What do you do in Duluth, Minnesota in the winter?
It’s cold, covered in snow. Did I mention that it’s cold?
We’re Floridians! We weren’t sure what to do during our white Christmas vacation in Duluth MN, so we had to find out. We couldn’t just sit in the cabin by the fire the whole time!
Well, maybe we could…
Our daughter, Hunter, wanted to see snow for her December birthday and to have a white Christmas. Dad grew up in Northern Minnesota and still had family up there, so he knew how he could provide both for his little girl.
We’re going to Minnesota!
The greater Duluth area is the second largest metropolitan area in Minnesota, after the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis and a major port city, situated on Lake Superior. It’s also a great tourist destination with lots of outdoor and indoor destinations. They also have an average annual snowfall of 85″. We’re good!
However, many tourist activities are not available in the winter, while others hit their prime season as soon as the snow begins to fall.
These are our top 5 things to do in Duluth MN in winter, based on the fun we had during our visit in December. Pick your favorite and get outside!
There are several places to go skiing and snowboarding in the Duluth area. We found that Spirit Mountain fit our needs, best. Not only do they have an excellent option for younger kids to learn snowboarding, they have amazing views of Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.
Our kids wanted to learn how to snowboard, so we found that Spirit Mountain had a great option for a half day lesson.
Snowboard Option Half Day:
- For kids ages 6-12
- Half Day Program includes 2 hour lift ticket, rental equipment, and lesson
- $55 per child. Session runs 10am-noon or 1pm-3pm.
- After session is complete; you can upgrade the ticket to a full day ticket for $5 (we took advantage of this option)
The kids LOVED this option. They took their lesson and then, because Dad loves snowboarding, too, went for an adventure down the mountain with Dad!
2. Dog Sledding
This was, by far, the best winter experience we had in the Duluth MN area. Mommy checked out several local options and settled on Positive Energy Outdoors for two reasons. One, they oftentimes give guests the opportunity to drive the dog sled. Most dog sledding places will not let you drive. You ride. Period.
Two, they had a family option that was “kid-friendly.” Many dog sledding options had age requirements or were just too long for younger kids in the wintery outdoors.
The folks at Positive Energy Outdoors were amazing people! A real joy.
The family program includes an introduction to dog sledding, describing the sleds and the dogs and how they work, together. Then, you get to meet some of the dogs and learn about how they become sled dogs and how Positive Energy Outdoors cares for and trains them.
Now, you’re getting close to the best part. We start picking out our team of dogs! Hunter (my daughter) was in heaven! Shockingly, so was Kelly (the boy is not a dog person, AT ALL).
As we select dogs for the team, we attached them to a mock sled – basically, a chain with leads tied to two posts. The dogs are put on the mock sled and then shuffled a bit, based on their pulling strengths and weaknesses.
Once set, we move the team to the actual sled. Chaos ensues.
The dog sledding team wants nothing more than to run. NOW! The rest of the sled dogs that didn’t make the cut also want to run the sled. NOW! It was like a light switch turned on the minute we connected the first dogs to the sled. A cacophony of barking polluted the forest drowning out all sensible thought. It was truly an awakening experience!
Our son, Kelly, got into the rider’s position on the sled, the driver (Blake) “released the hounds” and they were off! The moment the sled crested the first small hill, the barking stopped. Like the same switch had been turned off. It was almost eerie.
Also, at that moment, it began to snow. Big, white, fluffy snowflakes. Tall, white birch trees provided the backdrop to this truly magical moment. The rest of the family made their way to the bog where the trail was located and as the forest opened up to the bog, it became even more amazing!
We continued to dog sled around the bog for approximately an hour and a half, with each member of the family taking their turn at riding and being the secondary driver. Kelly even got to be the primary driver!
To end the Family Tour, the kids rode with Blake down a trail that included hills that they had to help push up and a frozen lake! An unreal experience for the whole family.
3. Sledding/Snow Tubing
Just outside Duluth MN, in a small town named Cloquet, we found a local park with the best snow hill for sledding at no charge! Although we also went snow tubing at Spirit Mountain, this was our favorite place to go sledding or snow tubing.
Lots of different runs to sled down, easy to climb up to the top, seldom crowded. It was like a sledding dream!
Located in Pinehurst Park in Cloquet, Minnesota, the sledding hill provided hours of entertainment for parents and kids, alike. They also had an outdoor ice rink where Hunter could practice her figure skating routine. A perfect, idyllic small town winter wonderland.
4. North Shore Drive
The North Shore of Lake Superior provides some amazing views of cliffs, lighthouses, shipping vessels, and the forest. In the winter, these sights can be enhanced with snow, cold, and waves! It’s a spectacular drive, if you love nature and the outdoors. It can also be a lot of fun for history buffs. Just be careful and monitor road conditions in the winter.
Traversing along the Northern Shore of Lake Superior, taking highway 61 to many sights and stops along the shore.
We drove up to the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park as our turnaround point. You can go much further and even make a circle back to Duluth through the Superior National Forest, but we didn’t want to risk being that remote in the winter.
Along the way, we stopped at some wayside rest areas and historical markers that all provided spectacular views of the North Shore of Lake Superior.
We made it to our turnaround point, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, right as the sun was setting. It was spectacular! We could not have timed it, better.
The North Shore drive is a sightseeing tour. Be prepared to stop, get out, and look around. You’ll be handsomely rewarded with spectacular vistas and life-long memories.
5. Canal Park
Definitely a more low-key adventure, the Canal Park area offers lots of dining and shopping options. There’s also possibilities for more adventurous endeavors, including rock climbing and running along the shore of Lake Superior! You can also see the Canal Park lighthouse and the Duluth aerial bridge.
Grandma’s is a classic local favorite and it lives up to it’s reputation with great food and a great atmosphere. They’re also very proud of this heritage and reputation, so be prepared to pay for it. 🙂
Grizzlys had the best chicken I’ve ever had!
The rest of the family was not as impressed with their menu items.
Canal Park Brewery was our favorite. Great food, great drinks, and a beautiful view of Lake Superior.
Canal Park Square offers a lot of local options for shopping and most of them can be found in Canal Park Square.
There are many more options for family fun in Duluth in the winter. These were our top 5. What should we add to the list? What would you change? Let us know in the comments, below!