MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Swimming in Superior

If you're lucky, you can take a dip along Minnesota's North Shore — no wetsuit required.

Swimmers at the mouth of the Temperance River.

© Beth Gauper

Swimmers wade near the mouth of the Temperance River, named because it has no (sand) bar.

Remember all those summers when you looked longingly at Lake Superior, wishing you could swim in it for more than a minute without going numb? The summer of 2012 wasn't one of them.

Non-stop, beastly hot temperatures mellowed the waters of the big lake, turning it into the world's largest swimming pool.

Water-surface temperatures pushed 75 degrees on the notoriously cold stretch between Duluth and Grand Marais. That's was the warmest in a century and 20 degrees higher than normal for mid-summer.

Air temperatures climbed to 90 along the lake, and few homes have air conditioners, so locals and tourists alike took the plunge.

So when you can, seize the moment and swim in Superior. Here's a guide to the best spots.

First, a few words about safety.

Bring thick-soled water shoes to protect your feet from sharp-edged rocks. Avoid walking on submerged shoreline rocks, which can be extremely slippery.

Don't swim out too far, and make sure a buddy is nearby.

Watch for fast currents in rivers, especially after a heavy rain.

Check depths before you jump from cliffs or over waterfalls, and never dive.

Okay? Now go for it!

North Shore rivers

Since the shoreline is so rocky, the mouths of rivers are your best bets.

Along Scenic 61, the slow route from Duluth to Two Harbors, you can stop to swim at the mouth of the French River or, on calm days, off Stony Point, where surfers ride the waves after storms.

Swimmers at the mouth of the Gooseberry River.

© Beth Gauper

Swimmers play at the mouth of the Gooseberry River.

In Two Harbors, Burlington Bay adjoins the municipal campground and has some real sand, a rarity on the North Shore.

Beyond Two Harbors, everyone's favorite place to wade — and now swim — is Gooseberry Falls State Park. When water flow is low, you can swim in pools at the bottoms of falls.

Cobblestone beaches line the river's mouth on Lake Superior. Just above, the point is a great picnic spot.

It's another 6½ miles to Split Rock State Park. You'll have to pay a fee to get in, but there's a lovely cove below the lighthouse.

From here, it's five miles to the mouth of the Beaver River, just east of Beaver Bay. This also is a popular agate-hunting spot.

Then it's 7½ miles to Tettegouche State Park, where there are pools along the High Falls Trail on the Baptism River.

There's also a nice swimming hole near the cabin the park rents at the top of Illgen Falls, reached from Minnesota 1. Young people jump over the falls, but it's much safer to walk upstream to the swimming hole there.

It's another 20 miles to Temperance River State Park. Just north of the highway, a lot of people slide down the river and into a pool.

There always danger from rocks, but this river is especially unsafe when water is high and the current is fast —in recent years, several people have slipped on rocks along the hiking trail, been carried away and drowned.

It's another 23½ miles to Good Harbor Bay/Cutface Creek Wayside just west of Grand Marais. You can swim off this cobblestone beach and also look for rare Thomsonite.

For more, see Beaches of the North Shore.

Inland lakes

Near Silver Bay and Tettegouche State Park, Lax Lake Resort has a beach on Lax Lake.

Swimming off Duluth's Park Point.

© Beth Gauper

Off Duluth's Park Point Recreation Area, swimmers linger into early evening.

If you're lucky enough to get one of Tettegouche's Mic Mac cabins on Mic Mac Lake, you'll have a lovely place to swim. Cabin B is right on the lake. (You don't need to rent a cabin to swim, but it's a 1Ύ-mile walk.)

Near Tofte, The U.S. Forest services lists 10 swimming lakes in the Tofte Ranger District around Sawbill Road/County Road 2. Sawbill Lake is one of them, and also an entry point to Boundary Waters lakes.

Near Grand Marais, Devil Track Resort has a beach on Devil Track Lake.

For more, see our North Shore stories.

Lake Superior in Duluth-Superior

You can swim anywhere along the 10-mile sandbar that creates the Twin Ports' harbor.

The Minnesota side is known as Park Point, and the entire beach is public, though access is limited by private properties.

The closest beach to Canal Park is on the other side of 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.

Check for rip currents (look for a warning sign and red flag).

Just beyond that, the Park Point Trail starts from Sky Harbor Airport. It's two miles through pine forest and sand dunes to the Superior harbor entry, where there's a curving beach full of driftwood along the breakwater.

On the other side of the entry, reached through Superior, the narrower Wisconsin Point is lined with sand. From pullouts along the road, paths lead to secluded beaches.

For more about Park Point and Wisconsin Point, see Dunes of Duluth.

In Canal Park, you might see young people jumping off the ruins of a building in the water just off the Lakewalk. That's Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum, built in 1919 to store sand and gravel for an outer breakwater the city never approved.

Not far away, a better bet for cooling off are a couple of shallow coves just off the Lakewalk near Fitger's. You also can swim off Leif Erikson Park, the 42nd Avenue Park and at the mouth of the Lester River.

The locals' favorite is 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.

Rivers in Duluth

Duluth is full of rivers that feed Lake Superior. By July, their water feels much warmer than the lake's, yet deliciously cool.

Waterfalls create swimming holes, many of them easily reached by city streets or the Superior Hiking Trail.

For more, see Swimming holes of Duluth.

Locals recommend other favorites on Perfect Duluth Day.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency lists beaches included in its Beach Monitoring Program, which checks for bacteria levels and issues advisories.




Last updated on August 6, 2015