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, I recommend exploring this iconic Minnesota Historical Society attraction – 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 historic buildings are closed and there are no tours going on during the winter, it is incredible to stand before the historic structures that date back to 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 Lake Superior. Karly Fransen, site operations supervisor 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
When you want to warm up, come inside the Visitor Center and Museum Store. Meet the friendly and knowledgeable staff, and browse the 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.
Museum Exhibit Gallery and Theater
During Covid-19, the Split Rock Lighthouse museum exhibit gallery and theater have been closed. However, they are scheduled to open in March 2021; check here for more information. In the Musuem Gallery, check out the replica of the hoist engine that was used to hoist supplies and equipment from Lake Superior to the top of the cliff (quite the feat in 1910!). You’ll love the model of Split Rock Lighthouse made with 20,000 LEGOs, which was created for the centennial in 2010.
Also range over the informational panels, videos, pictures, and fun interactive stations.
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 are lots of great points of interest along this stretch!
Former 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.” She also said that the Little Two Harbors Trail is the former home to a Norwegian fishing village circa 1910-1940-ish. Cool, huh?!
Best place for a North Shore MN Sunrise
Watching the sunrise behind Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most amazing views on Lake Superior! Especially in the winter.
This is verified by Hayes Scriven, the Split Rock lighthouse keeper, site manager, and avid photographer. “Pebble Beach, inside the state park, is the best view of the sunrise on Lake Superior! The sun’s rays casting over the lighthouse are stuffing. If that wasn’t enough add the mysterious Lake Superior sea smoke, and an ice-covered shore…it’s amazing.”
Special Events at Split Rock Lighthouse
Between the Historic Site and the State Park, there are few not-to-miss events.
(These events are not taking place during Covid-19)
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. (This event is not taking place during Covid-19)
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! (This event is not taking place during Covid-19)
Split Rock Lighthouse Winter Hours
November 1 through February 28: the Split Rock Lighthouse Visitor’s Center and Museum Store are open Thursday through Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Tuesday and Wednesday). The grounds are open 10am – 4pm daily. 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.
March 1 – October 24 (MEA Weekend): The fog signal building, grounds, visitor center, and museum store are open daily. During Covid-19, all tours are self-guided, and the lighthouse and lightkeeper’s home are closed. See Split Rock Lighthouse for more information and updates.
How to Get There
Split Rock Lighthouse is located at mile marker 46 along 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