Insider’s guide to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park


Split Rock Lighthouse is a towering beacon over Lake Superior and an icon for the state of Minnesota. For many people, the lighthouse is the North Shore. The state park that surrounds the lighthouse, however, is a hidden gem that only some visitors enter and only very few truly explore.

The view from Split Rock Lighthouse.

If you stand with the crowds around the base of Split Rock Lighthouse, you can’t help but notice and enjoy the view down the shore. One rugged cove leads to a steep rocky point, and then another and another, as far as you can see. That entire landscape is within the boundaries of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, and you can hike, camp or even bike through the heart of it.

You will need a vehicle permit to enter the park. You can pick up a day pass or annual sticker at the small state park office on the entrance road.

The best camping on the North shore

My opinion, though I’ve heard from many people who feel the same way: the best place to camp on the North Shore if you want real quiet, real privacy and real adventure is the cart-in campground at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Twenty campsites are scattered through the woods and along the shoreline. Each site comes with its own cart, which you can use to roll your camping equipment from the parking lot to your private campsite.

All of the sites can be reserved in advance through the Minnesota DNR’s reservation system. Since sites can be reserved 365 days in advance, early is always the best time to reserve your top pick for next summer.

Insider’s tip: The Split Rock campground is almost fully booked months in advance from early June through mid-September. For quiet lakeside camping on the spur of the moment, check out Indian Lake Campground north of Two Harbors in Brimson. No reservations can be made, and open campsites are common. It’s in our book Camping the North Shore: A guide to the best campgrounds in Minnesota’s spectacular Lake Superior region.

New and improved Split Rock River wayside

While technically inside the State Park, the wayside pull-off at the Split Rock River is free and open to all. It’s a popular trailhead for the Superior Hiking Trail loop around the Split Rock River. There’s also great access to a gravel beach at the mouth of the river. You’ll actually go under Highway 61 in a pedestrian tunnel to reach the shoreline.

Insider’s tip: There are no restroom facilities at this wayside rest, so plan accordingly.

Secluded Lake Superior beaches

Hanging out on your own rocky beach, feeling the splash of cool waves, enjoying a private picnic by the lake shore…that’s quintessential North Shore. And you can have it in Split Rock. There are at least eight separate beaches in the park, ranging from the broad, steep beach at Little Two Harbors next to the Picnic Area to the remote beach in Crazy Bay. Most of these beaches are along the Day Hill and Corundum Mine hiking trails.

Unnamed beach below Day Hill.

Insider’s tip: You’ll want to discover the park’s small cobblestone beach with a great view of the lighthouse. Head out the back door of the Trail Center building in the park, and walk out across the main Little Two Harbors Trail. Follow a little unmarked trail that seems to lead to a cliff edge. This opens up to a great ledge rock shoreline full of splash pools. Head up the shore toward the lighthouse, which looms above. You’ll find a gravel beach that’s about 100 yards long and 10 yards wide. 

Gitchi Gami Bike Trail

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is at the midpoint of the longest stretch of completed trail of the Gitchi Gami State Trail. You can ride west about seven miles to Gooseberry Falls State Park or seven miles east to the quaint town of Beaver Bay.

Iona’s Beach

Insider’s tip: This is not an easy bike trail. There are steep hills and sharp curves. You’ll want to leave your toddlers on training wheels at home. I recommend going west to Gooseberry State Park and planning to stop at Iona’s Beach about halfway there. Iona’s Beach is a state Scientific and Natural Area and was set aside to protect its unique red shingle beach.

Next time you’re on the Shore, take the time to explore this hidden gem of a state park. You’ll be glad you stopped by.

Additional reading about Split Rock State Park

For a lovely stop along scenic Highway 61, check out the new wayside at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

If you’re hiking the Superior Hiking Trail near the park, read The Gooseberry to Split Rock detour route.

If you want an easy hike to an awesome viewpoint, Climb Split Rock Lighthouse State Park’s Day Hill.


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