Duluth, Minnesota, was named Outside Magazine’s “Best Town” in recent history and for good reason. Not only does the town have a fresh, vibrant atmosphere, there are a good many things to do that are completely free. Many of the activities that the beloved city offers will have outdoorsy folks rejoicing! If you end up in the northern reaches of Minnesota, make sure to take advantage of all the FREE activities, sights, and attractions that the Zenith City can provide your family!
Duluth, Minnesota, is the second largest city on Lake Superior but has activities in spades for those seeking lakeside adventure. There are endless opportunities but few realize how many are FREE! Here are some of our favorite expeditions that are light on the wallet and pack a punch in fun in Duluth.
Free Fun in Duluth, Minnesota
This superior city has a population of young families that are out and about and active around town. You’ll find that there is a reason they’ve chosen to drop down roots and raise a family here — there’s SO much to do! As with many young families, especially if you’re a rural dweller, you look for FREE fun, because just getting to Greater Minnesota where Duluth is situated costs money. Here’s a bunch of guaranteed good times, provided to you compliments of Duluth!
Probably one of the most popular trails in the state, this paved, accessible bike and walking path hugs the shoreline of Lake Superior for miles and provides scenic views, peaceful breezes, and access to much of the shopping, eateries, and playgrounds and open spaces of downtown Duluth. It’s absolutely free and is stroller and pet-friendly too! In the summer months you’ll have a hard time here if silence is what you seek–tourists and locals alike flock to the Lakewalk and the natural air-conditioning it provides.
Leif Erikson Park & Rose Garden
This park is wonderful when the roses are blooming in all their fragrant glory, BUT it’s also quite pretty year-around. There are benches and awnings and manicured pathways leading around the immaculately cared for flower bushes where you’ll see and hear bees buzzing in the summer. Many weddings are photographed here as well, but it makes just as perfect a backdrop for an impromptu selfie with a kiddo and the roses and the greatest Great Lake in the back!
Watch Grandma’s Marathon
Some want to avoid this free fun, as it comes with free stress too (in my rural-loving, crowd-avoiding opinion). Crowds flock from all over to run the historic race and to see people run the course. There are special events all over the downtown/Canal Park area and it’s quite the festive time. Always in June, make sure to secure lodging WELL in advance for this annual event — some have to stay in Cloquet, Two Harbors, Superior (Wisconsin) and other neighboring towns and drive quite a distance because of the sheer numbers this foot race draws. It IS fun to feel part of something pretty epic like this race, but do realize it’s a busy form of free! (And no, you won’t be watching a bunch of grannies run – the marathon is named for Grandma’s Restaurants, which sponsored the inaugural run in 1977!)
Watch the Beargrease
Another busy annual event, but the Beargrease is during the winter so the crowds are thinned out by the elements. If snow conditions are good, the race is generally run at the very end of January or the very beginning of February. Start locations have had to be moved due to lack of snow and there is a ceremonial start (complete with cutest puppy contest) which is a not-to-miss Minnesota mush-tastic bit of wintry fun…for FREE.
Drive up Scenic North Shore
Highway 61, though it starts much further south of Duluth, way down by Redwing, Minnesota (which is another trip worth taking, but that’s another article entirely) is a great drive no matter what the season. This northern stretch of highway can be picked up right along the lake in Duluth and runs parallel to the shore all the way to Grand Marais. You’ll encounter some of the most scenic, iconic landscapes in the state (along with more than a handful of the best state parks — most of which require a permit) and truly rugged shoreline for hours. It’s definitely a road trip of a lifetime and it’s all FREE (well, for the price of a tank or gas.)
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Kids never tire of seeing the bridge move up and down – slowly. If you’re lucky enough to be down by the lighthouse and Park Point area of Canal Park when a tall ship is going through, make sure you stick around to see (and hear) the bridge as it ascends and then slowly makes it’s way back to it’s regular position, allowing traffic to drive out to the peninsula!
In the lakeside residential area, but just off of Highway 61 past the Glensheen Mansion, you’ll find one of Duluth’s best picnic and playground spots that locals know well but you won’t find on many out-of-towners itineraries: Lester Park. This sprawling park on the edge of town has both natural splendor for all ages to enjoy AND some pretty great playscapes too.
US Army Corps Lake Superior Maritime Museum
For history buffs, homeschoolers, or those who just want to learn a bit about the Great Lake and her secrets, this museum is chock full of photographs, artifacts, and just plain fun stories. There are also flush toilets, running water, and air-conditioning for those with sticky tots and for respite on sticky summer days.
Playfront by the Lake
Quite possibly one of the most unique children’s parks in Minnesota (with a pretty unique adjacent neighborhood too, being lakeside) this is a great place to spend an afternoon with kids. Lots of picnic tables and even shaded picnic shelters await eager park-goers–take heed, school groups come by the busload before being let out for summer on warm spring days.
Canal Park Splash/Fountains
In downtown Duluth there is a special neighborhood full of shops and restaurants, breweries and hotels–this is the Canal Park District. You can get cotton candy and snow cones in the summer or take a carriage ride too! All over the sidewalks there are small fountains and spurts that children can puddle in on hot days. Careful though! The area around the water can be slick!
Park Point / Brighton Beach
Two amazing beaches (one slightly more secluded than the other) and great places to skip stones and look for Lake Superior treasures to take back home with you — for FREE! Double score! Crazy folks can even be seen taking a quick dip in the lake during the warmer months in the summer — the lake hovers on average around 40 degrees Farenheit — not exactly bathwater warm but still an experience to be had while in Minnesota!
Let the artist within rejoice! Another gem located on the University of MN – Duluth campus and completely FREE (though they do accept donations at the door) is the Tweed Museum of Art. Artists and special guests speak regularly at the museum; exhibitions are on rotation, with something fantastic and aesthetically original coming every few weeks. There are also kid’s educational opportunities and much more on tap.
This planetarium on the University of Minnesota, Duluth campus is available to the public free of charge on Wednesday nights. Grab your sweetie and the kids and head to the campus to do some stargazing on the next clear Wednesday evening for a truly different type of family outing. Check the calendar for special celestial events that fall on Wednesdays!
Duluth Public Library
Programming is always changing but there is plenty to do at the library for area families and visitors and it only costs you the price of a library card, which happens to be FREE!