Though it lasted only two days, I had a great time in Duluth! As one of the most popular places in Minnesota, there is probably a boatload of posts listing off things to do. I won't pretend to compete with them, but here is my humble little vacation experience!
Now, I have to begin with the drive into Duluth, because that was a trip in of itself. How could a road be interesting? Simple: the views! The path to Duluth from the Twin Cities on highway 35 is mostly flat and straight, until about 30 minutes away. You drive up a hill steep enough to post incline signs for truckers, knowing Duluth is nestled just on the other side. Enter the city from 35 and have a friend with a camera ready. Enter the city from Wisconsin, and also have a camera ready, because you'll drive right over the famous high-bridge.
Perhaps my fascination with the roads of Duluth is just a product of me being raised in a flat city. These tunnels along 35 brought me back to my school trip to Germany, traveling through the Alps on a bus. The pine trees on top are a nice touch.
I always look for the best deals on rooms, but I can't help but splurge a little for style. Canal Park Lodge sits right on the lake shore. There are no ships in the water in late March, but the view is still worth while. White-cap waves crashing into the rocks, and a hillside packs with quaint little houses. Not far from the hotel are plenty of attractions and places to eat. For lunch we ate Famous Dave's, and dinner was... an Italian place I forgot the name of.
Once we settled in, we took a drive around town. I suggested we go to Hawk Ridge, where I could try out my brand new birding binoculars.
Sitting next to a giant heat-sink, you have to prepare yourself for Duluth being colder than elsewhere in the state. Though it was t-shirt weather in the cities, it was all hats and jackets two-hours north. Apparently, it was too cold for the birds as well. I thought we had a good chance at seeing something, since there were already cardinals and chickadees out and about in the cities, but I was wrong. The only birds we saw where crows, gulls, and pigeons. Walking half a mile up the trail, we didn't hear so much as a peep. What we did hear turned out to be the swishing of my friends jacket that for a good couple minutes had us completely fooled.
To warm back up, we took a car-tour of the town, checking out the neighborhoods near the Duluth campus. In the hotel, we watched movies, ate, and viscously pranked each other (okay, I did most of the pranking) until we got too tired to do anything other than sleep. In the morning, after breakfast, the real fun began.
When I got wind of a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory not far, there was no way we were leaving without stopping buy. Each of us bought something - my pick being mint chocolate truffles.
Next to the building was an antique store beckoning us in.
We could have spent all day at this place - and we did spend over an hour. Shelf after shelf of everything you could imagine - jewelry, books, clothes, old toys, collectables, toboggins and snowshoes, old weapons. My friend ended up buying a classic rotary phone, and I got an old foot-hold trap that's too rusty to open, a rabbit pelt that needed some love, an antler shed and an old camo hunting jacket.
When are shopping was done, we headed north on 35 for one last destination - Split Rock Lighthouse.
From downtown Duluth, the trip to Split Rock is about 45 minutes - and scenic all the way! Every time the highway bends towards the shore, you get a new glimpse of a little coastline. The only downside is someone put a moose cutout near the road, I guess as a way to make sure people weren't speeding. My life flashed before my eyes thinking I was about to hit a moose, and just before my foot slammed on the break, I realized it wasn't real. Minnesota driving tip: if you see a deer on the road, break, but don't serve. If you can't break safety, just hit it. A hundred pound deer may bend your fender, but it won't kill people. However, if you see a moose on the road - do whatever you need to do to not hit it! You don't want to find out how big they are the hard way.
Along the road to the lighthouse, there are a handful of parking lots to snap pics of the lake and the shore. We stopped in one to take a group photo with the lighthouse in the distance, but unfortunately it didn't turn out well. But not to worry - I have more!
The inside tour wasn't available due to the current plague revenging the land, but we could walk around outside. In this photo, I got a good shot of the glass lens inside that is responsible for the beam of light. The museum offered artifacts about the history of the lake, the tiny little fishing boats and their nets, up to the giant iron ore cargo ships. TV showed footage of divers exploring some of the many wrecks, and an interactive puzzle taught kids (and us) how the lighthouse lens worked. A short movie told us the story of the iron ore boom in Duluth, how it brought ships, how the ships facing the traitorous north shore brought a lighthouse, and how the 100+ year old retired lighthouse has brought tourists from around the world.
Standing at the base of the lighthouse, looking down at the crashing waves a hundred feet below, I could see why so many have come to see it. One of my friends, who fantasizes about the aesthetic of living in a little lighthouse on a rocky shore, was especially excited.
There was still snow on the ground, and the chilly wind off the water didn't make things feel any warmer. But we enjoyed every moment, shivering on that lookout. An hour later or so, it was time to go warm. Finally, we would be beyond the reach of the cruel north winds and into the warm and sunny metro! Or so we thought.
Another Minnesota tip - prepare for the weather to do anything. Just a few days after 50 degrees and sun, mother nature decided to give us one last snowstorm. It wasn't bury-your-pet-chihuahua-alive deep, but it wasn't something I wanted to drive it. I was on the last 45 minutes into the journey, just entering city limits, when the first flurries landed on my windshield. The roads only got worse from there. All those snow plows Minnesotans are so proud of weren't exactly up and running yet either. All I could do is slow down and stick to the two little tracks made by other drivers. Taking the residential roads wasn't an option either - they were worse than the highways.
After a while of white-knuckled driving, everyone got home safe. A few days later, all the snow was gone.
I'm looking forward to my next trip to Duluth, when it will be warmer and they'll be boats on the water. If you're looking for a new vacation destination, whether you enjoy hiking through the outdoors or bar-hopping through a city, Duluth is worth a try!
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