Split Rock Lighthouse on Minnesota's North Shore

A local’s guide to the best state parks in Minnesota: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Currently hiking all 66 MN state parks, a travel blogger shares a local’s guide to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on Minnesota’s North Shore. While I haven’t met a MN state park I didn’t like, I especially love the beauty and history of one of the world’s most photographed lighthouses. Built in 1909, the Split Rock Lighthouse overlooks Lake Superior and served as a beacon of light for ships for 59 years – keeping them safely away from the rugged North Shore. You’ll find lots of great things to see and do at the 2,200-acre Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Two Harbors, MN.

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Best things to do at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Lighthouse on a cliff with rocks stacked up on the shore
Best things to do at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: Take photos of the lighthouse on the shore of Lake Superior. Note: While there are some creative people who can balance rocks, I’ve learned it’s not good for the environment. So best to leave rock formations to Mother Nature.

Here’s a local’s guide and list of the top 10 things to do at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Two Harbors, MN. Please check the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park website for current status of tours, operating hours and trail conditions (seasonal and pandemic updates). Typically, tours and facilities at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park open up mid-May to mid-October. My son and his girlfriend visited Split Rock Lighthouse in early April and the stairs down to the shoreline were closed.

Top 10 things to do at Split Rock Lighthouse

  1. Tour the historic Split Rock Lighthouse, Lighthouse Gatekeeper’s House and fog signal building.
  2. Hike down to the Lake Superior shoreline below Split Rock Lighthouse.
  3. Take breathtaking photos of and from the Split Rock Lighthouse.
  4. Hike, ski or snowshoe the iconic Superior Hiking Trail, which runs through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park or hike or bike the paved Gitchi-Gami State Trail.
  5. Do you scuba dive? You can check out some nearby shipwrecks.
  6. Chase some nearby waterfalls at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
  7. Go agate hunting at any of the nearby shoreline of Lake Superior. On a related note, Pebble Beach is a great cove to go kayaking.
  8. Watch for birds and other wildlife – from seagulls and loons to deer and even moose and bears.
  9. Sign up for the Minnesota State Parks and Trails I Can! Programs – themed camps include camping, paddling, mountain biking, fishing and archery.
  10. Learn more about the beautiful and historic North Shore and Split Rock Lighthouse at the Visitor Center and Interpretative Exhibit.

History of Split Rock Lighthouse

Lighthouse on a cliff overlooking a lake with trees in the foreground
Best things to do on the North Shore: Visit Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.

The beautiful Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minnesota has stood 130 feet above Lake Superior since 1909. The 54-foot lighthouse was originally built after a notorious November gale (sustained strong winds up to 54 mph) and a blinding blizzard in 1905 caused several shipwrecks. Considered one of the worst storms in the 20th century, the high winds and waves sunk the Edenborn ship, its towing barge, Madiera, in 1905 as well as five other ships near the Split Rock area. Today, scuba divers find exploring the sunken Madiera fascinating.

Lighthouse agains a blue sky
The Split Rock Lighthouse warned mariners about the rocky north shore for nearly 60 years. Today, you can tour the lighthouse and grounds at the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.

For nearly 60 years, the Split Rock Lighthouse warned mariners and freighter ships about the rocky north shore. You could see its beacon of light up to 22 miles away. Today, the Split Rock Lighthouse and grounds are considered a historic site and overseen by the Minnesota Historical Society. While the Split Rock Lighthouse beacon is out of service, it is still operational. In fact, they hold a lighting ceremony every Nov. 10 in commemoration of the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald and other sunken vessels on the Great Lakes.



Best hiking trails at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Stairs leading down through the woods to the lake
Best things to do at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: Go hiking including the tram staircase that leads you to the shoreline of Lake Superior – also one of my favorite places to take photos. Please note that the stairs may be closed currently so check the Split Rock Lighthouse on the status.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park offers several miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to moderate.

One of my favorite trails at the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is actually the former tramway / staircase that leads you down to the shoreline of Lake Superior. It’s about a quarter-mile hike down ~200 steps (and then back up). Not to worry – you’ll find a couple of benches and overlooks on the way to catch your breath and take some stunning pics of the Split Rock Lighthouse.

The former tramway, an elevated railway, hauled supplies to the lightkeepers from the dock on Lake Superior. This rail system extended to lighthouse buildings where supplies were stored.

View of lighthouse with two girls, a young man and a woman in the foreground
Best locations to take pictures of Split Rock Lighthouse: You’ll find a couple of overlooks on the tramway stairs leading down to the shoreline of Lake Superior. You’ll also welcome the break from the ~200 steps. Pictured are my niece Lila, my son Sam, my niece Kyra and my sister-in-law/love Sarah. You’ll notice some are wearing sweatshirts. Even though this photo was taken in June, it can get chilly on the North Shore of Minnesota – especially lakeside. Make sure to wear layers in every season when exploring the North Shore.

The famed Superior Hiking Trails runs through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Please note that a forest restoration is underway so you may find some detours. Check the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park website for current trail conditions.

Map of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Source: AllTrails – see all my favorite day hiking apps post.

Are there waterfalls at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park?

Minnesota’s most popular state park, Gooseberry Falls State Park, features four waterfalls and is only 4.4 miles south of the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. These are two of the best state parks in MN and must-stops on the North Shore – the most scenic road trip in Minnesota.

However, you can also find waterfalls and river cascades at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. One of the most popular waterfalls is the 20-foot Split Rock Falls, which is south of the lighthouse and about a half-mile from the Highway 61 wayside parking lot.

You can also hike the 4.5-mile Split Rock River Loop Trail that takes you by several waterfalls and river cascades. See my related Minnesota waterfalls series:


Can you go inside the lighthouse? How much does the lighthouse tour cost?

Lighthouse against a blue sky
Best things to do on the North Shore of Minnesota: You can tour the inside of Split Rock Lighthouse – a spiral staircase takes you up to the top.

Yes, you can take a tour inside the Split Rock Lighthouse as well as other historical buildings such as the visitor center, fog signal building, the keeper’s house and the historic grounds. As part of the tour, you’ll walk up 32 steps to the top of the Split Rock Lighthouse. See the Minnesota Historical Society website, which manages this historical destination, for current and seasonal hours of operation.  

Old typewriter
Best things to do on the Minnesota’s North Shore: You can tour the Split Rock Lighthouse keeper’s house.

A Minnesota State Park day pass or annual membership is required to visit any MN state park. (however, it is included in the cost of a grounds or tour pass at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park). A Split Rock Lighthouse grounds pass currently costs $8, which provides access to the visitor center, the grounds and fog signal building. The 45-minute Split Rock Lighthouse Keeper’s Tour currently costs $25, which allows you inside the lighthouse and keeper’s house.

If you’re a member of the Minnesota Historical Society, the grounds pass is free and the Split Rock Lighthouse Keeper’s Tour is 20% off. Free admission available for children four years old and younger as well as Blue Star families.



Can you camp at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park?

Yes, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park offers 4 lakeshore backpack camping sites (2 of which are kayaking sites) as well as 20 cart-in camping sites. They offer wheeled carts to haul your camping gear and supplies to the secluded sites except during winter. If you plan to do some winter camping at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, they recommend that you bring all supplies in a backpack or on a sled.

Split Rock Lighthouse provides shower facilities from early May to early October as well as flushing toilets. You can also find year-round flush toilets in the Split Rock Lighthouse Trail Center as well as vault toilets throughout the park.

Lodging near Split Rock Lighthouse

Take a virtual tour of Caribou Highlands Lodge – one of the best places to stay on the North Shore in Minnesota.

Not a camper or glamper? Here are my favorite places to stay near Split Rock Lighthouse.

Caribou Highlands Lodge is one of the best places to stay on the North Shore in Minnesota. Located 45 miles from Split Rock Lighthouse, this Lutsen, MN resort is the most centrally located place to stay on the North Shore. And it’s dog-friendly. Check out my full review of our hosted Odyssey Resorts stay at a three-bedroom townhome at Caribou Highlands Lodge. Opinions are always my own.

Additionally, Odyssey Resorts offers several more of the best lodging accommodations on the North Shore and near Split Rock Lighthouse. Choose your Odyssey – suites, cabins and cottages.

  • Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors, MN is 14 miles from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
  • Breezy Point Cabins in Two Harbors, MN is 30 miles from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
  • Larsmont Cottages in Two Harbors, MN is 31 miles from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
  • Beacon Pointe in Duluth, MN is 51 miles from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
  • East Bay Suites in Grand Marais, MN is 63 miles from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.

sunrise on lake superior with evergreen tree in front

Located just 4 miles away, Cove Point Lodge in Beaver Bay, Minnesota is one of the closest places to stay near Split Rock Lighthouse. They offer suite rooms in their main lodge building as well as beautiful townhomes and cottages overlooking the beautiful Lake Superior. Pictured is the view of Lake Superior from our cottage stay a couple of years ago.

How far is Split Rock Lighthouse from…?

Here are a few of the distances to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park from other popular destinations.

How far is Split Rock Lighthouse State Park from Gooseberry Falls State Park? 4.4 miles

How far is Split Rock Lighthouse State Park from Duluth, MN? 53 miles

How far is Split Rock Lighthouse State Park from the Twin Cities – Minneapolis and St. Paul? 211 miles (from MSP airport)


Minnesota State Park Free Days

You can visit Minnesota state parks for free on the following days this year.

  • Mon., Jan. 15, 2024 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
  • Sat., April 27, 2024
  • Sat., June 8, 2024
  • Fri., Nov. 29, 2024

Photo gallery

Split Rock Lighthouse with people on the grounds - best state park on Minnesota's North Shore
Best things to do on the North Shore of Minnesota: Tour the Split Rock Lighthouse and the fog signal building.

You’ll find many photogenic and Instagrammable photo and video ops throughout Split Rock Lighthouse State Park as well as outside the park. Check the Minnesota Historical Society’s website for their top places to take Split Rock Lighthouse pictures.  

Here are a few of my favorite Split Rock Lighthouse State Park pictures that my family and I have taken over the years. I especially recommend exploring the North Shore and Split Rock Lighthouse in the autumn for some beautiful fall foliage photo shots.

Lighthouse overlooking Lake Superior with fall colors leaves
While every season is beautiful on the North Shore of Minnesota, autumn is especially stunning.

Sign up for Minnesota’s DNR fall foliage finder / fall colors report.


Lake with blue sky and clouds and trees on Minnesota's North Shore
Best places to take photos at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: This view is from the base of the lighthouse.

Panoramic view of a blue lake with trees and cliffs on Minnesota's North Shore
Panoramic view of Lake Superior from the base of the Split Rock Lighthouse – photo courtesy of my son.

Blue lake and cliffs
My son captured this photo at the base of the Split Rock Lighthouse.
Blue sky and trees with lake and lighthouse in background
Stop at the Highway 61 wayside to capture a glimpse of the Split Rock Lighthouse from a distance.
Lighthouse on a cliff overlooking a lake
Best places to take pictures of the Split Rock Lighthouse is on the shoreline. Take the ~200 stairs – the cardio workout is worth the view!

Best Minnesota state park near me

Here’s a list of all 66 Minnesota state parks with the distance from the Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport.





Pin it for later

Lighthouse with a blue sky
Top things to do on the North Shore: Explore Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Two Harbors, MN.

Lighthouse overlooking a cliff with fall foliage
The Split Rock Lighthouse offers stunning views in every season.





Author

Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller

71 comments

  1. I love looking at and photographing lighthouses. Will actually go out of my way while travelling, to see them! Your photos are awesome, and REALLY make me want to go!

  2. This is such a beautiful lighthouse! I would definitely do the lighthouse and waterfall trip since they are just a few miles away from each other. I bet it makes for an awesome day trip!

  3. This place looks like a paradise for an outdoor lover (like me). I would love to visit this place. Wonderful pictures and thanks for writing in such detail.

    1. Thank you and my pleasure! I’m so happy you enjoyed my local’s guide to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on Minnesota’s North Shore.

  4. This is so pretty! I want to get scuba dive certified this year, and I would love to see some of the shipwrecks!

    1. You’re such an adventurer! I would love to see what you discover on your dives. Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior has some shipwrecks nearby.

  5. What a beautiful lighthouse! I love visiting lighthouses and I always find them fascinating places! I think it is because we don’t have anywhere we are, so as soon as I see one I get excited! The hiking trail looks beautiful too, what a wonderful place to spend the day. Thanks for the great guide!

    1. My pleasure and thank you! We love exploring Split Rock Lighthouse State Park – one of our favorite places on Minnesota’s North Shore.

  6. Being from New England, I love lighthouses. This is a perfect guide and inspiration for my road trip this summer! Love that you point out the best place to take photos too.

    1. Thank you so much! Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. And happy to hear my local’s guide is of value!

  7. your photos are so beautiful! the lighthouse looks like such a magical place, like something straight out of a movie. i hope to see it one day & climb up to the top.

    1. Thank you so much! Split Rock Lighthouse is my favorite lighthouse and the North Shore is especially beautiful in the fall.

    1. Thank you! We loved that we could go inside Split Rock Lighthouse when visiting the North Shore of Minnesota. One of the best things to do.

  8. The Split Rock Lighthouse looks amazing! I will definitely have to add this state park to my list of places to visit someday. The views look absolutely gorgeous!

    1. Thank you! I hope you ge tthe opportunity to visit Split Rock Lighthouse State Park – it really is even more beautiful in person.

  9. Your photos are gorgeousss! I can definitely see why this would be one of the world’s most photographed lighthouses! <3 I really hope I get to go visit someday!

    1. You would definitely love exploring Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on Minnesota’s North Shore. History, lighthouses, nature…everything you need!

  10. I love lighthouses and am always excited to explore a new one. There is something about them that is so intriguing. I’d love to visit in the fall to capture some fall foliage too! It’s horrible that those ships sank but very cool that you can scuba dive to see them. I’ve yet to dive in a lake so that is something to look forward to!

    1. My pleasure. I’m sure this area would look so lovely from a drone perspective. We have a drone; I’ll have to check on the guidelines as I know many state parks do not allow drones.

  11. I love lighthouses! They are so cool, and every one is unique. Although I think it would have been quite lonely to live in one.

    1. I agree! Lighthouse are so magical, yet I’m sure it was very lonely to live there. Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior and the North Shore is pretty special.

  12. The views of Split Rock Lighthouse up on that cliff are spectacular! I’d love to do some hiking in the area and perhaps explore those shipwrecks too. I’d never considered scuba diving in Minnesota!

    1. Thank you so much! I love the views at Split Rock Lighthouse in Minnesota and am hoping to do more hiking there yet this spring. Lake Superior looks and behaves more like an ocean than a lakes. In addition to scuba diving, you’ll sometimes see surfers on Lake Superior.

    1. Thank you! I love sharing the beauty of what I find in my own backyard…and Minnesota has lots of beautiful areas. It would be kinda cool to dive to see those shipwrecks in Lake Superior.

  13. I can see I’m not the only one that loves a good lighthouse!! I love that you can go inside!! And that typewriter. Only a sliver of all the cool things inside, I’m sure. Wonderful that there are hiking trails nearby too!

    1. Yes…I do love a good lighthouse and Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Minnesota is my favorite. Loved touring the keepers houses as well to see what life was like back in the day.

    1. Thanks so much! Split Rock Lighthouse is a pretty special place and one of my favorite places along the North Shore.

  14. We will have to add the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to our plans when we visit Minnesota. A great spot for a summer visit. I would love to hike and take in all the views. But I am a cold water wimp and might have to pass on scuba diving in the cold waters.

    1. Lake Superior does get pretty cold! You will love Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. It is one of my favorite places that I recommend when visiting Minnesota. It’s perfect in the summer!

  15. I love when we find parks with great shorelines and a lighthouse too. We would certainly tour the Split Rock Lighthouse. And we would really be tempted to check out the shipwrecks scuba diving. Or at least head out on the water in a kayak.

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