21 Superior Things to do in Duluth, Minnesota with Kids

When considering a trip to Minnesota, visions of Purple Rain, the Mall of America, and a pair of Twin Cities probably come to mind. For a relaxing and nature-filled vacation, however, Minnesotans know to head north to the pretty port city of Duluth. This northern Minnesota destination is home to the vast Lake Superior, gorgeous gardens, plentiful hiking paths, tasty brewpubs, and much more for all ages to enjoy. Let’s dive into the 21 best things to do in Duluth with kids!

The Port of Duluth-Superior
The Port of Duluth-Superior (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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1. Lake Superior

The star attraction in Duluth is Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface volume. It’s so big, in fact, you might swear you’re standing beside the ocean as you watch the waves lap the shore. Even if you don’t venture into the lake, this impressive body of water will surely play a large role in your visit. The whole city seems to revolve around and revere Lake Superior.

Young girl sitting by Lake Superior in Duluth
My daughter sitting by Lake Superior (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Walking paths, restaurants, and shops line Lake Superior. Meanwhile, boat rentals, fishing charters, and sailing tours enable families to get out on the lake.

Swimming is allowed but visitors may be shocked by the water’s chilly temps. If you’re not afraid of a little cold water, then take a peek at this list of Duluth swimming spots.

Just hanging out lakeside and taking in the view is a wonderful way to pass the time in Duluth with kids. In fact, one of my favorite memories from our Duluth family vacation was a lazy day spent skipping rocks along the shore of Lake Superior.

Skipping rocks at Lake Superior in Duluth with kids
Skipping rocks at Lake Superior (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Aerial Lift Bridge

Kids and adults alike get a kick out of watching Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge raise to allow boats passage to and from Lake Superior. The ships sound their horns and the bridge bellows back. Get a peek at the bridge in motion by watching the video below.

YouTube video

This crossway was the first moveable ferry bridge in the U.S. It was originally built in 1905 and then was transformed into a vertical lift bridge in 1930. Take a look at the shipping schedule so you can time your visit for prime bridge lift watching.

Young children are especially enamored with the Aerial Lift Bridge. We met a toddler who was so excited about the bridge, he kept pointing at it and saying, “Goes up and down. Up and down!”

Duluth's famous Aerial Bridge
Duluth’s famous Aerial Bridge (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Canal Park

Once a warehouse district, the Canal Park area has been transformed into Duluth’s hippest hotspot. This area is filled with restaurants, souvenir and antique shops, coffee houses, brewpubs, and hotels.

Canal Park includes the most popular stretch of the city’s Lakewalk. It’s also home to Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge, a lighthouse pier, the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, and the Great Lakes Aquarium.

Fountain of the Wind in Canal Park in Duluth with kids
Fountain of the Wind in Canal Park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Lakewalk

According to CanalPark.com, “Duluth Lakewalk stretches from Bayfront Festival Park, all the way to 61st Avenue East (just below Lester Park and just above Brighton Beach); a rough distance of 7.25 miles!”

The most popular section of Lakewalk is a 4-mile stretch of wooden boardwalk from the lighthouse along the length of Canal Park.

Lakewalk includes two paths. One walkway is for pedestrians, and another is for cyclists and rollerbladers.

Lakewalk with the Aerial Lift Bridge in the distance in Duluth, Minnesota
Lakewalk with the Aerial Lift Bridge in the distance in Duluth, Minnesota (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Great Lakes Aquarium

Great Lakes Aquarium provides unique insight into the fish and other animal life of Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes. See and learn about local fishes like Lake Sturgeon, Brook Trout, and Black Croppies. Saltwater fish and sea life are on display as well.

My kids especially enjoyed watching the playful River Otters. Petting sea creatures in the Feel Connected Touchpools was also a big hit.

YouTube video

Most memorable for me, though, was the American Crow exhibit. Watch this crow’s mad sorting skills in the video above.

During a trainer presentation, we watched as Freeway the crow solved puzzles and identified colored objects. Viewers can even hand this smart bird “Freeway Bucks” through a slot in Freeway’s mailbox.

Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Minnesota with kids
Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth (Photo credit: Visit Duluth)

6. Leif Erikson Park & Duluth Rose Garden

Leif Erickson Park is a recreational green space with walking paths, picnic areas, and beach access. Family-friendly movies play in the park every Friday night in summer.

Located within the beautiful park, Duluth’s Rose Garden features over 3,000 rose bushes. The garden also houses 12,000 other plants, a gazebo, and a statue of Leif Erikson — the Nordic explorer.

You can easily reach this garden from Lakewalk. The beauty of the flowers with the backdrop of Lake Superior is something to behold.

Duluth's Rose Garden
Duluth’s Rose Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Wheel Fun Rentals

Stop by Wheel Fun Rentals in Canal Park to rent a surrey for your touring pleasure. Every time my family rents a surrey, we are surprised by how much work it is to peddle and steer, but we always wind up laughing and having a ball!

Families can also borrow bicycles for adults and kids. Kayaks are available for rent, too. 

Wheel Fun surrey rental in Duluth, MN
Our Wheel Fun surrey rental (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Enger Park and Tower

Once called Grand Mountain, Enger Park is perched above downtown Duluth. This park features hiking trails, picnic tables, and gardens.

For amazing 365-degree views of Duluth and beyond, climb to the top of Enger Tower. This 5-story stone structure was dedicated by Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha of Norway in 1939.

View of Duluth from Enger Tower
View of Duluth from Enger Tower (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. Japanese Garden and Peace Bell

Ringing the Peace Bell may be the highlight of a visit to Enger Park for kids. Located in a lovely Japanese garden, the bell is a replica of a Japanese temple bell that had been crafted in 1686.

Legend has it, the original bell had been donated as scrap metal in Japan during World War II. According to OutsideInDuluth.com, “After the war, American sailors from the U.S.S. Duluth found the bell miraculously intact in a Japanese shipyard and sent it as a gift to Duluth, MN, their ship’s namesake. It sat for eight years in Duluth’s City Hall until 1954, when it was returned, as a gesture of friendship, to its home in Ohara, Japan. In 1991, the city of Ohara presented a replica of the bell to Duluth.”

To learn more about the Peace Bell and get kids excited for an upcoming visit to Duluth, buy a copy of The Peace Bell. This children’s book was written by a local Duluth author.

Enger Park Japanese Garden
Enger Park Japanese Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. All-Season Nature Trails

Outdoorsy folks will be pleased to find an abundance of nature trails in Duluth. Take a look at a variety of hiking trails in the area, from easy paved paths to challenging treks.

In winter months, snow lovers enjoy a serious work out on a variety of cross-country ski trails. Meanwhile, thrill seekers will want to get a healthy dose of adrenaline on Duluth’s snowmobile routes.

Hiking in Duluth with kids
Family hike in Duluth (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

11. S.S. William A. Irvin Ore Boat Museum

You’ve heard the song about The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald, right? Written and performed by Gordon Lightfoot, the song tells the story of the sinking of a cargo ship on Lake Superior during a storm.

Board a similar freighter at the S.S. William A. Irvin Ore Boat Museum to gain insight into that fateful storm. Museum visitors also learn about the iron ore trade and the importance of Duluth as a lake port city. 

S.S. William A. Irvin Ore Boat Museum in winter in Duluth, Minnesota
S.S. William A. Irvin Ore Boat Museum in winter (Photo credit: karenfoleyphotography, Depositphotos.com)

12. The Cribs

A half-sunken building in Lake Superior has been nicknamed by locals as the Icehouse, the Cribs, or Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum.

Built in 1919, the Cribs was used to dig sand and gravel, and then move the excavated earth along a conveyor belt for transport by trucks. The Cribs was abandoned in 1922 after a big storm struck.

During my family’s summer visit to Duluth, we saw lots of teenagers climbing to the top of this structure and joyfully jumping into Lake Superior. I dare you to take the leap!

The Cribs, Duluth
The Cribs peeking out behind my daughter (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

13. Hepzibah’s Sweet Shop

My sister’s family lives in the Twin Cities in Minnesota and travels to Duluth often. When they heard we were planning a trip to this northern city, my niece exclaimed that we MUST visit Hepzibah’s Sweet Shop for what she declared, “the best fudge ever!”

In addition to their locally made fudge, you’ll find an array of chocolate truffles, licorices, Jelly Belly beans, and old-fashioned candies.

Colorful candies at Hepzibah's Sweet Shop
Colorful candies at Hepzibah’s Sweet Shop (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

14. North Shore Scenic Railroad

For a memorable way to take in the deep green scenery of Duluth and the surrounding area, climb aboard the North Shore Scenic Railroad. Train rides vary from short a journey to the edge of town, or a pizza party to the North Shore, and even a murder mystery dinner theater on rails. Scenic train rides are seasonal, with most journeys taking place in summer or early fall.

North Shore Scenic Railroad
North Shore Scenic Railroad (Photo from North Shore Scenic Railroad’s Facebook page)

Look also for Day Out with Thomas festivities. Children get a chance to meet the “real” Thomas the Tank Engine. Families also enjoy mini golf, magic shows, train rides, a train-themed gift shop, and other festivities.

Day Out with Thomas in Duluth
Day Out with Thomas in Duluth (Photo from North Shore Scenic Railroad’s Facebook page)

15. Gooseberry Falls State Park

Forty miles north of Duluth and 13 miles northeast of the town of Two Harbors, you’ll find the gorgeous Gooseberry Falls State Park along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Take in the rush of flowing water among three sets of waterfalls in this state park: Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. The names may not be spectacular, but the waterfalls are!

Pull into the parking lot near the Visitor Center. Start by exploring the interactive center. Be sure to watch the 13-minute-long “Lake Superior: The Greatest Lake” video.

Then hike to view the falls up close. The Falls View Loop includes all three sets of waterfalls. It should take 45 to 90 minutes to complete, depending on how fast your family walks and how many photos you want to snap. Afterward, explore the Picnic Flow, a hardened lava flow along Minnesota’s North Shore.

Plan to make the most of your day trip. Pack a picnic for an alfresco lunch among trees and rushing water at Gooseberry Falls.

Gooseberry Falls State Park is open all year. In winter, however, only one trail to the Upper Falls in maintained. Ice cleats are recommended for safety’s sake. Summer is the best time of year to take in the beauty of the falls and trails.

Middle Gooseberry Falls in Northern Minnesota
Middle Gooseberry Falls (Photo credit: YAYImages, Depositphotos.com)

16. Lake Superior Railroad Museum

Parents of train-obsessed children should plan a trip to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum while in Duluth. It’s housed in the historic Duluth Union Depot.

The Duluth Depot collection includes locomotives, train cars, and a caboose. Kids can even climb aboard some of these! Your entire family will likely need about an hour to explore all this museum has to offer.

Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth with kids
Lake Superior Railroad Museum (Photo credit: Lake Superior Railroad Museum)

17. Lake Superior Zoo

Highlights of the Lake Superior Zoo include snow leopards, wallabies, and African lions. Also, the zoo’s Primate Conservation Center is home to ring-tailed lemurs, a cotton-top tamarin, and colobus monkeys.

If visiting Duluth in winter, then there’s no need to hibernate because the Lake Superior Zoo is open year-round. Some exhibits, though, are closed or offer limited hours in non-summer months, like Beautiful Butterflies and the Barnyard petting zoo.

Download a zoo map before you go. Plan to spend about two hours exploring this zoo in Duluth with kids.

A tiger at the Lake Superior Zoo checks out a stuffed toy through the exhibit's glass
A tiger at the Lake Superior Zoo checks out a stuffed toy through the exhibit’s glass (Photo from lszooduluth.org)

18. Spirit Mountain Adventure Park

Get your thrills in the summertime at Spirit Mountain Adventure Park. Passengers on the Timber Twister Alpine coaster reach speeds up to 26 mph as they zoom down mountain tracks.

Summertime play also includes the Timber Flyer Zip Ride (a seated ziplining alternative), scenic chairlift rides, an inflatable Jumping Pillow attraction, disc golf, and a 9-hole miniature golf course. Nature lovers also appreciate mountain biking and camping in warmer months.

In winter, adventurous folks enjoy snowy outdoor activities at Spirit Mountain Adventure Park. Downhill skiing and snowboarding get hearts pumping. In fact, Snow Mountain boasts the second largest vertical drop in the Midwest.

Is snow tubing more your family’s speed? They’ve got that, too!

For a serious workout in a winter wonderland, give cross-country skiing a go on their Nordic Center Trail System.

Downhill skiing at Spirit Mountain in Duluth
Downhill skiing at Spirit Mountain (Photo from Spirit Mountain’s Facebook page)

19. Duluth Children’s Museum

Founded during the Great Depression, Duluth Children’s Museum focuses on learning through interactive exhibits. STEM Stations teach children physics by manipulating ramps, balls, and magnets.

Children fascinated by boats and the Aerial Lift Bridge will love the Ore Boat exhibit. Look for a make-believe aerial lift bridge, ore boat slide, and cargo hold.

For Minnesota-focused learning, check out the Manoomin exhibit. This display teaches the five stages of the sacred wild rice harvest through hands-on play and the Ojibwe language. (For a tasty experience, be sure to order a cup of Minnesota’s famous wild rice soup at one of Duluth’s restaurants!)

Interactive learning and play is the name of the game at Duluth Children's Museum
Interactive learning and play at Duluth Children’s Museum (Photo from DuluthChildrensMuseum.org)

20. Glensheen Mansion

Explore the 12-acre lakeside Glensheen Mansion while in the Duluth area. The 39-room, 27,000-square-foot home was built in the early 1900s.

The historic Congdon Estate once belonged to Chester and Clara Congdon. They made their fortune mining Minnesota’s mineral-rich Iron Range. This influential couple is credited with opening up iron mining in the region and setting aside land for public use, including the North Shore Scenic Drive and Congdon Park.

There is also a dark past to the grand property. In 1977, the Congdons’ last surviving child, Elizabeth, was smothered to death in her bed. The elderly heiress’s night nurse was also killed. Elizabeth’s adopted daughter and son-in-law were accused of the murders, with him eventually serving just five years in prison and her being acquitted but forever linked to the crimes.

Glensheen Mansion tours focus on happier times at the estate. The murders will not be mentioned unless a guest asks a direct question about the home’s tragic past.

The self-guided Classic Tour includes three floors of the mansion and takes about an hour total. The more in-depth Full Mansion Tour covers all five floors of the home plus the grounds. Those interested more in gardens than interiors may be satisfied with solely Grounds Admission. Active families can even book a kayak tour to take in Glensheen Mansion from the shores of Lake Superior.

Glensheen Mansion
Glensheen Mansion (Photo credit: Glensheen Mansion)

21. Family-Friendly Brewpubs

Beer culture is big in Duluth. In fact, the city’s first brewery, Fitger’s, opened way back in 1886.

Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille

Today, Fitger’s is on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to a small shopping and dining complex. You’ll feel like you’re in jolly old England here, with a Minnesota nice accent.

Stop by Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille for a beer flight and delicious pub grub. Kids can get in on the fun with a foamy mug of Driftwood Draft Rootbeer. Their hamburgers and fish ‘n’ chips are astonishingly good.

Fitger's Brewhouse Brewery and Grille's Black 'N' Bleu Burger
Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille’s Gale Force Rice Burger (Photo from Fitger’s Facebook page)

Canal Park Brewing Company

Nowadays, craft beer is king in Duluth. Canal Park Brewing Company is a great pick for families. Sit on their outdoor patio or request a window seat for beautiful views of Lake Superior.

As much as possible, they make their craft beers with local and sustainable hops, grains, malts, and other ingredients.

Try a local specialty. You can’t go wrong with tempura walleye, a delicious mild lake fish. For a guilty pleasure, splurge on the Midwestern treat, fried cheese curds. Or tuck into duck poutine, borrowed from Minnesota’s Canadian neighbor. A children’s menu is also available.

Canal Park Brewing Company in Duluth with kids
A family toast at Canal Park Brewing Company (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Where to Stay in Duluth with Kids

My family loves hotels with waterparks and pools. Therefore, we were excited to spend some time splashing and sliding at The Edgewater Hotel in Duluth. Unfortunately, we found this motel to be run down, noisy, and not up to our splashy standards.

After one night, we asked my husband’s Duluth-dwelling sister where to spend the night. She recommended Pier B Resort for its incredible views, reasonable pricing, and clean modern look.

From our room, we could see an expanse of Lake Superior as well as the Aerial Lift Bridge in the distance. A big bonus for families, Duluth’s largest playground, Playfront Park is just next door to the hotel.

View of Bayfront Festival Park, Lake Superior, and the Aerial Lift Bridge from Pier B Resort in Duluth, Minnesota
View of Bayfront Festival Park, Lake Superior, and the Aerial Lift Bridge from Pier B Resort (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Pier B also boasts great views of Bayfront Festival Park, where all sorts of concerts and fun activities take place. Music lovers often book this hotel for easy access to the 3-day Bayfront Blues Festival. This annual event takes place in the park every August.

Book your stay at Pier B Resort or take a look at other family-friendly hotels in Duluth via Hotels.com.

Playfront Park, Duluth's largest playground
Playfront Park, near Pier B Resort (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Explore More of the Midwest

Minnesota is home to the largest shopping mall in the U.S., a massive retail center that offers all sorts of attractions and entertainment. Enjoy 30 things to do at Mall America besides shop.

The state was the birthplace and longtime home of the Purple One himself. Learn what it’s like to tour Paisley Park where Prince lived, worked, and recorded music.

Read my tips for visiting Valley Fair, Minnesota’s biggest theme park.

Located on the shores of another Great Lake, discover Traverse City, Michigan with kids.

Things to Do in Duluth with Kids

Save these Kid-Friendly Duluth Activities

Considering visiting Duluth with kids? Be sure to keep this list of the best things to do in Duluth for future reference. Simply save the graphic above via Pinterest. Go ahead and follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Have you ever been to Minnesota? What would you like to do in Duluth with kids? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Wheel Fun Rentals and Great Lakes Aquarium hosted my family. We also received a discounted media rate at the Pier B Resort. All opinions are mine, as always. 

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  1. Love this list! I hope everyone gets the chance to take a trip on train rides (We did ours last year and it was amazing!). Also, one that you don’t see mentioned often but is a must do in Duluth is Lake Superior Helicopters, they’ll fly you over the lift bridge and up the North Shore!

    Great list Colleen, Thank you for putting it together for us!

  2. You covered things to do in Duluth with kids very well. But one thing i see missing and you may want to check it out is Hawks Ridge. Migrating birds and especially raptors ride the thermals created by the lake and the hills that outline the city. And it is staffed by hawk, eagle and owl experts all of Sept and Oct Can also take a very scenic road to Hawks Ridge locally known as Seven Bridges Rd. Beautiful drive, old stone bridges and tons of raptors. Just google Hawks Ridge and check it out. Take care!

  3. We have gone to Duluth annually for 20 and never knew there was a ZOO!! I’m adding this to the list this September.

    I know this is a list with kids, but I have a fun craft brewer to add – Bent Paddle! Great beer, fun outside deck!

  4. Super excited for our little trip to Duluth this week with our 15month old, I had no idea about the children’s museum or the zoo so THANK YOU for some great suggestions!!

  5. I haven’t been to Lake Superior and visiting Duluth, Minnesota would be my chance to do so. I’d love to see that aerial bridge too, and take in all the beautiful hiking trails and gardens.

    1. Duluth offers such a nice blend of nature and city for families to enjoy. Hope you make it there someday!

  6. I bet I would enjoy the rose garden. And water? I always love being on the water…if it’s a great lake, even better! I’ve been to two. 🙂

    1. Your comment got me wondering how many Great Lakes I’ve seen in-person. At first, I thought it was just Lake Superior (besides Lake Huron, where I lived near until age 4 but don’t remember). But after looking at the list of cities near Great Lakes, it looks like I’ve been to them all!

  7. We were just talking about Duluth bc we got a Duluth Trading Post near us and we thought it had to of come from Duluth, MN. That town does look fun.

    1. How cool! I loved visiting Duluth as a child and it was so fun to re-experience this city with my own kids.

    2. If you’re talking about the Duluth Trading Company, yes! — the ENTIRE company — sewing, mailing, marketing — used to be on a TUG BOAT in the Lake Superior harbor! Their only product at the time was an apron for holding tools that fit around the lip of a five-gallon bucket. The company grew and “moved away,” but came back in a big way in 2013 with a store on Superior Street, that we call “the home office.” It’s right across the street from a Sheraton hotel and it’s actually considered a tourist stop!

  8. Duluth was never on my travel bucket list, but after seeing how much they have to offer families that travel, I’m for sure adding it now. I had no idea there were so many places to explore there!

    1. Minnesota is such a beautiful state with so much to explore. So glad to put Duluth on your radar!

  9. I always love reading your travel posts. You routinely show me cities that I would never have on my radar for travel. And every time you show me, I see that I have many more cities to see!

    1. Thank you so much, Stacie! That’s so sweet of you. I love sharing my love of travel to let others know about all there is to explore in our big, beautiful world!

  10. I have to send this post to my Virginia, MN friends. I wonder if they have gone to all these terrific sites!