Lake Superior

As the largest freshwater lake in the world,  Lake Superior feels like an inland sea with thousand-foot lakers [ships that sail the Great Lakes] and ‘salties’ [ships that cross oceans/salt water]. Its’ vastness surprises visitors. Shaped like the head of a west-facing wolf, you can only see the opposite shoer at the tip of the nose in Duluth / as you head up the north shore and at the eastern edge.

How big is it? Big enough that experts estimate about 350 shipwrecks have occurred in Lake Superior, of which only half have been located.

How cold is it? Park Point, the sand peninsula reached by crossing the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge, boats shallow sandy shorelines where the summer sun warms the water. But as you head northeast up the shore the water gets colder and colder. The highest surface temps are about 65º F in August, with the coldest temps in March when they hit the freezing point. The lake forms ice covering about 70% of its surface in any given year and freezes over once every 20 years, the last time being 2014.

Lake Superior, referred to locally as ‘the big lake,’ acts as a coolant in the summer months, bring temps down by 15-20º F compared to a few miles inland. Hence the colloquialism ‘colder by the lake.’ This flips in the winter when that warm 30-35º water acts like a heating pad keeping conditions along the shore more temperate, well, relatively.

Lake Superior offers up plumes of sea smoke when the cold winter air hits the ‘warm’ water,’ refracts the sun into millions of flashes across its’ rippled surface, raises waves big enough that you can feel their crash in your heart. It is awe inspiring.

Plan on spending some time along its shore, it’s easy with all the public access spots [listed below]. It will take more planning and a reservation on one of a few tour boats or aboard a charter fishing boat to get out on the big lake, but oh is it worth it. The scope of the lake becomes so much more apparent when you are on the water.

Lake Superior Facts to Know & Tell
  • Biggest of all the Great Lakes at 350 miles long and 160 miles wide
  • Largest freshwater body in the world
  • Surface area of 31,700 square miles
  • Contains 10% of the WORLD’S fresh water
  • Holds 3,000,000,000,000 gallons of water [3 quadrillion]
  • Average depth is 483 feet
  • Deepest depth is 1,333 feet
  • Length of the shoreline is 1,826 miles
  • Average water is 40°
  • Calmest months are June and July
  • Stormiest months are October and November
  • Highest recorded wave is 28.8 feet; unofficial wave height is believed to be over 40 feet
  • Last completely froze over in the winter of 2014
  • Average underwater visibility is 27 feet, and in places reaches to 100 feet
  • No tide but does have a seiche – oscillations in the lake due to natural disturbances such as a change in wind or air pressure

How do you get close to the Big Lake?

From southwest to northeast, here is a complete list of public access points to Lake Superior. With more than two dozen choices between the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth and the Canadian border, you never have to travel more than 15 miles to get close to the Lake.

mileage from duluth's aerial lift bridgewhat you'll find
0.0 - 3/5 Canal Park and the Duluth Lakewalk
Cobblestone beaches accessible from a paved path
5.1 Mouth of the Lester River
Cobblestone beach access; season visitor information at the nearby 'little blue house'
5.2 along Scenic 61 Brighton Beach
Cobblestone beach, picnic sites, and seasonal restrooms
10.0 along Scenic 61 McQuade Harbor Rest Area
Safe harbor includes a public launch; picnic area, fishing piers, walking paths, interpretive panels, and seasonal restrooms
14.3 along Scenic 61 Bluebird Landing
Old launch area with dock and cobblestone beach
15.8+ along Scenic 61 Stoney Point Rd beaches
Large flat-ish rocks at shore's edge; from the southwest, at mm 15, turn on to the 1-mile Stoney Point Rd; only park where the road allows and avoid private property
18.3 along Scenic 61 Knife River Harbor and Marina
Safe harbor includes a public launch; cobblestone beach and seasonal restrooms
26.2+ Agate Bay in Two Harbors
Protected public launch, trails, and seasonal restrooms
26.4 Burlington Bay in Two Harbors
Cobblestone beach and seasonal restrooms
27.5 Flood Bay State Wayside
Cobblestone beach and seasonal restrooms
Stewart River / Kelsey Beach 29.3
Cobblestone and boulder beach; parking is on northeast side of river/bridge
39.5 Gooseberry Falls State Park
ADA restrooms in visitor center; requires state park pass for access to Lake Superior beach, and picnic area
42.6 Twin Points
Public launch, trails, cobblestone beach, and seasonal restrooms
46.0 Split Rock Lighthouse Historic Site and State Park
Requires state park pass for access to Lake Superior beach, restrooms, and picnic area
53.7 Silver Bay Marina
Safe harbor includes a public launch; picnic area, seasonal restrooms
54.8 Black Beach
Crushed rock beaches with seasonal restrooms
58.5 Tettegouche State Park
ADA restrooms available 24/7 in visitor center; picnic area and river mouth beach
73.3 Sugarloaf Cove
Self-guided nature trail, cobblestone beach, and restrooms
77.0 Taconite Harbor
Safe harbor includes a public launch, and seasonal restrooms
79.0 Father Baraga's Cross
Historic marker, picnic area, cobblestone beach, and seasonal restrooms
80.4 Temperance River State Park
To park inside the park, requires state park pass for access to Lake Superior beach, restrooms, and picnic area; parking along Highway 61 allows walking access
83.0 Tofte Park
On the Tofte Beach Road; public launch, picnic area, and seasonal restrooms
93.6 Grandview Park in Lutsen
Shoreline rock formations, picnic tables, play area, and seasonal restrooms
99.8 Cascade River State Park
Trails and small beach; adjacent state park requires pass to access park shoreline
104.0 Cut Face Creek Wayside
[pictured at the top of the page]
Cobblestone beach, picnic area, and seasonal restrooms
110.3 Grand Marais Harbor, Artist Point and East Bay
Safe harbor includes two public launches; trails, cobblestone beaches, picnic areas, and seasonal restrooms
115.0 Five Mile Rock
Cobblestone beach that overlooks the large rock rising out of Lake Superior; located five miles from Grand Marais, it was once a milestone for travelers.
118.7 Kadunce River Wayside
Trails, cobblestone beach, picnic area, and seasonal restrooms
122.9 Paradise Beach
Cobblestone beach
130.1 Horseshoe Bay
Public launch, cobblestone beach, and seasonal restrooms
144.0 Grand Portage National Monument
Turn right toward Mile Creek Road and continue .75 miles; visitor center, grounds, the Grand Portage trail, and dock with grassy shoreline. No entrance fee, but donations appreciated!