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Duluth, Minnesota: Summer cool-off spotDuluth, Minnesota: Summer cool-off spot

Need a spot to cool off after EAA AirVenture? Head 220 nautical miles north from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to Duluth, Minnesota, at the west end of Lake Superior. Prevailing easterly winds sweep across the giant lake, providing relief to overheated summer visitors. Walk along the beach in search of agates, watch huge container ships pass under one of the world’s largest aerial lift bridges, or, in case you didn’t see enough airplanes at Oshkosh, tour the Cirrus factory.

  • A Cirrus flies over the marina at north end of Minnesota Point. The aerial lift bridge connects Minnesota Point to Canal Park, and, beyond it, Duluth proper. Visitors can tour the Duluth Cirrus factory and see production of all three piston lines, plus the new Vision jet. Photo courtesy Cirrus Aircraft.
  • Sky Harbor Airport, looking south. DYT is set for realignment (to move the approach away from the trees) and resurfacing, beginning September of 2017 intermittently through 2019. Officials don’t anticipate disruptions in 2017 but check NOTAMS before departure and use caution on approach. Photo courtesy Duluth Airport Authority.
  • A locally-built Cirrus overflies the approach end of Runway 14 at Sky Harbor Airport. The runway has cracks but will be resurfaced. The seaplane ramp and parked seaplanes are visible in the photo just above the airplane. Photo courtesy Cirrus Aircraft.
  • A Cirrus flies over Minnesota Point, just northwest of Sky Harbor Airport. The aerial bridge, Canal Park, and downtown Duluth are visible in the background. Photo courtesy Cirrus Aircraft.
  • A tall ship passes under the aerial bridge that connects Minnesota Point to Canal Park. Photo courtesy Visit Duluth and Seaquest Productions.
  • Visitors on the Lakewalk watch as giant ships approach the Duluth Ship Canal. Photo courtesy Duluth Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Visit the Maritime Center to learn how the Edmund Fitzgerald sank to the bottom of Lake Superior in 1975 with her entire crew of 29, as immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot in his hit song of the following year. Photo courtesy Lake Superior Marine Museum Association.
  • Climb aboard the U.S.S. William A. Irvin, proud flagship of U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Fleet. Built in1938, she hauled iron ore for 40 years and is now docked along the waterfront. Photo courtesy William A. Irvin.
  • By 1900, Duluth’s status as a shipping and mining metropolis elevated Minnesota to the state with the most millionaires per capita. Wealthy businessmen commissioned architectural masterpieces like Glensheen, the 39-room estate built in 1908 for mining magnate Chester Congdon. Photo courtesy Glensheen Mansion.
  • Tours of Glensheen Mansion showcase its Arts and Crafts-style interiors, original antiques, and fantastic woodwork. The library features Congdon’s books, which include many First Editions. Photo courtesy Glensheen Mansion.
  • You’ll see plenty of Duluth Packs in use throughout Minnesota. Canal Park boasts numerous specialty shops, including the Duluth Pack store. These durable canvas and leather packs are a favorite of outdoorsmen and have been crafted using the same techniques for the past 132 years. Photo courtesy Duluth Pack.
  • A bald eagle glides above Hawk Ridge. During the fall migration, large groups of the big raptors gather overhead before launching across Lake Superior for points south. Photo by Frank Nicoletti, Boreal Images.
  • Pack your binoculars! A marlin whizzes past the photographer on Hawk Ridge. Twenty raptor species have been observed here, including the rare gyrfalcon. Northwest and west winds produce the largest numbers of birds. Photo by Frank Nicoletti, Boreal Images.
  • The Cottage on the Point provides all you need for a Northcountry summer beach getaway. Photo courtesy Cottage on the Point.
  • Here’s to another fun summer of flying vacations. Toast your success at Canal Park Brewing Company. Photo courtesy Canal Park Brewing Company.

Sky Harbor Airport sits about half way down the long sand bar east of the harbor. Watch for birds and be prepared for a slightly rough runway. You can utilize a taxi and the trolley, or land at Richard I. Bong Airport just 3 nm southwest and rent a car. Sky Harbor Airport also has a seaplane base with two water runways.

The area’s history includes iron ore mining and timber harvesting. By the mid-19th century, the opening of Canada’s Sault Ste. Marie Canal, the Duluth Ship Canal, and railroads made Duluth the only port with both Atlantic and Pacific Ocean access. By 1900 it was the nation’s busiest port in terms of gross tonnage. In the 1980s, old Canal Park warehouses were converted into restaurants, shops, and attractions. From Duluth, Canal Point juts into the lake. Vehicles cross the canal on the aerial lift bridge, which connects Canal Park with Minnesota Point, the long strip where you find Sky Harbor Airport. Wisconsin Point is the three-mile strip of land that extends up from Superior, Wisconsin.

Dinner is served aboard a Vista Fleet luxury yacht dinner cruise. Photo courtesy Vista Fleet.

From the airport, a two-mile hiking trail travels through the forest and along the lakeshore where you can look for Lake Superior agates, beautifully striped quartz in shades of red and brown. Or, enjoy Duluth skyline views from the Park Point Recreation Area just northwest of the airport. Across the bridge in Canal Park, stop by the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center. A free cell phone tour guides you past the shipping canal full of giant lake carriers, an icebreaker boat display, three lighthouses, and the aerial lift bridge, which lifts on the hour and half hour for visitors in summer, plus on demand for ships (a website link provides a schedule of ships). One of the largest and fastest in the world, the bridge lifts up 120 feet in only three minutes.  Hop aboard the S.S. William A. Irvin for an up-close look at the proud flagship of U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Fleet, now a museum, which holds an impressive 2,000-horsepower steam turbine engine and set a record (that still stands) by unloading 13,856 tons of ore in less than three hours.

Decorated with Duluth-area antiques, Grandma’s Saloon and Grill provides excellent views of the aerial bridge. Walleye and wild rice are staples here, indeed, the restaurant claims to serve more wild rice than any other restaurant in the world. They serve beef, chicken, and pork entrées too. Photo courtesy Duluth Convention & Visitors Bureau.

See Duluth from the water via a sightseeing or dinner cruise aboard a Vista Fleet luxury yacht. In town, tour Glensheen, the 39-room estate of mining magnate Chester Congdon. Ready for more aviation? The Cirrus manufacturing plant is open for tours at 1 p.m. each Wednesday (reserve ahead). On the one-hour tour you’ll see the complete build of the aircraft, including fuselage and wing bonding and window installations, all three piston lines, and the new Vision jet. To see some of the natural world’s greatest aviators, head to the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. In mid-August through November, migrating raptors reluctant to cross Lake Superior often gather here. You may see large groups of merlins, eagles, and hawks, including the rare gyrfalcon.

Summers are busy, so reserve accommodations ahead. For a quiet beach getaway, stay at the three-bedroom Cottage on the Point, between Canal Park and Sky Harbor Airport. You’ll have four kayaks, a canoe, fully equipped kitchen, and fireplace at your disposal. The Suites Hotel, in Canal Park, also has fully equipped kitchens plus complimentary breakfast. Recommended options include a harbor view, fireplace, or whirlpool.

Dining options are many and varied, but you can always count on Canal Park’s Amazing Grace Bakery and Café for good soups, huge and delicious sandwiches, and fresh pastries and coffee. Canal Park Brewing Company uses its exceptional craft brews in its cooking—think pretzels with IPA beer mustard, or beer-can chicken marinated in their nut brown ale. Next to the aerial bridge, Grandma’s Saloon and Grill serves authentic local cuisine like walleye, wild rice, and local mushrooms and vegetables.

The Indian Point Campground offers campsites set among trees, plus showers, firepits, and bike, kayak, canoe, and pontoon boat rentals. Photo courtesy Indian Point Campground.
Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to
Topics: US Travel

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