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11 Best FREE Things to do in Duluth, MN This Summer

By
on
June 21, 2020

There are so many awesome free things to do in Duluth, MN!

Many attractions and activities in this popular summer vacation destination charge admission, but there are also several that won’t break the bank!

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a wonderful time when you visit Duluth! Instead, grab your kids, camera, and your walking shoes and get ready for an awesome and memorable family vacation.

Here is a list of our favorite free things to do in Duluth, MN!

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1. Experience Lake Superior

The best free thing to do in Duluth, Minnesota is to experience the majestic Lake Superior. After all, you don’t need to purchase a park pass to dip your toes into this natural beauty!

An essential landmark on your Minnesota bucket list, Lake Superior is the largest of the five Great Lakes of North America.

It is also the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area, and has a maximum depth of 1,276 feet! In other words, it’s gigantic size could easily find it mistaken as an ocean!

The best places to access Lake Superior are via the cobblestone covered beaches in both Canal Park and Kitchi Gammi Park (formerly known as Brighton Beach), or from the sandy beach entry located on Park Point.

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Cobblestone beach located in Canal Park

Canal Park and Kitchi Gammi Park are great for rock picking and agate hunting, while the only place that you’d truly ‘swim’ in Lake Superior is at Park Point Beach.

Park Point Beach is located across the Aerial Lift Bridge from Canal Park on Park Point, the world’s longest sandbar.

Along with beach access, the free Park Point Beach includes parking, pavilions, sand volleyball, and public restrooms.

Additional planning tip: The average temperature of Lake Superior is only 40 degrees. In other words, it is chilly!

Though the kids may not last long swimming in the water, bring along a kite or a Frisbee to enjoy the sandy shoreline of Park Point Beach.

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Duluth Lakewalk

2. Stroll the Lakewalk

Strolling the Lakewalk located in Canal Park is our next favorite free thing to do in Duluth!

Duluth’s Lakewalk runs along the shores of Lake Superior for about 3 miles from Canal Park to London Road in eastern Duluth. It is surfaced with both a boarded walking path and a paved pathway for strollers, bikes, rollerblades, etc.

Though you don’t have to walk the entire Lakewalk, spending time here during your Duluth itinerary allows you to appreciate the beauty of the Lake Superior shoreline.

Here, you’ll feel the breeze off of the lake, watch boats and ships pass by, and admire seagulls and other birds that fly over the inland waters.

*Note: The Duluth Lakewalk is currently undergoing a 12 million dollar restoration project and parts of it are closed.

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North Pier Lighthouse in Duluth’s Canal Park

3. Take photos at the North Pier Lighthouse

Entrance onto the long pier that stretches out from Canal Park into Lake Superior is free.

Getting up close and personal with the beautiful white lighthouse that sits at the end of the pier is also free!

Though you cannot go inside of the North Pier Lighthouse, you can walk out to it and touch it, as well as experience the beatiful views from its deck.

Taking a family photo near the Lighthouse is a must! Be sure to ask a friendly passerby to snap the picture so that you can be in it too!

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Edgar B. Speer going under Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge

4. Watch ships go through the Duluth Canal

Duluth is known for being one of the major port cities in the United States. It supports an active shipping industry responsible for the transport of coal, iron ore, grain, salt, and other materials around the world.

Visitors to Duluth can stand along the Canal Park lighthouse pier and Harbor Lookout to watch the 1,000+ feet-long bulk cargo ships exit off of Lake Superior and head into the Port of Duluth/Superior (and vice versa).

Along with viewing the gigantic ships, you’ll get to see Duluth’s famous Aerial Lift Bridge rise up in order to let the ship pass through the canal.

After sounding its horns, this vertical lift bridge takes roughly three minutes to reach maximum height. Once the ship has passed through, the bridge lowers back down to allow traffic and pedestrians to continue to cross the bridge.

Watching ships pass under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge in Canal Park is truly one of the most iconic and must-see free things to do in Duluth, MN.

Additional planning tip: With hundreds of ships visiting each year, be sure to refer to the Duluth Shipping Schedule to see when ships are estimated to arrive or depart from Duluth’s Lake Superior Harbor during your visit. 

Times vary daily.

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Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge

6. Cross the Aerial Lift Bridge

The Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge is Duluth’s biggest, most impressive, and most iconic landmark.

Built over 100 years ago, the aerial lift bridge connects Canal Park to Park Point, which is a neighborhood created by a 7-mile peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior.

After sounding an alarm and halting traffic over it, the bridge raises and lowers over 5,000 times a year to let tall boats and ships pass underneath it. This is an exciting sight to watch!

It is free to cross Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge both by foot, and by personal vehicle.

If not crossing the bridge by vehicle, I recommend walking across Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge as there is a sheltered pedestrian walkway that runs adjacent to the bridge’s roadway.

As one of the best free things to do in Dululth, MN, kid love experiencing walking over the gigantic bridge while seeing the majestic Lake Superior below their feet!

*Heading to Duluth on a family vacation? Click here for our exclusive FREE Family Vacation Packing List that you don’t want to miss!

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5. Tour the Lake Superior Maritime Museum

The Lake Superior Maritime Museum in Canal Park is a must-see, free attraction in Duluth!

The museum depicts the history of Lake Superior and its shipping industry, as well as provides fun facts about the canal.

Kids love seeing the model freighter ships, getting to spin and steer the giant wooden ship’s wheel, as well as seeing the replica living quarters used by sailors.

Plan to spend at least 30 minutes here. And, be sure to stop at the stationary binocular viewing area to get a look far out onto Lake Superior.

7. Splash in the fountains

There are three ground fountains located  in front of the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace in Canal Park that kids just cannot resist!

Whether kids play in them or just get sprayed from their mist, the Canal park fountains are a fun way to cool down in the warm summer months.

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Fountain of the Wind – Located in Canal Park

Close to the bubbling fountains is an awesome sculpture that you’ll want to view. (Don’t forget to make a wish while throwing a penny or two into the water!)

Built-in 1993, this piece of Lake Superior artwork is called the Fountain of the Wind.

With multiple cascading waterfalls, the best part of the sculpture is getting to walk across the water on its paved stone pathway.

Duluth Trolley
Port Town Trolley

8. Ride the Port Town Trolley

Duluth offers a free trolley that travels and stops throughout Canal Park, the Bayfront area, and downtown Duluth.

The Port Town Trolley can be ridden daily (June 2nd – Labor Day) from 10:00 AM to 9:20 PM. Boarding takes place from custom, marked trolley bus stops.

There is no narration while riding the trolley, but it is a fun way to get around the touristy areas of Duluth, especially if you or the kids have never ridden on a trolley before.

The Port Town Trolley map and schedule can be found here.

9. Play at Playfront Park

Playfront Park is a great free thing to do in Duluth when visiting with little kids who like to be active.

This modern and interactive playground is located close to Canal Park. It provides glimpses of Lake Superior, with the gigantic and colorful Great Lakes Aquarium in its background.

There are plenty of benches for seating, a covered picnic pavilion, as well as clean, public restrooms.

Parking here is free.

10. Drive Skyline Parkway

When visiting Duluth, don’t miss the opportunity to head ‘up-the-hill’ to drive along Skyline Parkway.

This 25 mile-long stretch of highway showcases Duluth as it winds its way above the city and provides some of the most epic, aerial view of Lake Superior.

Stop at one of the many look-out points found along Skyline Parkway to take photos of the spectacular views!

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Enger Tower

11. Climb Enger Tower

Last, but not least, climbing Enger Tower is another one of the best free things to do in Duluth, MN. It is also one of the best things to do in Duluth with kids as it is entirely unique!

Enger Tower, located in Enger Park, is found along Duluth’s Skyline Parkway. The park, tower, and parking are all free to visitors.

Along with admiring the beautifully landscaped gardens of the park and ringing the Japanese peace bell found here, be sure to take the short trek to the observatory tower.

Upon climbing the stairs to the top of the 5-story Enger Tower observatory you’re rewarded with the best, most breathtaking view of Lake Superior! You do not want to miss these unparalleled views and photo ops!

Other Free Things to do in Duluth, MN

  • Use Duluth as a starting point to travel and sight-see along the North Shore Scenic Drive. Find a list of our North Shore must-see stops here!
  • Leif Erickson Park & Rose Garden: Parking and park access is free, but the free parking fills up fast; paid street parking available
  • William A. Irvin Museum & Guided Tours: Free for kids 10 and under with a paid adult
  • Alworth Planetarium located at the University of Minnesota, Duluth campus: Free to the public every Wednesday evening
  • Bentlyville “Tour of Lights” holiday light display: Free to visitors from November 21st – December 27th

Which of our 11 top-rated free things to do in Duluth, MN are you most looking forward to? I’d love to hear about it!

Jen

Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*

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10 Comments
  1. Reply

    Astrid Vinje

    June 24, 2020

    Wow, there are so many outdoor and water-based activities to do in Duluth. I love playing at splash parks, and I think Canal Park would be so much fun to visit. We’re hoping to head over to the east coast at the end of the year, so maybe we’ll mark Duluth as a potential road trip stop!

    • Reply

      Jen

      June 25, 2020

      Thanks for reading! Duluth is an awesome road-trip stop!! Happy travels!!

  2. Reply

    Harmony, Momma To Go

    June 24, 2020

    The great lakes so intrigue me! I had no idea they were so chilly. Love all these activities, can’t believe there are so many free things to do. Of course i have no idea where Duluth is, I’ve only been in the twin cities.

    • Reply

      Jen

      June 25, 2020

      Yes…the Great Lakes are freezing 🙂 Duluth is about 2 1/2 hours North of the Twin Cities. It is way north. Thanks for reading!!

  3. Reply

    Deborah Patterson

    June 23, 2020

    What a great list of things to do – and all free too! Those fountains looks awesome and that aerial bridge would be great to visit.

    • Reply

      Jen

      June 25, 2020

      The Aerial Lift Bridge is definitely the highlight of touring the harbor!! I hope you are able to check it out sometime 🙂

  4. Reply

    Jody A Robbins

    June 22, 2020

    Those fountains in Canal Park look amazing. I love all the water activities you can do.

    • Reply

      Jen

      June 23, 2020

      Yes! The water activities are a highlight! Lake Superior is an experience that is very unique 🙂

  5. Reply

    Diana

    June 22, 2020

    Who knew there was so much to do in Duluth? I’ve actually never visited Minnesota, and this inspires me to explore the state.

    • Reply

      Jen

      June 23, 2020

      It is beautiful there! A common starting point to then drive along the entire North Shore. State parks and scenery galore…

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Hi, I’m Jen!  Welcome to Travel With A Plan!

I’m an avid adventurer who is always planning the next family vacation for my husband and I, and our three boys!

As an advocate for family travel with kids of all ages, I am a firm believer that traveling together helps keep families healthy and happy at home!

Here is where I share our best family vacation itineraries, resort reviews, and family travel tips (incuding Disney!).

Let’s go on an adventure! -Jen

TMOM Travel Writer
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