Two Harbors, Minnesota: Let’s Explore!
Two Harbors: A Hot Spot for Hidden Treasures
Two Harbors, Minnesota is more than just a town that you drive through to get to the North Shore (and the last stop with a McDonald’s)! It is a hot spot for hidden treasures on the North Shore. Take the time to explore the downtown Waterfront District, shops and restaurants, history attractions, trails and beaches, and the operating ore docks. In case you were wondering, Two Harbors’ two harbors are Agate Bay and Burlington Bay…read on.
Shopping and Dining in Two Harbors
Instead of driving through, get out of your car and explore what this little slice of Americana has to offer! Almost all of the shops and restaurants are small, locally-owned, mom-and-pop shops that have interesting finds and great food. Walk up and down the stretch along Hwy 61, or drive a few blocks towards the lake to the Waterfront District.
Along Hwy 61 I recommend Judy’s Cafe where you can get a casual, home-cooked meal (breakfast all day, homemade pies, daily specials), ice cream treats at the walk-up Dairy Queen, and novelty gifts and great service at Agate Bay Outfitters. You can also pop into the Superior Hiking Trail Headquarters to pick up trail maps and merchandise, and to get recommendations for a great hike. Speaking of recommendations, the RJ Houle Information Center (just east of town) has friendly staff that send you away with some great ideas for your Lake County adventure.
A few blocks towards the lake is the Downtown Waterfront District. In addition to the attractions listed below you will want to explore the new NorShore Clothing Co. and antique shops. Having a pint at the popular Castle Danger Brewery is a must! They have a rotating selection of 13 fresh-brewed beers on tap, an inviting tap room, and an outdoor deck and “backyard” with lawn games.
Two Harbors Ore Docks
One of the most unique attractions in Two Harbors are the ore docks. It doesn’t sound too exciting until you stand on the breakwater and encounter one of the giant 1,000-foot iron ore tankers. Watching them maneuver their way into Agate Bay and cozy up to the ore dock for a fill-up is a sight that can draw crowds. They are picking up iron ore that is freshly mined from Minnesota’s Iron Range, located about 70 miles west of Two Harbors.
The ore docks have significant part in Two Harbors’ history books. Dock #1 was built in 1883. It was the first on Lake Superior and the largest in the world at the time. This asset cemented Two Harbors’ pivotal role in Minnesota’s early iron industry. By 1885 over 225,000 tons of iron ore were being shipped out of Agate Bay.
Two Harbors Lighthouse Museum
As a result of all the shipping a lighthouse was constructed to help navigate the ships in and out of Agate Bay. The light was first lit on April 5, 1892. Today it is the longest, continuously run lighthouse on Lake Superior’s North Shore, and the only one still operating.
Take a self-guided tour through the working end of the lighthouse. See exhibits in the Cleaning and Wicking Room and Watch Room. There are great views on the way up, including through the portholes in the Watch Room.
What’s more, visitors can actually stay at the lighthouse! The living quarters were converted to a bed and breakfast in 1999. Cozy up in the Keeper’s Room or the Skiff House, or the Harbor or Forest Rooms. Enjoy breakfast amidst the original Fourth-Order Fresnel Lens that’s on display, the main attraction of the Dining Room. Well, besides the food. Scandinavian fruit soup, anyone? It’s their signature dish, served as an appetizer before the hearty, homemade breakfast main course.
Two Harbors Depot Museum
The historical building was formerly the 1907 headquarters of the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad. Today the museum features exhibits highlighting the three industries that built Two Harbors, and Lake County, Minnesota: iron mining and the supporting railroad, commercial fishing, and logging. Five dollars grants admission to several rooms of historical exhibits and artifacts. There is also a gift shop.
Take the train to the Depot Museum! The North Shore Scenic Railroad offers day trips from the Duluth Depot Museum to the historic station in Two Harbors. The scenic ride takes you along the lake with a stop in Two Harbors for some local exploration. The round-trip is a full-day excursion running weekends in the summer and fall. Check out the details here.
Two Harbors 3M Museum
You don’t normally associate 3M with Two Harbors, Minnesota, but here is where it all began in 1902! The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company,’s original plan was to mine corundum to make grinding wheels. After that didn’t work out they moved to Duluth in 1905 and began researching and manufacturing sandpaper products. Soon after that 3M moved to St. Paul and took on other research and manufacturing projects, and grew the company to the the scale that it is today.
The quaint 3M Museum in Two Harbors is located in the original building that housed the law office of John Dwan, one of the original owners. The small building is chock-full of interpretative exhibits and artifacts logging the early days on up.
Lake County Historical Society
The Lake County Historical Society runs the Lighthouse Museum, Depot Museum, 3M Museum, and Lighthouse B&B. There is a $5 per-site fee for museum admission, or you can get a $10 multi-pass which is good for 2 days. Annual Memberships start at $20. Museums are open daily Memorial Day – Mid-October. Depot Museum is open Saturdays during the off-season. The Lighthouse B&B is open year-round.
Sonju walking & Biking Trail
This nice little trail takes you along both bays that make up Two Harbors (Agate and Burlington). Relish beautiful Lake Superior views, quiet wooded areas, picnic areas and spur trails to smaller beaches. Stroll through Lakeview Park which has picnic tables and public barbecue grills. The trail is about a mile in length and offers both paved and dirt trail sections. It is common to see deer and other wildlife along the route.
While you’re walking around, you’ll certainly want to walk along the breakwater to the lighthouse. This is the best place to see the lakers coming and going from the ore docks.