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Sightseeing by sea

On Lake Superior, excursion boats allow tourists to explore Duluth's harbor and the shoreline around Split Rock.

Electric rental boats in the Duluth harbor.


An electric boat from Canal Park Boat Rental cruises the harbor.

In Duluth, tourists can see two small yellow boats puttering about Duluth's harbor amid tall ships, freighters, sailboats and kayaks.

They're 18-foot electric boats owned by Canal Park Boat Rentals, and they can be rented by anyone who'd like to explore the harbor or inspect giant freighters at the terminals where they're loading grain, coal or taconite.

“They're wonderful because it's quiet,'' says owner Tom Althaus. “A lot of people think electric boats are slow, but they go about the same speed as sailboats or the big boats, and you can talk as you go.''

The business started in 2013, along with North Shore Scenic Cruises on the North Shore, which offers daily excursions to Shovel Point and Split Rock Lighthouse from the marina in Silver Bay.

Diver Jay Hanson and two partners have pressed the 64-foot Wenonah, familiar to backpackers who once took it from Grand Portage to Isle Royale, into service as a cruise boat.

"I'm a boat nerd and ship nerd,'' he said. "We didn't want it to go away.''

They offer two-hour narrated cruises, illustrated by video presentations with historic footage. The most popular destination is Split Rock, passing near the shipwreck Madeira, but twice a week they head up the shore to Shovel Point ("actually the more scenic direction,'' he says).

In Duluth, people who rent the electric boats can go anywhere they want. It's a two-hour trip to Fraser Shipyards in Superior and back, Althaus says.

The Fraser yards, almost under the Blatnik (High) Bridge, are home to whatever boats happen to be laid up. One long-term tenant is the 730-foot Edward L. Ryerson, a gracefully designed laker that many consider the prettiest of all.

"That's my favorite spot to go,'' Althaus says.

The 730-foot American Victory also is a long-term lay-up, at Fraser or near Barker's Island. She's survived a hit by a Japanese bomber in 1944, a collision with another tanker in 1958 and, as the Middletown, a methane-gas explosion while carrying coal.

Boaters also will see the Coast Guard cutter Sundew and the smokestack and part of the pilot house of the 1906 tugboat Essayons, which sank in 2009.

"That's cool to see because it's over 100 years old and it spent its life in Duluth,'' Althaus said. "Its steam engine is in the Marine Museum, so it's kind of fun to see that and then put things together.''

Althaus was a test pilot for Cirrus for nearly a decade and still works there in technical support. But his heart is in the harbor.

"I just love being out there, I love exploring around and I love sharing that with other people,'' he said.

Duluth harbor.

© Beth Gauper

A freighter comes off Lake Superior and into Duluth harbor.

Wherever you go on the lake, remember to bring warm clothes, including a windbreaker. And be prepared for cancellations due to fog or bad weather.

For more, see Boat watching in Duluth. To plan a visit, see Duluth 101.

Canal Park Boat Rental in Duluth: The boats are easy to operate, seat up to six people and rent for $69 per hour and $118 for two hours.

Renters get a map of the harbor marked with places of interest and points to avoid.

Reservations aren't necessary. There's also a tugboat-shaped ticket office on the east end of the blue Minnesota Slip Bridge, which connects Canal Park to Bayfront Park.

North Shore Scenic Cruises in Silver Bay: Two-hour narrated cruises on the 64-foot Wenonah go out daily, either northeast to Shovel Point or southwest to Split Rock Lighthouse.

Cost is $25, $18 for children 3-12. Reserve at 218-464-6162. Silver Bay is 54 miles from Canal Park.

More cruise adventures

Amicus Adventure Sailing in Knife River. Two-hour sails on the 40-foot sailboat Amicus II are $40, $30 for children 12 and under. Reserve at 218-290-5975. Knife River is 20 miles up Old 61 from Canal Park.

Vista Fleet in Duluth: From the slip bridge in Canal Park, launches give daily sightseeing cruises. 

Last updated on June 28, 2014