Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
On November 28, 1905, a great gale whipped Lake Superior into such a rage that half a dozen ships were wrecked within 12 miles of the Split Rock River. In response, the Split Rock Lighthouse (3713 Split Rock Lighthouse Rd., 218/226-6372, grounds open 8 a.m.–sunset daily year-round, tours 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily May–Oct., $8 adults) was built atop this magnificent 130-foot cliff; it began operations in 1910.
Its 370,000-candlepower beacon steered ships away from the treacherous shore for 59 years before onboard navigational equipment made it obsolete. The Minnesota Historical Society has restored the gorgeous facility to its pre-1924 appearance, and when you tour the lighthouse, fog-signal building, and keeper’s home, costumed interpreters share tales of their isolated pre-road lives.
Exhibits in the visitors center (10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily during tour season, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun. rest of year) discuss the lives of the families who lived here, how the light station was built, and other North Shore topics.
Though many visitors don’t realize it, Split Rock is much more than just a lighthouse, and the rest of the park’s 2,103 acres shouldn’t be overlooked. This is one of the best spots on the North Shore to explore by kayak, and there are put-ins near both ends of the park’s 6.25-mile shoreline, the longest of any Minnesota park on the North Shore.
Divers can explore the wreck of the tow barge Madeira, one of the ships lost in the 1905 storm, near Gold Rock Point. Register in the park office.
About half of the park’s 12 miles of trail stick to the shore side of the highway, and these are available for hiking and mountain biking, and groomed for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing (snowshoe rentals are available). There are many wonderful lakeside overlooks, but none compare to the view from the peak of the 1.25-mile Day Hill Trail. The easier Little Two Harbors Trail connects Day Hill with the lighthouse. Turning inland, the stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail following the waterfall-rich Split Rock River is a challenging, but rewarding, walk.
Split Rock’s campground is one of the best on the North Shore. All 20 cart-in sites are secluded and most come with lake views; none is more than 2,000 feet from the parking area. Though the sites lack electricity, there is a modern shower building. Another four backpacking sites—two are bluff-top and two sit lakeside—and a kayak-only site on Crazy Bay offer even more solitude.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition