1. Tour the Historic Split Rock Lighthouse
Perched on top of a rocky 130-foot-tall cliff overlooking the vast blue waters of Lake Superior, the iconic lighthouse is a must-see for any North Shore visitor. After a massive storm in 1905 destroyed numerous ships, the Split Rock Lighthouse was created to help guide ships carrying iron ore and steel safely across the dangerous waters. Completed in 1910, the lighthouse continued to serve as a beacon for ships traveling across Lake Superior for nearly 60 years.
To learn more about the history of the lighthouse, the infamous shipwrecks and the families that lived on the grounds over the years, stop by the Visitor’s Center for exhibits, videos and more. If you’re visiting mid-May to late-October, you can also take a 20-minute guided tour of the lighthouse and the historic buildings on the grounds, including the keeper’s house and the fog signal building. Admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children ages 5-17.
2. Take a Stroll on the Little Two Harbors Trail
The Little Two Harbors trail runs from the lighthouse down to the Lake Superior shoreline and is a perfect trail to take if you only have an hour or so to spend in the park. The trail is less than a mile (one way) and is a relatively easy hike that offers one of the best views of the the Split Rock Lighthouse—just hop off the trail and walk out onto the rocks for the perfect shot.
3. Picnic at Pebble Beach
Be sure to head over to the Pebble Beach area to picnic, skip stones, relax or even take a dip in the cool waters of Lake Superior. From the beach, you’ll be able to see the lighthouse off in the distance and you’ll also have a great view of Ellingsen Island. Overall, it’s a great place to relax and reset after a long day of hiking. Tip: Bring a jacket or a sweater along because even on a warm, sunny day it can be significantly cooler along the shoreline.
4. Camp at a Secluded Cart-In or Backpacking Site
If you’d like to try something a little more rustic than your average drive-in camp site but aren’t quite ready to try backpacking, then consider booking a cart-in campsite. All of the cart-in sites are fairly secluded, but still within walking distance of the showers/restrooms and parking lot (in case you forget something in your car). Just check out your assigned cart, load up all your gear and firewood for the night or weekend and hit the trail.
If you really want to get out into nature, reserve one of the four secluded backpacking sites along the Lake Superior shoreline. The sites range from 1/2 to 2 miles from the parking lot and two sites are even accessible by kayak. The backpacking sites are incredibly beautiful and peaceful and offer incredible views of the North Shore. Tip: Reserve a backpacking site during peak fall colors—you won’t regret it. (Just be sure to dress warm!)
5. Hike the Split Rock River Loop Trail*
One of the best hikes in the park is the Split Rock River Loop, which is actually north of the main park/campground area. The 4.5-mile loop runs along the Split Rock River and it a wonderful hike no matter the season. It’s part of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) so it will be a more strenuous hike, but definitely worth it. You’ll hike down into ravines and up to impressive overlooks of the North Shore forests and shoreline. There are also first-come-first-serve SHT backpacking sites along the trail, in case you’d like to try something even more rustic than the reservable backpacking sites in the park. Tip: Be sure to bring plenty of water and trail snacks along on your hike, especially if you plan to hike the full loop.
*Note: The Split Rock Bridge that connects the loop is currently down. According to the Superior Hiking Trail Association, a new bridge will be installed in 2019. Until then, hikers are encouraged to check out the alternate Split Rock Ridge Loop trail instead.
What’s your favorite thing to do or see at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park? Leave a comment below!