Swimming holes of Duluth
In this Lake Superior town, rivers are the place to cool off.
In Duluth, there's water, water everywhere — and nary a place to swim.
In Lake Superior, anyway. If you try to cool off in the frigid lake, you'll probably run out immediately, shrieking.
Early tourist brochures touted Duluth as "The Air-Conditioned City," and the vast waters of the big lake keep it cool, usually until July. Then it heats up, and the locals — few of whom have actual air conditioners — head for water.
People do swim in Lake Superior, mostly children from Park Point beaches and teens showing off for each other on the concrete "cribs" off Canal Park.
The rest of us prefer the warmer — yet deliciously cool — waters of rivers. And because all of the rivers tumble down the hill toward Lake Superior, they all have little waterfalls you can sit under, for a Jacuzzi effect.
We're talking rock here, not sand beach, so wear thick-soled water shoes to protect your feet. Check depths before you jump from cliffs, and never, ever dive. And be careful of fast currents, especially after a heavy rain.
Here are my favorite swimming holes in Duluth.
Lester River in Lester Park. This is the swimming hole of choice for families, especially the big pool right off Superior Street. There are parking spaces, porta-potties and, in the park, picnic tables and play equipment.
If you don't like crowds, go in the morning.
A bit farther up the river, there's a smaller pool lined by a rock cliff from which teens like to jump. If you want to jump yourself, watch where they land, because there's a sweet spot and a spot too close to a rock.
Come earlier in the day and you'll be able to float unmolested, gazing at blue sky and a beautiful white pine.
Little kids like to slither through two rapids belly-first. Just below the second rapids, scoot around on your butt and you'll find a Barcalounger-shaped depression in the smooth, volcanic rock where you can sit and let the rushing water swirl around you.
Directions: From Superior Street, turn left at 61st Avenue East and into the parking lot. It's five miles east of Canal Park.
Sucker River on Old Highway 61. This river, best known for rainbow and brook trout fishing at its mouth on Lake Superior, also is great for swimming.
Make your way upstream, under the highway bridge and the high bridge that carries North Shore Scenic Railroad cars. You'll see a decent pool right away, but keep going until you see a series of three pools; there's an overgrown path on the right side of the river.
All North Shore rivers have waterfalls, with pooled water beneath them. The notable thing about the Sucker is that all three of these pools are like little round tubs, with rock barriers that prevent swimmers from being swept downriver (this is not guaranteed during high water).
Float around, let the water crash on your head or get a workout by paddling against the current. Non-swimmers can lounge on the surrounding rock or take a nap on the flat rock next to the middle falls, where two bonus gushers supply lulling white noise.
Farther upstream, there's a broader, shallower pool with a pebble beach at the mouth of the culvert under the express highway.
Directions: On Old Highway 61, drive past the marked French River and park in a large but unmarked lot that's two miles past the New Scenic Cafe. It's 15 miles east of Canal Park.
The French River also has excellent pools, one of which has a rope swing. It's 12 miles up the shore.
Keene Creek on the Superior Hiking Trail in West Duluth. These swimming holes are along my favorite stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail, but it had never occurred to me to swim in the creek until I saw a family doing it.
This could be the shadiest and most quiet place to swim in Duluth. There's a pool under the bridge just off the parking lot, where teens jump from a cliff. Keep walking till you see the ruins of an old stone pump house.
A large, tannin-tinted pool is next to the ruins, fed by a waterfall. There's another pool and waterfall upstream. If you keep walking upriver, you'll find a pretty, rock-lined spot completely shielded from the trail.
Directions: From Canal Park, take I-35 west to the Central Avenue exit. Drive up Central and past Grand Avenue to Highland Avenue, which veers left at a 45-degree angle. Park in the large lot at Highland and Skyline Parkway and walk east for about five minutes.
And if you hike west of the Highland parking lot for 3.2 miles, you'll end up in the Kingsbury Creek gorge, where it's fun to clamber up gigantic slabs of rock.
For more, see Hiking in Duluth.
Miller Creek in West Duluth. This creek runs through Lincoln Park, and there are nice swimming holes in its upper stretch, where the Superior Hiking Trail goes through it. But closer to West 3rd Street, kids love to slide down a part of the stream bed that's smooth rock.
Directions: Take the 27th Avenue W. exit from I-35, drive up the hill to West 3rd Street, turn right, then left onto Lincoln Park Drive.
Chester Creek in East Duluth. The trails alongside this creek, between Skyline Parkway and Fourth Street, also are part of the Superior Hiking Trail. They're popular with college students, families and dog walkers.
In fact, the largest pool, just two minutes north of Fourth Street, is used more by dogs than people. Farther up, there's a pool at the bottom of a sheer rock cliff, reached by a steep trail from the west side.
Keep going until you see a waterfall and pool next to the trail. The entire stretch takes only 20 minutes to walk, and if you cross Skyline Parkway, you'll be in Chester Park, which has a playground and parking area.
Directions: From the Rose Garden off London Road, drive up 14th Avenue East to Fourth Street. The trail starts across from Burrito Union restaurant.
Amity Creek on Seven Bridges Road in East Duluth. This forest-lined stretch of road, which follows Amity Creek as it plunges toward the Lester River in Lester Park, is a longtime destination for Duluth youths.
Near the first bridge is The Deeps, where cliff jumpers launch themselves into a pool at the base of a waterfall. Don't do that; it's dangerous.
Instead, go up to the shallower spot just below the sixth bridge. Here, Amity Creek tumbles into a pool, then down a slide into another pool that has a little gravel beach.
Directions: From Superior Street after 60th Avenue East, turn onto Occidental Boulevard, which turns into Seven Bridges Road.
Locals discuss their favorite swimming holes on Perfect Duluth Day.
Playing in Lake Superior
You can always wade in the cold lake, and every once in a while, when winds blow in a layer of warmer water from the northeast, you can swim in it comfortably.
Beautiful sand beaches line Park Point, the 10-mile sandbar that creates the Twin Ports' harbor, and they're all open to the public. There's one right over the Aerial Lift Bridge.
But the main swimming area is three miles farther at Park Point Recreation Area, which includes a beach house, playgrounds, soccer fields, volleyball courts and picnic areas.
Watch for signs that warn of rip currents (look for warning signs and a red flag).
Not far from Canal Park, there are a couple of shallow coves just off the Lakewalk near Fitger's, You also can wade off Leif Erikson Park and at the 42nd Avenue Park in the Lakeside neighborhood, near Lester Park.
The locals' favorite is just beyond Lester Park, Brighton Beach in Kitchi Gammi Park, on the east edge of town at 63rd Avenue. It has a half-mile of cobblestone beaches and flat, smooth rhyolite ledges that are perfect for lounging in the sun.
Be careful when you go into the water, however; the rocks along the shore are very slippery, and you're likely to fall.
Swimming on the North Shore
There are more swimming holes farther up the shore, along the rivers and in Lake Superior.