Split Rock Lighthouse: A 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 near Lake Superior.

Split Rock Lighthouse and Fog Signal Building

Split Rock Lighthouse and Fog Signal Building

Crowdless Access to Split Rock Lighthouse

On my visit during a polar vortex, the temperature was hovering around zero. That’s just what you get during a North Shore winter! But I bundled up and didn’t let the weather stop me from taking in the unique winter scene at Minnesota Historical Society’s Split Rock Lighthouse! Here on the North Shore, we have a saying: there’s no bad weather, only bad gear. So come prepared to explore the outdoors!

You won’t be surprised that I was just about the only person outside (there were others, but not many). During a warmer winter day (above 20 degrees F.), Split Rock Lighthouse sees about 50 – 100 visitors, compared to over 2,000 per day during peak season. That’s a great reason to visit 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. The interior of the buildings are closed during the winter, and tours of the grounds are self-guided only. Admission is free from January 1 – February 28. 

Split Rock Lighthouse Fog Signal Building

Split Rock Lighthouse Fog Signal Building

Split Rock Lighthouse Keepers Homes

Keepers Homes

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.”

View of Ellingsen Island from the Observation Deck - Split Rock Lighthouse

View of Ellingsen Island from the Observation Deck

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.

Split Rock Lighthouse Museum Store

Museum Store

Split Rock Lighthouse Museum Store

Museum Exhibit Gallery and Theater

In the Museum 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 made out of 20,000 Legos!

Split Rock Lighthouse made out of 20,000 Legos!

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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 Lake Superior shore at Pebble Beach and snowshoeing on the trails around the park.  

Snowshoeing at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Snowshoeing at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

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 things to see along this stretch! See the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park winter use map

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?!

Please note that a Minnesota State Park Pass is required to enter the park.

Best Sunrise on the North Shore MN

Watching the sunrise behind Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most amazing views on Lake Superior! Especially in the winter.

Winter Sunrise, Split Rock Lighthouse, MN

Winter Sunrise, Split Rock Lighthouse, MN

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 stunning. 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

Don’t miss these events at the Split Rock Lighthouse Historical Society, and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. 

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.

Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting at Split Rock Lighthouse.

Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting at Split Rock Lighthouse.

Candlelight Ski & Snowshoe Hike

A Candlelight Ski & Snowshoe event is normally held at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on the first Saturday in February.  Unfortunately, the event will not happen in 2022 due to Covid restrictions. But I definitely recommend putting this event on your winter bucket list in the future!

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. Enjoy hot cocoa, cookies, and a campfire at the Trail Center. It’s a great family hiking event!

North Shore Candlelight Snowshoe

North Shore Candlelight Snowshoe

Split Rock Lighthouse Hours

January 1 – 23, 2022

The Minnesota Historical Society Split Rock Lighthouse Visitor’s Center, Museum Store, and outdoor grounds are open Thursday through Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Tuesday and Wednesday). The lighthouse and historic building interiors are closed in the winter. Admission is free. 

January 29 – February 28, 2022

The Minnesota Historical Society Split Rock Lighthouse Visitor’s Center, Museum Store, and outdoor grounds are open Thursday through Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Tuesday and Wednesday). The lighthouse and historic building interiors are closed in the winter. Admission is free. 

March 1 – April 24, 2022

Split Rock Lighthouse is open daily from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The visitor center, fog signal building, and historic grounds are open to visitors with a grounds pass. Access to the lighthouse and keeper’s house are only available on the Keeper’s Tour.

April 30 – October 24, 2022

Split Rock Lighthouse is open daily during peak season. 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tickets for the Grounds Pass, General Admission, and the Keepers Tour are available.

October 25 – December 18, 2022

Split Rock Lighthouse is open daily from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tickets for the Grounds Pass, and the Keepers Tour are available.

See Split Rock Lighthouse’s full schedule 

How to Get There 

Split Rock Lighthouse is located at mile marker 46 along  Highway 61. It is between Castle Danger and Beaver Bay.

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Sweetheart’s Bluff Hiking Trail in Grand Marais

Candlelight Ski and Snowshoe: Good Times!

Snowshoeing the Kadunce River Gorge

 

4 thoughts on “Split Rock Lighthouse: A Sweet Winter Treat

  1. Terri Morris says:

    I would love to be able to purchase from the gift store. My mom is from Two Habors Minnesota and probably won’t make it back there. Is there a way to see what is in the gift shop.

    • Melissa Dressely says:

      Hello! I checked with the site supervisor at Split Rock Lighthouse. She said they don’t have their online store up yet, but you could contact them directly if there is something you would like. They will be happy to help!

  2. Janet Herron says:

    Love Split Rock Lighthouse!

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