Duluth 101

Here's everything you need to know about visiting this lively port town on Lake Superior.

Boats coming into Duluth harbor.
An ore boat enters Duluth's harbor.

Thirty years ago, motorists whizzed right through Duluth on their way to Minnesota's North Shore, putting it into their rear-view mirror as fast as they could.

That changed in the early 1990s, when the rejuvenation of Duluth's lakefront started to transform this working-class port town into the belle of Lake Superior.

Now, it's packed from summer through fall, and rooms at its hotels and vacation rentals can be hard to come by. It's a Cinderella story, really.

But some people still wonder — what's in Duluth?

What to do

In summer, everyone gravitates to Canal Park for some boat-watching.

It's fun just to stroll along the Lakewalk and mill around, but if you get more ambitious, you can cross the Aerial Lift Bridge to the swimming beaches or hike the two-mile trail on Park Point.

You can also bike or skate on the Lakewalk, which follows the lake for four miles, then parallels the excursion-train tracks for another three miles, past the swimming holes of Lester Park to Brighton Beach on the lake.

Tourist attractions include the Great Lakes Aquarium, the S.S. William Irvin ore boat, Vista Fleet cruises and the North Shore Scenic Railroad, whose pizza trains and annual appearance of Thomas the Tank Engine are among the many things kids love about Duluth.

It's free to visit the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center next to the Aerial Lift Bridge and the playground at Bayfront Festival Park.

On the hills above town, it's fun to drive Skyline Parkway for the views and to check out the many swimming holes (summer) and hawk-watching (fall). And there's great hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail, which roughly parallels the parkway, and mountain biking on the Duluth Traverse.

The train follows the Lakewalk in Duluth.
The North Shore Scenic Railroad follows the Lakewalk through town.

East of downtown on London Road, tour Glensheen, Chester Congdon's 1908 mansion on the lake.

Nearby, explore the Congdon Park Trail, one of many lovely walks where you'll forget you're in a city.

There are more attractions along the St. Louis River in West Duluth — the trailhead of the Willard Munger State Trail, the Lake Superior Zoo, Spirit Mountain and the Lake Superior & Mississippi excursion train.

There's good shopping at DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace on Canal Park, the Fitger's complex and downtown along Superior Street.

There are many free concerts and festivals as well as performances of the theaters, symphony and opera and big-name concerts and touring shows.

Downtown, the Duluth Playhouse presents high-quality plays and musicals at the restored Art Deco NorShor Theatre. In West Duluth, the restored West Theatre presents nationally known bands and comedians and also first-run movies.

For more, check the calendars at Perfect Duluth Day and Visit Duluth.

Superior Hiking Trail in Duluth.
The Superior Hiking Trail crosses the city.

In winter, there's also a lot to do: alpine skiing and tubing at Spirit Mountain, cross-country skiing on 82 kilometers of groomed trails, and snowshoeing on the Superior Hiking Trail.

Want someone to show you around? Day Tripper of Duluth offers tours and adventures.

What to know

Duluth can be chilly even in summer, so bring a jacket and long pants no matter how warm it is where you live. It's not uncommon for the Duluth lakeshore to be 30 degrees cooler than the Twin Cities, only 2½ hours to the south.

Don't go without a reservation on any weekend or in summer and fall. Some events fill up the town, which is packed anyway in summer. Conventions and high-school sports tournaments also can take up huge blocks of rooms (and raise prices).

Festivals in 2022

May 1-8, Homegrown Music Festival.

May 21-29, Duluth Dylan Fest.

June 17-18, Grandma's Marathon. This is the biggest weekend of the year. Hotel rates go through the roof, and many have a three-night minimum.

June 25-26, Park Point Art Fair.

July 1, Bayfront Country Jam.

July 4, Fourth Fest at Bayfront Festival Park, music and a big fireworks show.

July 16-17, Duluth Airshow.

July 16, Bayfront Reggae & World Music Festival at Bayfront Festival Park.

Bayfront Festival Park.
There's a festival nearly every summer weekend at Bayfront Festival Park.

July 30, All Pints North Summer Brew Fest at Bayfront Festival Park.

Aug. 4-7, Festival of Sail in Two Harbors.

Aug. 5-7 and Bike Duluth Festival at Spirit Mountain and Day Out With Thomas the Tank Engine at the Depot.

Aug. 12-14, Bayfront Blues Festival at Bayfront Festival Park and Day Out With Thomas the Tank Engine at the Depot.

Aug. 20-21, Art in Bayfront Park Art Fair.

Aug. 26-27, Tribute Fest concerts in Bayfront Festival Park.

Aug. 26-27, Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival in Superior.

Sept. 2-4, Duluth-Superior Pride Festival at Bayfront Festival Park and in Superior.

Sept. 4, Water Is Life music festival at Bayfront Festival Park.

Sept. 10, Lake Superior Harvest Festival at Bayfront Festival Park.

Sept. 16-18, North Shore Inline Marathon and Skate Fest.

Sept. 17, Chester Bowl Fall Fest in Chester Park.

Sept. 22-25, 50th Anniversary Event at Hawk Ridge. During the fall migration at Hawk Ridge, Sept. 1-Oct. 31, volunteer naturalists are there daily to tell visitors about passing raptors and to show them newly banded birds before release.

Naturalists show banded hawks.
Naturalists show newly banded hawks at Hawk Ridge.

September and October are fall-color season on the North Shore; in Duluth, peak color usually is early October. The town fills up on weekends through the third weekend in October, when Minnesota schoolchildren have a four-day break (reserve especially early for that weekend).

Nov. 19-Dec. 26, Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Bayfront Festival Park. For a more mellow experience, try to come on weekdays.

Check the city's events calendar or the calendar at Perfect Duluth Day to see what's going on when you visit.

Where to stay

In summer, most people want to stay on Canal Park, where rooms cost at least $250 and closer to $400 on festival weekends. For weekends from May through October, they sell out far in advance.

The Inn on Lake Superior, Lift Bridge Lodge (formerly the Comfort Suites), the Hampton Inn and Canal Park Lodge face Lake Superior. The popular Inn on Lake Superior was first to include such family-pleasing amenities as s'more roasts, waffle breakfasts and loaner bikes and wagons. It's also pet-friendly and has a small outdoor heated pool on its roof.

They all have indoor pools and hot tubs and offer free breakfasts.

Right off the Lakewalk, Endion Station Inn is in the 1899 railroad depot. A block away on Lake Avenue, rooms at The Suites Hotel (formerly Hawthorn Suites) have full kitchens, and a hot breakfast buffet is included. There's a pool. The least expensive rooms don't have exterior windows.

On the harbor, the Pier B Resort is just across from Bayfront Festival Park (you will hear loud music on many summer weekends) and has a rooftop patio and outdoor hot tub.

Across the Aerial Lift Bridge, boat-watchers love the South Pier Inn, which has two corner rooms with balconies that have a view of the harbor as well as the canal. Other rooms face the canal, harbor or point. It doesn't have a pool.

The Federal Oshima approaches Duluth.
A boat approaches the Lift Bridge.

Also on Park Point's bay side, four blocks from the lift bridge, the Park Point Marina Inn has 68 rooms with balconies. It includes a pool and serves a large breakfast buffet. A block away, the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott also has a pool and includes a hot breakfast.

Downtown hotels are within walking distance of Canal Park. The Sheraton on Superior Street, not far from Fitger's, is newest and poshest. The Holiday Inn & Suites is newer. West of Lake Avenue, the Radisson, known for its round shape and rotating restaurant, is oldest. All have pools.

In the middle of downtown on Superior Street, the Oliver Inn occupies the former 1889 City Hall and offers 13 rooms on three floors. It rents on Airbnb and Hotels.com and has no front-desk staff.

Behind the Holiday Inn, the Hostel du Nord is a budget option (relatively), offering curtained sleeping compartments with lockers and shared lounge spaces, kitchenette and dining area.

Fitger's Inn is in the historic brewery complex on the Lakewalk. It doesn't have a pool, but it's under the same roof as restaurants, shops, a brewpub and a nightclub, so particularly suited for a cold-weather visit.

Mountain biking in Duluth.
A mountain biker rides past Lincoln Park on the Duluth Traverse.

The town also has many vacation rentals, including beach cottages on Park Point. Some are in quiet neighborhoods, such as the Duluth Hiker House, a block from the Superior Hiking Trail and Hartley Park.

In West Duluth, the Munger Inn is close to trailheads and a perennial good value, with loaner bikes and canoes. In the Lincoln Park Craft District, the Enger Lofts Hotel offers studios in a renovated furniture building via Airbnb.

There's camping at Indian Point Campground, along the river, and at Spirit Mountain. On the UMD campus, there are six rustic walk-in sites for tents.

There are chain lodgings in Superior, Wis., but they're not that much cheaper.

Where to eat

The Portland Malt Shoppe in Duluth.
The PortLand Malt Shoppe is a favorite stop for ice cream.

In summer, restaurants on Canal Park are mobbed. Everyone wants to have a burger and beer on the patio of Canal Park Brewing Company, though it can be tough to nab a spot.

Across a boat slip from Bayfront Festival Park, Silos at Pier B resort has the only waterfront dining.

Many of the best restaurants are downtown, including Restaurant 301 in the Sheraton. For a cheap burger and a huge selection of craft beer, take a seat at 7 West Taphouse.

Many casual but excellent restaurants are in and around the Fitger's complex, including Fitger's Brewhouse and Va Bene Caffe.

For a guide to restaurants, see Where to eat in Duluth.

Lincoln Park Craft District

This newly flourishing neighborhood just west of downtown, off the 21st Ave. W. exit of I-35, is now a magnet for anyone who likes craft beer and cider and good restaurants. There are many shops and a hotel, too.

A free folk concert at Duluth Folk School.
Along with classes, the Duluth Folk School offers free concerts in its cafe.

For beer, check out Ursa Minor, Bent Paddle, Duluth Cider and the self-pour Duluth Tap Exchange. Restaurants and cafes include OMC Smokehouse, Corktown Deli & Brews, Love Creamery.

There's even the Enger Lofts Hotel, across from the handsome Duluth Folk School, where anyone can take a class and learn a craft or skill. The folk school also operates the Dovetail Cafe & Marketplace, which hosts free live music several nights a week.

Most of the district is on two blocks of West Superior and Michigan streets, between 19th and 20th avenues.

Farther west on Superior Street, closer to the 27th Ave. W. exit off I-35, Wild State Cider has a taproom. The Duluth Grill also is right at the exit.

Last updated on February 2, 2022

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