Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
This North Shore gem is one of Minnesota’s iconic places and the main attraction, the historic lighthouse, is one of the state’s most photographed scenes. Today’s visitors come to learn about Gitchi-Gami’s maritime history and explore the rugged trails.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is located about 20 miles northeast of Two Harbors on the North Shore Scenic Byway.
The park’s trail system has 12 miles of hiking trails, including about three miles of trail right along the shores of Lake Superior. Several overlooks throughout the park offer vistas of the shoreline rock formations, the lake and the lighthouse.
The trail between the picnic area and the campground follows along the shoreline of Little Two Harbors Bay. Little Two Harbors, a small fishing village in the shadow of the lighthouse, was once the home of 12 commercial fishermen. As trout and herring populations declined during the 1950s, the village became deserted and today is marked only by concrete foundations and submerged footings.
The park is also an access point to the Superior Hiking Trail, a 310-mile footpath along Lake Superior. The paved Gitchi-Gami State Trail also crosses through the park. Currently, this longest paved section allows access to Gooseberry Falls State Park to the southwest and the towns of Silver Bay and Beaver Bay to the northeast. When complete, the trail will be 89 miles long and link six state parks between Two Harbors and Grand Marais.
In November of 1905, the Mataafa storm raged on Lake Superior for two days. By the time it ended, 29 vessels were damaged, two of them stranded on the rocky shoals and sharp reefs of the coastline near present-day Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
After this infamous storm, pressure for a lighthouse on the isolated rocky headland of Split Rock prompted Congress to authorize money for its construction. The U.S. Lighthouse Service completed the facility in 1910 and operated it until 1939, when the U.S. Coast Guard took over. The station closed in 1969, made obsolete by modern navigation equipment. In 1976 the Minnesota Historical Society took over operations at the site.
The lighthouse station includes the brick light tower, a fog-signal building, a trio of identical keepers’ dwellings, plus several outbuildings and the remnants of a tramway. Disabled visitors are able to tour the site by way of a paved path. The Minnesota Historical Society, which administers the site, offers tours of the buildings and grounds at the light station between May 15 and October 15. A modern History Center houses interpretive displays, a gift shop and a theater, where visitors can take in a 20-minute film on the construction of the lighthouse and the life of a lighthouse keeper.
Park development has made it easier for more people to get a shoreline perspective of the lighthouse. The lonely landmark on the sheer-walled cliffs is likely one of the most photographed scenes in the US, and is visible from the picnic area just down shore.
The barge eventually drifted away and sank several miles to the east. You can see the outline of the submerged barge from the cliff at Gold Rock Point when the lake is calm. Today, about 500 recreational divers a year visit this site.
Hiking and snowshoeing are allowed throughout the park, but no groomed ski trails are available. Split Rock Lighthouse also grooms almost nine miles of shared fat bike/snowshoe trail. The all-season trail center in the picnic area serves as a warming house for all park visitors.
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