The North Shore makes the perfect weekend or week-long family trip! Stunning state parks, cozy cabins, and plenty of R&R can be found along the shores of Lake Superior.
Just six hours from Des Moines, Iowa, the adventure begins in Duluth, Minnesota.
A Weekend Guide to the North Shore with Kids
With a population of around 86,000, Duluth Minnesota feels surprisingly small. Built up between a rocky ridgeline and the largest body of water in North America, there is much to do and see in this unique city.
Duluth offers the North Shore’s only sand beach. Five miles of clear water beauty at Park Point just a quick fun drive over the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Helpful Tip: A parking lot and public access to the beach are located on the left-hand side of the street a couple of blocks after crossing the bridge.
What separates Duluth from other communities is the outdoor natural landscape.
Duluth has 6,834 acres of city parklands and 178 miles of wooded trails.
We had a great time visiting Enger Park and climbing the tower. The views are incredible! There is a charming Asian garden, several nice walking paths, and picnic spots.
Mindy, a follower, shared, “Thank you for recommending Enger Tower!
We only spent one night in Duluth, in Canal Park, during our North Shore trip, so we didn’t do a lot there other than a stroll along the lake walk and watch ships pass under the aerial lift bridge, but my kids really enjoyed Enger Tower. The views were amazing!
FYI, my husband was a little obsessed with the shipping schedule he found online as well as the live camera feed of the harbor — but it came in very handy so we could run down to the bridge when a ship was leaving port and catch a glimpse without having to use valuable time waiting and waiting. Watching ships turned out to be quite fascinating!”
Duluth has the usual collection of family entertainment with an aquarium, zoo, children’s museum, railroads, and entertainment parks.
Pro Tip: A benefit of a SCI membership is free admission to both the zoo and children’s museum.
Lake Superior Zoo is situated along the stunning Kingsbury Creek and is home to over 140 species. A few of our favorite places to visit in the zoo are the fantastic Nocturnal Animal Building, petting zoo, and Griggs Learning Center which features lots of hands-on encounters and learning. We spent around two hours visiting the zoo and really enjoyed our time there.
Duluth Children’s Museum is getting an upgrade! Visit their website for the latest information.
Our family visited Spirit Mountain to ride the Alpine Coaster. While we had fun, our overall feeling was that the price didn’t reflect the value. We probably just tend to lean more toward the free natural experiences in the region.
Highway 61 along the North Shore begins in Duluth, MN where Interstate 35 ends. HWY 61 is the main route all the way north to Canada. There are limited side roads or backways.
There are two portions of HWY 61 between Duluth and Two Harbors; old HWY 61 along the shoreline (one lane in each direction) and new HWY 61 which is a fast four-lane HWY.
Along old HWY 61 between Duluth and Two Harbors is the Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen. A cute play area for little ones and hammocks hung from trees create a relaxing yard where you can snack on all the yummy treats.
Look for Tom’s Logging Camp, Betty’s Pies north of Two Harbors, historical museums, overlooks, water access roads, state parks with waterfalls, and more!
Helpful Tip: The best way to plan a trip is to pick up a North Shore guide that lists all the attractions, lodging, and more in terms of miles along highway 61 from Duluth.
Grand Superior Lodge
With so much outdoor entertainment, lodging takes on a special role along the North Shore and the Grand Superior Lodge doesn’t disappoint.
The best thing about the Grand Superior Lodge is how close you are to the water. We slept at night with the windows open, listening to the crashing waves. Read our full review HERE and weekend meal plan!
Gooseberry Falls & the Superior Hiking Trail
Gooseberry Falls is an amazing state park along Highway 61 about an hour north of Duluth.
The Upper, Middle and Lower falls are all easily accessible by stroller along smooth hard-surfaced walkways. A modern visitor center with a gift shop is the entrance point to the falls.
Swimming is not recommended at Gooseberry Falls State Park, however, you can bring water shoes and wade at the edge of the river or climb the slippery rocks. Our family loved this state park and spent over three hours here.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss a venture down to Agate Beach and the rocky cliffs overlooking the lake!
Superior Hiking Trail
Superior Hiking Trail is over 310 miles of footpaths along the rocky ridgeline of Lake Superior in Minnesota.
It was named one of the top ten best hiking trails in the world by Backpacker Magazine.
The continuous trail has many access points and runs through state parks along Highway 61. That makes it easy to wander along the Superior Hiking Trail with kids.
We did two-hour hikes with our seven-year-olds in Gooseberry and Tettegouche state parks.
The trails are well-maintained with neat geological features like waterfalls and rivers.
Daddy carried a day pack for us with water, snacks, and other necessities like wipes and tissues. We have now trained our kids to carry their own small packs.
Stop in at the trail headquarters in Two Harbors to grab maps, information, and cool gear.
Pro Tip: Make sure to look up trail conditions on the website.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
It’s worth the $5 day pass fee which will also allow you to visit Split Rock Lighthouse State Park pebble beach which is just a few miles away from Gooseberry Falls State Park. The lighthouse tour is an additional fee.
We studied about lighthouses before our visit, reading books like ‘Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie’ and The Lighthouse Family Series.
We skipped the tour of Split Rock Lighthouse and visited another lighthouse in the Apostle Islands.
We spent our afternoon hiking along the rocky shoreline and enjoying the pebble beach.
Our son threw rocks into the water for 30 minutes straight and daddy hit an all-time record by falling asleep on the rocks.
The leisurely afternoon was relaxing and peaceful. Several times I caught the children just staring off into the water and thinking.
I loved that this special place gave our children the opportunity to ponder.
Expore more in Minnasota
We hope you enjoyed the Weekend Guide to the North Shore with Kids! Here are some other great destinations in the area.
We do our best to maintain accurate information, but please check with designations before planning a visit.
As you are traveling to the north shore through Minnesota, plan a stop in the Twin Cities.
With unique attractions like Can Can Wonderland, amazing animal encounters at the Como Park Zoo, and a six-level science museum, the Twin Cities are worth more than a few days exploring.
Niagara Cave Tour MN is about an hour and a half drive from Waterloo. A great field trip featuring a 60-foot underground waterfall.
Weekend Guide to the North Shore with Kids