Split Rock Lighthouse: A Short and Sweet Winter Treat
Winter at Split Rock Lighthouse
Winter at Split Rock Lighthouse offers crowdless access to the lighthouse grounds, observation deck, and museum. On a winter tour of the North Shore, you’ll definitely want to take time to explore this iconic historic site – no matter how cold it is! While you’re here, be sure to venture into the adjacent Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to explore the sights and trails.
Crowdless Access to Split Rock Lighthouse
On my visit during a polar vortex with temps hovering around zero, you won’t be surprised that I was just about the only person outside. But during a normal winter day Split Rock Lighthouse sees about 50 – 100 visitors, compared to over 2,000 per day during fall colors. That’s a great reason to visit during the winter! Even though the buildings are closed and there are no tours going on, it is incredible to stand before the historic structures that date back to the the early 1900’s – minus everybody else in your way. Take your time to explore the grounds, take pictures, experience the surreal solitude 130 feet above Lake Superior, and relish the view.
Lake Superior Observation Deck
Speaking of the view, it is incredible! The observation deck sits at the foot of the lighthouse, which is atop a 130-foot cliff rising above the Lake Superior. Karly Fransen, program administrator for Split Rock Lighthouse said, “The winter season brings weather events and people love to travel here to see them. The lake will show off with sea smoke and ice forming in late winter. There are many photographers trying to get the perfect weather or non-weather picture. Then of course there is watching the surfers on the big waves! Winter is just so unique with all the different weather happenings.”
Split Rock Lighthouse Museum and Visitor’s Center
The Minnesota Historical Society runs the Split Rock Lighthouse Museum and Visitor’s Center. There is a replica of the hoist engine that was used to hoist supplies and equipment. Also range over the informational panels, videos, pictures and some interesting interactive stations. And you’ll love the model of Split Rock Lighthouse made with 20,000 LEGOs, which was created for the centennial in 2010.
The Visitor Center has a lovely store with locally made goods and art, a wide selection of books, souvenirs, North Shore apparel, outdoor gear, stuffed animals, and lots of other really cute things to buy.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Winter is also a special time at the adjacent Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The biggest attraction is hiking, snowshoeing, or fat tire biking along the 8-mile mixed-use trail. Even in the polar vortex there were a few groups of people exploring the shore or getting ready to hit the snowshoe trail. The park also offers tent-only winter camping.
The multi-use winter trail starts at the Picnic Area and hugs the shore until you get past Ellingsen Island. Then it cuts north to Day Hill, pedals past Corundum Point, and curves around Crazy Bay. Just after Split Rock Point, it hooks up with the Gitchi Gami State Trail (unmaintained in the winter). There’s lots of great points of interest along this stretch!
But Park Manager Luann Udenberg’s favorite snowshoe trail starts at the Lighthouse. “You start at the lighthouse and snowshoe the Lake Superior shoreline along the Little Two Harbors Trail. Go through the picnic area to Pebble Beach and head towards Ellingsen Island – that is where you can see that incredible view of the lighthouse on top of the cliff.” Luann also told me that the Little Two Harbors Trail is the former home to a Norwegian fishing village circa 1910-1940-ish.
Special Events at Split Rock Lighthouse
Between the Historic Site and the State Park, there are few not-to-miss events.
Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting
On November 10, Split Rock Lighthouse lights her beacon to commemorate the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, and all of the other vessels lost on the Great Lakes. At 4:30 pm, the lighthouse closes temporarily while the Naval Hymn is played and the names of the 29 lost crew members are read to the tolling of a ship’s bell. At the end of the ceremony, the beacon is lighted and visitors are welcome to tour the lantern room. This is the only time during the year that visitors are able to see the interior of the light tower while the beacon is lit. The beacon lighting ceremony attracts nearly 900 people each year.
Candlelight Snowshoe Hike
On the first Saturday in February, a Candlelight Ski & Snowshoe event is held at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The evening event invites visitors to snowshoe along the trail lit by luminaries. The luminary trail starts at the Trail Center and goes for a mile up to Day Hill. Stop along the way for a campfire and marshmallow roast. Hot cocoa and cookies, along with a campfire are also available at the Trail Center. It’s a great family hiking event!
Peregrine Falcon Program
In April Split Rock Lighthouse welcomes the Midwest Peregrine Society for a program open to the public. See live falcons and learn more about these amazing birds.
Split Rock Lighthouse Winter Hours
November 1 through February 28: the Split Rock Lighthouse Visitor’s Center and Museum are open Thursday through Monday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Tuesday and Wednesday). The grounds are open sunrise to sunset every day. There is no admission fee for the lighthouse (except during the Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting on November 10th). However, visitors need to purchase a state park pass for their vehicle. The lighthouse grounds are open from sunrise to sunset every day.
March 1 – May 14: the lighthouse and fog signal buildings are open from 11am – 4pm. Admission is $5 per person or $20 per family. There are no tours but when the weather is nice visitors can go inside the lighthouse.
How to Get There
Split Rock Lighthouse is located at mile marker 46 along Minnesota’s Highway 61. It is between Castle Danger and Beaver Bay.
Looking for more historical attractions?
Check out NorthShoreExplorerMN’s Top 10 North Shore History Attractions