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Swimming the North Shore? Not so fast - Best North Shore - Best North Shore

Swimming the North Shore? Not so fast


News broke last week that Lake Superior has warmed up much faster this year than normal. But before you slather on the sunscreen for Superior, you might just do a little research. I was in the lake yesterday and it was cold…cold enough that I was the only one of the fifty people on the swimming beach actually swimming.

Lake Superior surface water temperatures change dramatically day to day depending on the heat of the day and, more importantly, the wind direction. A wind off the shore drives warmer surface water out and brings cold water up from the depths. Herring like that. Most people don’t.

If you want to swim on the North Shore, wait for a sunny day with a breeze off the lake, like a southerly wind. Up in Little Marais, we seldom swam in June or July, but would have some great days in August down on “the rocks” with the waves crashing over us as we pinned ourselves to a ledge.

For a full listing of Minnesota North Shore beaches, check out the MPCA’s beach monitoring site. You can drill down into all sorts of data.

Here are my recommendations for decent North Shore swimming beachs, with links to their MPCA webpage:

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park Little Two Harbors beach. You need a state park vehicle permit for this one, but it’s totally worth it. The water is clear but kept warm by the protection of the island and tombolo. Swim out far enough for a loon’s view of the Lighthouse.

Burlington Bay beach. This is the eastern of the two harbors in Two Harbors. Very easy to reach right off Highway 61 and next to the campground.

Iona’s Beach, at Twin Points. The MPCA page shows the boat launch area, but head through the pine forest to the other side of the point and enjoy the unique red shingle beach.

Swimming on the North Shore is an amazing experience. Floating above huge boulders in clear water, body-surfing the fresh water waves…it’s the best. Just watch the wind and wait for a perfect day.


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6 Responses

  1. Gina says:

    Hey, Andrew… thanks for the tips. What’s up with all the wood detritus stuff in the water at Park Point this year? I don’t remember it from past years, but maybe I just wasn’t there enough. It’s definitely not the clear water I remember from years ago!

  2. Andrew Slade says:

    Gina, you might guess that the best swimming is near a lighthouse, huh?

    Someone needs to carbon date the woody debris. I think it’s left over from the sawmills of the 1890-1900 era. My theory is it’s been scoured out of the harbor and into the lake over the last century. It gets buried in the sand and doesn’t decompose well. With every big storm, some of it gets stirred up to the surface and exposed for awhile. Then it gets buried again. “The blob” seems to move up and down the beach, then disappear, and then…who knows?

  3. I found the North Shore water ice cold last week. Colder then I recalled from the past. But perhaps it depends on the direction of the wind? My feet were numb inside the kayak! We had 38 degrees one night and had to build a nice fire to keep warm.
    All part of the adventure in Minnesota.

  4. Woops, it was two weeks ago.
    The last week of June! Last week was quite warm.

  5. For the last few weeks I have been daydreaming about a day at the beach on the North Shore (I now live in Berlin). I wish I could put your tips to practical use, but for the time being they served as a nice reminder of home—I love Iona’s Beach! Thanks for the great blog.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t’ swim in Burlington Bay. Skunk Creek dumps into the bay, and Two Harbors continues to degrade Skunk Creek with development pressure and “storm water” ponds. A local man took it upon himself to sample water from Skunk Creek, and testing found the water contaminated. Local officials are trying to sweep it under the rug saying Skunk Creek is not a “Public Waters” therefore it should not appear on the MPCA impaired streams list.

    Burlington Bay was closed for swimming six days last year, one day back in 2007. Now that testing is suspended, we don’t get to see the impact of that ugly RV site the city is building on the banks of Skunk Creek overlooking Burlington Bay. (not that the site was pretty before, the soil was more stable though)

    I helped on a beach clean-up about 2 years ago, and drug paraphernalia washed up on the beach. The clean up coordinator from the Coastal Program kept us away from the mouth of Skunk Creek after I asked him about the material. He thought it was possibly washing down from a parking lot or yard.

What do you think?


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