Spirit Mountain

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

By Jim Umhoefer
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.

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The historic lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the US at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

The historic lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the US

The rocky beach near the campground at dusk at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

The rocky beach near the campground at dusk

Dive team on the way to the Madeira site off Gold Rock Point at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Dive team on the way to the Madeira site off Gold Rock Point

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Trails
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.

Hiking trails offer great views of Lake Superior at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Hiking trails offer great views of Lake Superior

An abandoned stone fireplace sits atop of High Point. Its origins are unknown at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

An abandoned stone fireplace sits atop of High Point. Its origins are unknown

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.

View of the lighthouse from Gold Rock Point at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

View of the lighthouse from Gold Rock Point

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.

Descending into Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on the Gitchi-Gami Trail

Descending into Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on the Gitchi-Gami Trail

 

Camping
The park features a cart-in campground, a twist on the usual drive-in sites. Visitors park their vehicles in a central lot, then load their camping gear in a large cart provided by the park. Campsites range from 120 feet to a half-mile away from the parking lot. About half of the 20 cart-in campsites are spaced along Lake Superior, while the rest are only a short distance from the lake. For those who want a more isolated camping experience, four backpack sites are spread along the lakeshore up to two miles from the parking lot. Two sites are also accessible by kayak from Lake Superior.
Park History
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.
Historic Lighthouse
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.

View of the lighthouse from Gold Rock Point at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

View of the lighthouse from Gold Rock Point

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.

Diving
Storms brew quickly and can strike with a vengeance on Lake Superior. Her choppy waves and cold water are the enemies of sailors in distress. The lighthouse keepers watched the weather and warned vessels of danger with a two-toned fog siren and an oil vapor beacon. Some of the wreckage from the 1905 gale is still evident. The steamer Edenborn and her barge, Madeira, were stranded near the mouth of Split Rock River.

A diver gets ready to visit the wreck of the Madeira at Split Rock Light

A diver gets ready to visit the wreck of the Madeira

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.

The dive site as seen from Gold Rock Point at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

The dive site as seen from Gold Rock Point

Dive team on the way to the Madeira site off Gold Rock Point at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Dive team on the way to the Madeira site off Gold Rock Point

Divers float above some of the Madeira's winches at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Divers float above some of the Madeira’s winches

The wreck sits at a depth of about 80 feet at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

The wreck sits at a depth of about 80 feet

Fishing
Currently, the closest boat access to Lake Superior is in Beaver Bay, northeast of the park. Lake fishing is good for lake trout, salmon and steelhead. Rainbow, brook and brown trout are taken in Split Rock River.
Winter
Hiking and snowshoeing are allowed throughout the park. 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.
Visit Duluth in the winter
Spirit Mountain
Mesabi Trail
Visit Duluth in the Winter