Follow the steady stream of visitors to the bright lights of Duluth’s Bentleyville for a fun family experience outdoors. It’ll lift your spirits and add shine to your holidays as you stroll under the glow of 4 million lights in the 20-acre park that sits right on the shores of Lake Superior.
You’ll find this bright light extravaganza in Duluth’s Bayfront Park, just west of the DECC and Great Lakes Aquarium. It’s open every night through December 26 — from 5 to 9pm Sunday through Thursday nights; and from 5 to 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s free, but plan ahead to avoid parking backups and extreme crowds.
There’s complimentary hot cocoa, cookies, popcorn and marshmallow roasting. You could see Rudolph, Santa, Mrs. Claus, and even fireworks on the final night.
If Bentleyville were described like a hiking trail, it’d be called a “lollipop” loop. You enter along a walkway of lights and lit-up sculptures, then take a loop around Bayfront Park. There is something bright and new happening around every corner, and in the center stands the tall lighted “tree” with a stunning performance of lights synchronized to Christmas music. By the time you’ve completed the loop, you can sip hot chocolate, roast marshmallows on an open fire, visit with Santa Claus, and get a candy cane from Mrs. Claus.
It’s sort of Duluth’s version of a cherished Christmas market in Germany — full of lights and good spirits and people moving about. The kids will be thrilled!
To get the most out of your experience, start with dinner in Canal Park or downtown Duluth. After your meal, hop on the Jingle Bus, the free shuttle down to Bayfront Park. Crowding into the bus with your fellow over-insulated merrymakers is as true-blue Minnesotan as cramming through the gates of the State Fair; an annual ritual that never grows old or fails to cheer.
If you’re extra lucky, you’ll hit Bentleyville on a night of swirling snow and near whiteout, when you can follow the lights to find your way…and the whole experience is magical with the illuminated aerial lift bridge as a backdrop to your stroll.
Bentleyville tips: Weekends, especially Friday and Saturday nights, are extremely busy at Bentleyville. If you can, plan your visit for a Sunday through Thursday (midweek is best) and you’ll find less people and have a better experience. Use the Jingle Bus to arrive at Bentleyville; don’t plan on parking in the lot. The bus is free and has two routes, one from Canal Park and one from downtown Duluth. The bus runs every 20-30 minutes. (Details are on the Bentleyville website link above.) Especially on Friday and Saturday nights near 5pm, expect traffic delays coming into Duluth on I-35 and funneling toward Bayfront Park as visitors arrive to park and tour Bentleyville. To avoid arrival frustration, come earlier and enjoy a meal downtown or in Canal Park, then walk or use the bus to arrive at Bentleyville. Dress warmly no matter what the temperature! Bentleyville is exposed and cold, winter winds come off Lake Superior. The evening attire is snowsuits, big boots, and hats for all.
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