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
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
- Tour the historic Split Rock Lighthouse, Lighthouse Gatekeeper’s House and fog signal building.
- Hike down to the Lake Superior shoreline below Split Rock Lighthouse.
- Take breathtaking photos of and from the Split Rock Lighthouse.
- 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.
- Do you scuba dive? You can check out some nearby shipwrecks.
- Chase some nearby waterfalls at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
- 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.
- Watch for birds and other wildlife – from seagulls and loons to deer and even moose and bears.
- Sign up for the Minnesota State Parks and Trails I Can! Programs – themed camps include camping, paddling, mountain biking, fishing and archery.
- 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
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.
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
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.
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.
Are there waterfalls at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park?
Minnesota’s most popular state park, Gooseberry Falls State Park, features a couple of waterfalls and is only 16 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. I’m planning to hike this waterfall trail near Split Rock yet this spring so will update this post on what I discover.
Can you go inside the lighthouse? How much does the lighthouse tour cost?
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.
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. Tour capacity is limited to only 10 people at a time due to Covid-19 pandemic protocols.
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
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.
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? 12 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 in 2023
You can visit Minnesota state parks for free on the following days in 2023.
- Sat., April 22, 2023
- Sat., June 10, 2023
- Sat., Sept. 9, 2023
- Fri., Nov. 24, 2023
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.
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.
- Afton State Park | Hastings, MN (26 miles)
- Banning State Park | Sandstone, MN (97 miles)
- Bear Head Lake State Park | Ely, MN (240 miles)
- Beaver Creek Valley State Park | Caledonia, MN (148 miles)
- Big Stone Lake State Park | Ortonville, MN (186 miles)
- Blue Mounds State Park | Luverne, MN (208 miles)
- Buffalo River State Park | Glyndon, MN (240 miles)
- Camden State Park | Lynd, MN (161 miles)
- Carley State Park | Plainview, MN (88 miles)
- Cascade River State Park | Lutsen, MN (257 miles)
- Charles A. Lindbergh State Park | Little Falls, MN (112 miles)
- Crow Wing State Park | Brainerd, MN (134 miles)
- Father Hennepin State Park | Isle, MN (113 miles)
- Flandrau State Park | New Ulm, MN (93 miles)
- Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park | Preston, MN (115 miles)
- Fort Ridgely State Park | Fairfax, MN (99 miles)
- Fort Snelling State Park | Bloomington / St. Paul, MN (2 miles)
- Franz Jevne State Park | Birchdale, MN (336 miles)
- Frontenac State Park | Frontenac, MN (62 miles)
- George H. Crosby Manitou State Park | Silver Bay, MN (231 miles)
- Glacial Lakes State Park | Starbuck, MN (156 miles)
- Glendalough State Park | Battle Lake, MN (194 miles)
- Gooseberry Falls | Two Harbors, MN (197 miles)
- Grand Portage State Park | Grand Portage, MN (308 miles)
- Great River Bluffs State Park | Winona, MN (136 miles)
- Hayes Lake State Park | Roseau, MN (343 miles)
- Hill Annex Mine State Park | Calumet, MN (197 miles)
- Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park | Taylors Falls, MN (56 miles)
- Itasca State Park | Park Rapids, MN (219 miles)
- Jay Cooke State Park | Thomson, MN (146 miles)
- John A. Latsch State Park | Winona, MN (99 miles)
- Judge C.R. Magney State Park | Grand Marais, MN (282 miles)
- Kilen Woods State Park | Lakefield, MN (153 miles)
- Lac qui Parle State Park | Watson, MN (141 miles)
- Lake Bemidji State Park | Bemidji, MN (230 miles)
- Lake Bronson State Park | Karlstad, MN (409 miles)
- Lake Carlos State Park | Alexandria, MN (152 miles)
- Lake Louise State Park | Le Roy, MN (113 miles)
- Lake Maria State Park | Monticello, MN (60 miles)
- Lake Shetek State Park | Currie, MN (168 miles)
- Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park | Soudan, MN (229 miles)
- McCarthy Beach State Park | Side Lake, MN (227 miles)
- Maplewood State Park | Pelican Rapids, MN (217 miles)
- Mille Lacs Kathio State Park | Onamia, MN (108 miles)
- Minneopa State Park | Mankato, MN (82 miles)
- Monson Lake State Park | Sunburg, MN (141 miles)
- Moose Lake State Park | Moose Lake, MN (116 miles)
- Myre-Big Island State Park | Albert Lea, MN (93 miles)
- Nerstrand Big Woods State Park | Nerstrand, MN (52 miles)
- Old Mill State Park | Argyle, MN (350 miles)
- Rice Lake State Park | Owatonna, MN (70 miles)
- St. Croix State Park | Hinckley, MN (105 miles)
- Sakatah Lake State Park | Waterville, MN (60 miles)
- Savanna Portage State Park | Northeast Aitkin, MN (149 miles)
- Scenic State Park | Bigfork, MN (232 miles)
- Schoolcraft State Park | Deer River, MN (198 miles)
- Sibley State Park | New London, MN (128 miles)
- Split Rock Creek State Park | Jasper, MN (202 miles)
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park | Two Harbors, MN (204 miles)
- Temperance River State Park | Schroeder, MN (239 miles)
- Tettegouche State Park | Silver Bay, MN (217 miles)
- Upper Sioux Agency State Park | Granite Falls, MN (122 miles)
- Whitewater State Park | Altura, MN (99 miles)
- Wild River State Park | Center City, MN (58 miles)
- William O’Brien State Park | Scandia / Marine on the St. Croix, MN (43 miles)
- Zippel Bay State Park | Williams, MN (345 miles)