As the last stop on my 2021 tour of the Great Lakes, Duluth was a good pick. Full of good food, interesting shops, and places to visit, it was a massive treat for all my senses. I hadn’t been in this big a city for months, which also meant I hadn’t seen much traffic in a long time so that was an ongoing adjustment. Luckily, I camped near the Waabizheshikana Trail along the St. Louis River so I had a nature escape handy. The views along the trail were indeed fantastic.
One hike on the trail, I heard a noise behind me and turned around just in time to see a mama and Bambi peer out from the bushes on one side, then walk across the trail to the other side, not even 10 feet away. I held my breath and didn’t move a muscle till they were gone. What a treat!
Buffalo Bill in Duluth
While wandering around town, I saw a lot interesting things, especially old buildings. I couldn’t help but think this one was cool. Old newspaper building + Buffalo Bill? There’s gotta be a story there, I thought. And there is. Buffalo Bill held 50 percent ownership of the printing plant and newspaper, and after his sister married his business partner, Bill financed the building construction in 1893. Who knew Buffalo Bill had any connection to Duluth, Minnesota? Well, now you and I both do.
Tourist Central in Duluth is Canal Park. It’s crowded and the traffic can be nightmarish, but it’s actually worth it to see things like the Aerial Lift Bridge up close and in action.
You can walk or drive across the bridge, but when boats need to get through, it moves up and it’s quite fun to watch. I was lucky to see this freighter pass through on the way to Lake Superior. For smaller boats, the bridge only goes up a little, but for this ship, the lift went all the way up. Cool.
The Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) maintains a small museum next to the bridge and I quite enjoyed it. (The USACE also runs many of the campgrounds I stay at, although the museum doesn’t get into that at all.) I loved this display of ship’s gauges and idly wondered how I could translate that to my battery and solar panel monitors in my Alto.
The other thing that caught my eye was a scale-model display of Fresnel lenses, each of them less than a foot high. I did not know there were scale model Fresnel lenses and now I kind of want them all. Well, I would want them if I had a house to put them in. I’ll wait. Someday, baby…
Canal Park is also where you can see the two lighthouses that mark the Lake Superior end of the Duluth Ship Canal. I walked out to one and while you can’t go inside, it’s still a nice view of the lake and also provides a lovely view of the other lighthouse.
Blue Bridge + Aquarium
This pedestrian-only bridge was adorable, a little mini lift bridge just down the street from the big Aerial Lift Bridge. While I wanted its name to be Baby Bridge, it is formally known as the Minnesota Slip Bridge. Whatever. I think Baby Bridge would be way cuter.
It goes up and down to let smaller boats out of the marina area (think fishing charters and private yachts). I had fun watching it go all the way up and then all the way back down as I waited to cross from Canal Park to the Aquarium. And, yes, I did make a little video of it. It takes 3 minutes to go all the way down. (Leave me a comment if you’re dying for the video, I never know who the bridge fanatics are in my audience.)
The Great Lakes Aquarium was awesome, and honestly, the best parking deal in the area ($5 for all day). So go there, and skip the traffic in Canal Park (and get to walk twice across the Baby Bridge!).
The aquarium has baby gators (really, they aren’t that cute because they are, after all, ALLIGATORS!), otters (which really are that cute) and my favorites, the seahorses. I could have watched that seahorse tank all day but it was on a corner and oddly places so traffic kept bumping me along.
The Raptor Ridge room features a turkey vulture (one of my least favorite birds) and a Bald Eagle. They both were injured earlier in the wild and need assistance to survive, so the aquarium is a safe environment for them. The eagle can’t fly but he can still give you that eagle-eyed glare. I was pretty happy there was a thick plexiglass wall between us.
Odds and Ends
Duluth cuts their pizzas into squares. Other places may also do this but this is the first place I’ve seen it done. While it seemed odd, it did make little trianges of crust that I loved to eat. And when you order a sausage pizza, someone places the sausage so that each piece gets one. I don’t know how they do that.
A few intersections at Canal Park had what my St. Louis friends might call “bubblers” only these weren’t for drinking. I have no idea what they were for.
Farther east of Canal Park is the Fitgers Brewery and Hotel, both housed in the original brewery built in 1885 and renovated to include other shops and restaurants. My friends and I had a great “last night in Duluth” dinner followed by ice cream, and then I wandered through the bookstore, the tea store, and the kitchen stuff store on my way back to the parking garage.
The only negative in Duluth? The campground. We’d chosen the city-owned Indian Point campground because it was about a half-hour closer to Duluth than nearest state park (Jay Cooke). Unfortunately, there was a 24/6 dredging operation going on (they stopped on Sundays because, well, the Midwest…) that made horrendous noise. My campsite was close to the river, ergo close to the dredger, so I mostly ran my AC fan 24 hours a day to drown out the noise. And forget about sitting outside, it wasn’t pleasant at all. So I’m not going to recommend this place. If you want to stay there, ask about the dredging operation before you commit.
And just like that, my tour of the Great Lakes and the UP was done. You can see all the stops on the Great Lakes Tour page.
Want to Know More?
- Waabizheshikana Trail (formerly the Western Waterfront Trail)
- Buffalo Bill and Duluth
- The Aerial Lift Bridge
- Duluth Ship Canal
- Minnesota Slip Bridge
- Great Lakes Aquarium
- Indian Point Campground
It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.
Ursula K. LeGuin