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.
A parking lot and public access to the beach are located on the left hand side of the street a couple 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.
Duluth has the usual collection of family entertainment with an aquarium, zoo, children’s museum, railroads and entertainment parks. A SCI membership gives free admission to both the zoo and children’s museum.
Lake Superior Zoo hosts the stunning Kingsbury Creek, which sadly experienced flooding a few years back resulting in the loss of some animals and exhibits. That being noted, the zoo is still a fun visit with a 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 has a few unique exhibits like a Hover Chair. The museum is overall smaller than the children’s museums in Iowa and geared more toward preschool aged children, although my first graders did enjoy our hour-long visit. Driving directions can be confusing.
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 experience in the region.
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 great 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 water falls and more!
The best way to plan a trip is to pick up a North Shore guide which 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
The Upper, Middle and Lower falls are all easily accessible by stroller along smooth hard-surfaced walkways. A modern visitor center with 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 in the edge of the river or climb the slippery rocks. Our family loved this state park and spent over three hours here.
Superior Hiking Trail overlaps park trails and it worth the hike to Fifth Falls. Our seven year-olds had no trouble on these more challenging fun trails!
SHT is over 310 miles of foot paths along the rocky ridgeline of Lake Superior. It was named one of the top ten best hiking trails in the world by Backpacker Magazine.
The continuous trail is has lots of access points and runs through state parks along Highway 61. This makes it easy to hike smaller portions with your children.
We did two-hour hikes with our seven year-olds in Gooseberry and Tettegouche state parks. The trails are well maintained and along neat geological features like water falls and rivers. Daddy carried a day pack for us with water, snacks and other necessities like wipes and tissue.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Don’t miss a venture down to Agate Beach and the rocky cliffs overlooking the lake! 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.
We studied about lighthouse 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 shore line 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 sleep 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.
We hope you enjoyed Weekend Guide to the North Shore with Kids! Please let us know what adventures your family is having.
* We do our best to maintain accurate information, but please check with designations before planning a visit.