view of the whole thing!
If you usually check into your hotel around 3 like we do, I have put together a quick list of things you can do that don’t take up too much time but still allow you to feel like you were able to take in a full-day of Duluth sight seeing and explorning.
Take the Lake Walk in Downtown Duluth
The second you check into your hotel, you’ll probably be itching to get out and explore. There is no place to do that than the Lake Walk. While the Lake Walk itself is nearly 8 miles of paved trail, you can easily stroll the area located right outside the hotels and along the piece on Canal Park.
From here you can play on the rocks near the lake, feed the seagulls, check out the local shops, and even enjoy some food truck eats.
Walk the Lift Bridge
If your kids are old enough, taking a quick walk over The Lift Bridge can be a really easy, exciting thing to do. Plus, this gives you the opportunity to walk down both sides of the pier!
Visit Enger Tower and Park
Enger Park has always been somewhere I loved visiting, even when I was a kid. Since our children were little we have told them it was Rapunzel’s Tower. This is a large, stone tower that has stairs you can climb that allow you to enjoy mini observation decks of Enger Park, Duluth and Lake Superior.
Along with the Enger Tower, there are also walking trails and a Japanese Garden to enjoy. In the center of the garden is a large gong that kids can take turns banging.
Grab Dinner in Canal Park
No matter what your food preference, there is something for everyone to enjoy at the restaurants in Canal Park! While there are a crazy amount of restaurants to choose from all within walking distance, here are our top 3 go-tos!
Grandma’s Saloon and Grill is probably one of the most popular places to grab a bite in Duluth and is the ending point for the famous Grandma’s Marathon that is held between Two Harbors and Duluth every year.
Little Angies Cantina is perfect for anyone craving some Mexican foods. Not the best Mexican food I have ever eaten, but the atmosphere is great, and the Beer-Rita is to die for!
Canal Park Brewing Company is probably my favorite as far as good food and craft beer (or wine). You can get a table outside overlooking the lake and if you happen to be staying at The Canal Park Lodge, then you are right within walking distance! (And basically share a parking lot.)
Stop for chocolates at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
If you are craving a little after-dinner sweet, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is located just near the water’s edge. You can pop in for one of their famous caramel apples and then enjoy a little stroll along the water, or enjoy a bike ride with the whole family!
Assuming that this is your one full day to spend really exploring, I included a full “trip day” plan so you could explore a little bit beyond Duluth.
These are some of our favorite go-to spots as well as must-see places if you are visiting Minnesota’s North Shore.
Enjoy breakfast with a lake view & watch the ships come in
Again, if you are stay at the Canal Park Lodge, they have a great back patio where you can enjoy breakfast and watch the waves lap against the shore while you eat your waffles and sip your locally brewed coffee from the Duluth Coffee Company.
Take the scenic route to Two Harbors
Once you’ve finished your breakfast, you can hop in the car and take a leisurely drive along the scenic route (be sure to look for signs or you might miss it). If you are in a time crunch you can continue your journey on Highway 61, but to maximize your sight seeing, I definitely recommend the scenic route.
Besides taking in gorgeous views of the lake, you’ll also get an additional variety of little stopping points along the journey!
Make a pit stop at Gitchee Gumee Park
If you have antsy little ones, pulling in for a quick stretch break at Gitchee Gumee Park can be a good idea. There is a park, picnic area, and some rocky shoreline for the kids to play and toss rocks while taking in the beauty of Lake Superior.
Have a picnic at Gooseberry Falls
If you love waterfalls and easy hikes with kids, Gooseberry is a perfect stopping point. Here are other North Shore hiking ideas with kids.
The falls can get strong, so make sure to keep and eye on your kids (I went with my friend once and her 4 boys. They took of running in every direction and she was not a fan.)
If you have kids who love to run, taking the staircase down to the lower part of the falls can ensure a safer time while still being able to take in the views of the big falls.
Visit Split Rock Lighthouse
While we haven’t yet visited Split Rock Lighthouse ourselves, (although Tom and I did do the hiking trails), this is one of Minnesota’s North Shore’s top tourist stops and is just a little ways past Gooseberry Falls.
Even if you don’t want to make the trip to the lighthouse, there is still plenty to do and see in the surrounding areas.
Grab pie at Betty’s Pies
If you are ready to stop for lunch or dinner, you can most definitely eat a full meal at the iconic, Betty’s Pies just off Hwy 61. However, Betty’s is my personal go-to after a long day of hiking. I always get the raspberry rhubarb because the crumble on top is *chef’s kiss.*
Stop at Great Lakes Candy Kitchen on your way home
Our kid’s favorite stop (along the scenic route) is always Great Lakes Candy Kitchen. Not only do they have a variety of tasty treats that are made in house, but the entire yard surrounding the kitchen is set up as a mini playland.
Take a morning walk down to the pier
I am a sucker for a morning walk, sipping my coffee while taking in the sounds of the seagulls and the lake. If you haven’t made it out to the end of the pier, going first thing in the morning usually guarantees you a better view since the crowds are minimal.
Visit the William A Irvin Museum and take a tour
While you’re down near the pier, you can pop into the William A. Irvin Museum which is free to the public and has a few fun things for the kids to do. They can steer the helm of a ship and take a peek inside first class, second class and crew states rooms!
There are tributes to the famous Edmond Fitzgerald as well as a glimpse into the inner workings of the big ships.
Chances are you have seen the William A. Irvin docked inside the canal, but you can also book a guided boat tour so that you can see the inside of the ship! Fees are minimal and children under 10 are free with a paying adult!
Check out the Great Lakes Aquarium
If you prefer a more closed-in environment that is sure to capture the kid’s attention, be sure to check out the Great Lakes Aquarium. This is easily within walking distance of the Canal Park area, or you can spring for parking which is only $5.
Enjoy a sandy beach day
Personally, there is no better end to a fun-filled vacation than just chilling out and relaxing on the sandy beach. Am I right?
After you have checked out of your hotel, you can make your way across the lift bridge and down on your left you will find a giant stretch of sandy beach where you can play, relax, have a picnic and soak up a little more vacation time!