I first spent time on Lake Superior in my early 20s when I went on a fishing trip with friends in the Apostle Islands. A little over a year after that I moved to Minnesota and was able to continue to explore the shores of the lake and learn to love the many adventures it provided. My husband and I even married on the North Shore of Lake Superior with the water in the background.
Lake Superior has become one our favorite places to get away too. Summer, Fall and Winter its shores provide so many adventures for all ages. The pebble and sand beaches are plentiful and provide hours of hunting for agates, rock tossing and just digging. Hikes of many lengths are possible so you can find a good hike for your family if you are baby-wearing or hiking slowly with little leads. There are abundant parks and camping options especially on the North Shore in Minnesota.
Lake Superior is a great place to visit in multiple seasons. Summer, Fall and Winter are all my favorites. Winter provides many options to cross-country ski, snowshoe, and downhill ski options too. Summer is a great time to hike, play on the beaches, bicycle (both on paved and mountain biking trails), camp and do some inland lake paddling. Fall is prime leaf looking season and is a great time to hike the trails around Lake Superior.
We hope you enjoy some of our favorite Lake Superior adventures with young kids!
Duluth – A Great Adventure Base
Why Start Your Adventures in Duluth
Duluth is a great place to start any adventures around Lake Superior especially with young children. It is a reasonable 2-2.5 hour drive from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and 4-6 hrs from parts of North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa. There are kid-friendly options for eating out or picnicking and lots of parks to stretch little legs if you are driving further.
Lodging options range from nice hotels and suites with kid friendly pools to vacation rentals and camping not too far outside of Duluth. The closer you are to Lake Superior, the more you will pay for lodging. Staying in Duluth mid-week is always a good option to save on lodging and reduce crowds a bit. This is place to plan your stay in advance and make those reservations.
The Canal Park area is walkable with kids and has so many views of Lake Superior. One of my favorite things to do is watch the lift bridge go up as ships go through. I like to check the schedule to see if a freighter will be coming in while we are there. Even it you aren’t there for a big lake freighters, it is fun to see the bridge go up as sail boats, tours and others come and go.
Parks and Trails In Duluth
When we just want to stretch little legs and they aren’t patient with just watching the water, we like to stop at Playfront Park very close to Canal Park. We bring a picnic lunch or coffee and let the kids play.
If you have more time and want to also hike, there are great options even in the city. We have visited Chester Park to to play at the playground and then take a kid friendly hike along the creek. The trail is mostly downhill one way and up the other as the creek flows towards Lake Superior. It has multiple turn around points so you can cross the creek and hike back on the other side at various points which is great for young kids.
Lester Park has miles of trails and a playground (we visited it after the hike as motivation). The trails were more flat and wider than Chester Park so it was easier for a sometimes unstable toddler. This is a great place to also have a child carrier when you want to cover more distance. Picnics are possible here too.
If mountain biking is something your family wants to do, Hartley Nature Center may be a good base. While the nature center itself isn’t large, there is a nature play area and it works as a place for adults to trade off rides (or nordic ski loops) while one supervises kids. The trail networks is extensive and connects to both the Superior Hiking Trail (hiking and backpacking) and Duluth Traverse (mountain biking). Loops of a variety of lengths including ones short enough for little kids are possible.
Water Play In Duluth
Park Point Beach is a very long sandy beach starting just past the Canal Park and the Lift Bridge. It seems to go for miles and has multiple entrance points. Once on the beach you can walk as far as you would like to find privacy. The water is often warmer and calmer here though riptides are possible. This website has more info to help you have a safe visit. My kids can pass hours here digging in the sand and wading.
Brighton Beach is a pebble beach in Duluth. It is long with multiple access points and a good place to spend time playing in the rocks (aka throwing pebbles in the water to make a good splash). Amenities are limited at most places along both beaches. You will want to come ready to swim and expect just port-a-potties.
The North Shore of Lake Superior
The north shore of Lake Superior stretches from Duluth Minnesota well into Canada. We have spent many days exploring the Minnesota portion with our kids and we always could stay longer. It is a beautiful shore filled with pebble beaches, waterfalls, hiking trails (including the Superior Hiking Trail), and many great state parks and wayside.
Summer and Fall are great times to explore it with kids. Summer nights are generally cool enough for comfortably sleeping in a tent and you can usually cool off by heading to the shore for cooler Lake Superior breezes. In the summer hiking, biking, camping, spending time on the many beaches and paddling or fishing inland lakes are all good options. Fall is great for hiking in the beautiful maple and birch forests. Sunny warm days are possible as is frost and the need for hats and mittens.
Adventures on the Shore
The north shore of Lake Superior is a rock lover’s (of any age) dream. There are so many places to stop and explore pebble beaches. Sometimes the state waysides and state natural areas are the best places to stop and find a quiet beach. Iona’s Beach is between Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock State Park is a beautiful pebble beach just off of Hwy 61. It is just a short walk from the parking lot to the long beach and a great place to play in the pebbles, watch the waves or walk along the shore.
Caribou Falls State Wayside is another fun roadside stop. A 3/4 mile hike takes you to a waterfall. It is a great place to take a quick hike with little kids. There are places along the hike before the falls that you could stop and play in the water (probably not during the spring melt though).
Adventures on the Trail
Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center has a bit of everything. There is a small nature center, a hike with interpretive sites where you can learn about Minnesota’s logging history and the beautiful landscape you are hiking through. The hike takes you to a pebble beach with a rock outcropping that is sometimes explored by the more daring. It is a great 1 mile interpretative trail that is fairly flat and hike-able for young kids. The signs and changing sights kept my kids motivated to continue.
Gooseberry Falls is the first state park you reach when driving up the North Shore from Duluth. While that can make it a bit busy, the falls and the agate beach are still worth a stop. The 3.1 mile loop to Fifth Falls starts at the visitor’s center and follows the Gooseberry River to a bridge crossing at the Fifth Falls. You can hike up one side and back on the other. While you may see many others on the hike, it is still a nice destination. If you need to shorten the hike, you can start at the parking area along highway 61 or cross the river on the first bridge and make a shorter loop.
After hiking at Gooseberry, a walk down to the mouth of the river at Lake Superior is a great break for young kids. There are pebble beaches that are an easy walk from the Lakeview Shelter and parking. On a warm day, kids can wade and dig in the rocks for a long time.
The Oberg Mountain Loop is a classic north shore fall hike. The view of the red and orange maples and yellow birch and aspens during peak fall color is amazing. The 3 mile loop starts with a good climb but once you reach the top, it is relatively flat and walkable for the preschool age. We carried our then 3 year old on the climbs up and down and she walked the flatter portions. Our 5 year old hiked all of the trail with some breaks. Note: this parking lot does fill up on prime fall weekends and parking is only available on the road in, it is a good place to go earlier in the day. It is also possible to access the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) from here.
Another favorite state park to visit with our young kids is Tettegouche State Park. It has 3 very different and fun hikes for families. One of the easiest is simply down to the mouth of the Baptism River to play on the pebble beach. For a bit longer hike, the base of the High Falls of the Baptism River is a good options. The trail is 1.5 miles each way and steps at the end lead you to the river at the base where kids can hop amongst the rocks, stick toes in the water and generally enjoy the falls.
Tettegouche State Park is also well known for Shovel Point where the cliffs drop into Lake Superior. Rock climbers will be there often during nice weather. We waited till our kids were 5 and 7 to hike it since it has exposed drops. The hike to the first Shovel Point observation platform is 1.2 miles round trip and has a lot of steps but limited exposure to the cliffs if you stay on the trail. The hike to the end of Shovel Point is beautiful but has fewer railings. I felt comfortable with my elementary aged kids but I would have had a very tight hold on a younger kid as there are many places with easy access to the cliff edge.
Lake Superior is one of my favorite lakes and I could watch the waves roll in for hours. It is not great for swimming and is certainly not safe to take a canoe out in it with kids. When we want a little adventure on the water with our kids on our North Shore trips we headed inland to the many small lakes. Paddling and fishing opportunities are abundant as you drive inland from Lake Superior towards the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
While so many of the inland lakes are great for paddling or fishing (or both), we chose Ninemile Lake which was approximately a 25 min drive from the Hwy 61 on the shore. The boat launch allowed us to put in our canoe and paddle and fish with the kids till they were hungry. We pulled up to an empty campsite on the shore and ate a picnic lunch. On a warm day, kids of any age could have waded and swam though not in a designated beach.
The South Shore of Lake Superior
The south shore of Lake Superior stretching from Duluth, Minnesota to Bayfield, Wisconsin is another fun part of Lake Superior for adventures. There are more sandy beaches though the parks and easy access to the lake is further apart. We tend to head straight to the Bayfield area for adventures with our kids.
The Bois Brule River is a beautiful river that flows north into Lake Superior. There are two campgrounds along it a few hiking trails. The Stoney Hills Nature Trail is a great trail for younger kids. The 1.7 mile route is interesting and not too difficult. Canoeing and kayaking the Bois Brule River is possible but caution should be taken, there are some rapids. Check out this info to decide on a section that is best for your family. The sand bar at the mouth of the river would be fun for hours of digging.
Bayfield Wisconsin and Madeline Island
Bayfield and Madeline Island is one of the places we repeatedly took our kids to when they were babies and young toddlers. We could find small cabins, some hiking, and a kid friendly sand beach. The berry farms in the area are great afternoon trips and we could drive the beautiful back roads while kids napped in the car.
Lodging in the Bayfield/Madeline Island area ranges from campground to vacation rentals and small motels. There are private and city campgrounds on the mainland and city and state park campground on Madeline Island.
Madeline Island is just one of the Apostle Islands though it is not part of the National Lakeshore. Madeline Island has a regular ferry running to it and is inhabited year round. The ferry ride to Madeline Island was a favorite of my kids. We have taken bikes and our car across depending on the trip. It is the only one of the islands we have yet ventured with our kids.
The other island are primarily access by sea kayak, sail boats, fishing boats or a shuttle. Those are fun adventures we did before we had kids and intend to do again as the kids get a bit older.
Madeline Island has a state and city park each on the same beautiful bay with warm water flowing out of a lagoon. It is a wonderful place to play in the sand and water and the warm water flowing out is great for kids who tend to get cold. You can access the beach from Big Bay State Park or Big Bay Town Park. The hike in from the state park. The walk to the place the lagoon flows into Lake Superior is shorter from the town park and approximately 1 mile from the nearest parking area in the state park. The state park also has well marked trails both along the shore and inland.
If you want to take a canoe on the lagoon, there is a self-service outfitter with boats and some life jackets near the entrance to the lagoon. The lagoon is often calm and it was an easy place to paddle with young kids (one was between my feet in the bow). We travel with our own kid’s life jackets whenever we think we may be on water. It is easier to always have a properly fitting life vest that your child is already accustomed to, especially when they are babies or toddlers.
Aside from the state and town parks, Madeline Island main attraction is the town of LaPointe where the ferry docks. You can easily walk much of the town even with kids and of course find ice cream. There is a road around most of the island though there are limited places to stop as much of it is private land and homes. The drive can be a great car nap though!
Summer and early fall are prime times to visit Madeline Island. Summer weather features cool nights and days that often warm up nicely. By late fall, the weather can be more unpredictable. The ferry eventually shuts down when the ice gets thick and some winters an ice road opens up to the island.
Bayfield and the Peninsula
One of the highlights of the Bayfield Peninsula is the amazing berry and fruit farms. It has a unique growing environment and summer is a prefect time to add fruit picking to your trip. There are guides to help you determine what fruit will likely be ripe when you are visiting and what farms are open.
Many of the farms are in the hills near Bayfield and there is often a nice view of Lake Superior from the farms. Some have picnic tables and places to explore after picking. Bring an extra cooler if you want to go home with extra pints of your favorites.
One of the nice hikes with little kids starts right in Bayfield, called the Gil Larson / Iron Bridge Trail. It is a .5 mile out and back trail. It is easy to explore downtown Bayfield and then continue up the hill to the trail for a short hike. It is a great place for a little kids to stretch their legs or take a nap in a carrier while parents take a quiet hike. It now connects to a larger trail network which I look forward to exploring.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are also known for their sea caves. While sea kayaks are one of the primary way to explore the sea caves, there also is a hike starting from Meyer’s Beach. The hike is 3.6 miles round trip and has a lot of exposure and cliffs. Caution is really recommended on it in general and especially with kids. We have not yet taken our 5 and 7 year old there and will probably wait a few years.
Michigan’s Lake Superior
TMM Team Member Jami spent her childhood visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and then attended school on the shores of Lake Superior at Northern Michigan University. Her and her family continue to return and spend time up there all year long. She helped round out this section of our Lake Superior tour.
Porcupine Mountains to Keweenaw Peninsula
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park offers state park camping, hike in cabins, and backcountry sites. Many of which are located on the shores of Lake Superior. There are also lakes, streams, water falls, ridges, and beautiful vistas to find throughout the park. The famous Lake of the Clouds is a popular spot to see as you can drive up to the top parking lot and look down at the lake.
As you head into the Keweenaw Peninsula you can visit Houghton which is along the Portage River. If you are interested in Isle Royal, this is the home to the park headquarters and where the official NPS ferry departs. There are also lots of fun things to do with kids like great parks and museums in the Houghton/Hancock area!
Like Duluth, Houghton also has a lift bridge! This doesn’t have the giant lake freighters like Duluth, but still a cool bridge that will be sure to captivate little ones.
As you continue up the shoreline toward Copper Harbor, the beautiful sites continue. A favorite spot at the tip of the peninsula by Copper Harbor is Brockway Mountain and there are lots of other scenic drives and tons of hiking and biking trails. You are sure to find some adventure for everyone in the family.
Marquette is a great hub for Upper Michigan Lake Superior adventures. Marquette is the UPs largest city and home to beautiful beaches and miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking. Some of our favorite places to go are Presque Isle for a quick scenic drive just minutes from downtown, the South Trails Trailhead for some biking or hiking, or go play in the sand at McCarty’s Cove Beach.
At Prequse Isle you can do some easy hikes around the peninsula, watch the sunset, watch people (or do it yourself!) jump off Blackrocks on the backside (I have done it a few times!). At Upper Harbor, there is still an active iron ore dock. Watching the trains go on and off the dock and drop their pellets into the giant ships is always entertaining for the little ones.
We spend a bit of time up there biking, and they are always expanding trails. There is a pump track at the South Trails TH and VandenBoom Elementary which are good for the younger ones and the Grom Loop at South Trails is ready for the little ones who are ready to hit the single track.
Sugarloaf is a popular hiking spot that offers great views after about a 20-30 min hike up. Another great one with kids is the Mount Marquette Scenic Drive. After just a few short minutes of driving up, you have a beautiful view over looking Marquette and Lake Superior.
And if you need a great playground, make sure to stop by Lower Harbor and play on the giant wooden playground. Marquette also has many miles of paved trail for those who don’t love the single track. And if you get a rainy day, head over to the UP Childrens Museum in Marquette or go checkout of the fish hatchery out in Harvey.
One of our favorite places to stay is at Rippling River Resort and Campground. Book a site on the Benson Grade for a more private camping experience. It is a very clean campground that also has a pool, hot tub, mini golf, and is right on Noquemanon Trail Network South Trails (hiking, mountain biking, fat biking, and snowshoeing) and right next do Marquette Mountain if downhill skiing is something you enjoy.
As you head toward Munising, don’t forget to stop by Lakenland, a free and unique sculpture park right off of M28. Drive through or walk the path and spend 20 min or 2 hours. Donations are accepted.
Munising and Pictured Rocks
AuTrain beach is just west of Munising and is a very popular summer beach with the AuTrain River coming out into Lake Superior.
Munising is home to a variety of boating options for all ages. Hop on the Grand Island ferry for a very short boat ride to Grand Island and spend the day exploring, or rent a cabin and spend the night. There are a variety of glass bottom shipwreck boat tours that tour the bay and Pictured Rocks boat tours along the lakeshore. Some of the best views of Pictured Rocks are from the water! And if you happen to have some older kids (8+) who like to paddle (or if you have someone to watch the little kids), there are lots of PRNL kayaking options as well.
Some of our favorite destinations along Pictured Rocks National Lake shore are the beautiful 12 mile beach and the Chapel Beach Loop for hiking which hits some of the most scenic spots on the PRNL trail. This can be a strenuous loop, or you can backpack into Chapel Beach and spend the night. There are lots of day hike options of varying distance and level of difficulty.
Tahquamenon Falls and Whitefish Point
As you continue East along the Lake Superior shoreline you will come to Tahquamenon Falls and Whitefish Point. This area is home to a ton of rustic State Forest Campgrounds if you can’t get into Tahquamenon Falls State Park and you are looking to camp. Enjoy the shores of Lake Superior at the mouth of the Two Hearted or head to Tahquamenon Falls and enjoy the falls! There are row boats you can rent to paddle around the lower falls as well. Be on the look out for moose in this area, although I have yet to see one, but we have seen tracks.
Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is a great little stop at the tip of the Eastern UP. You can walk around the rocky beach and the museum grounds and gift shop for free, or pay the museum fee to enter the museum and other buildings around the property. Learn about the Edmund Fitzgerald and many of the other boats that have perished on Superior’s Shipwreck Coast.
Sault Saint Marie and the Soo Locks
And the last stop on Michigan’s Lake Superior shoreline is Sault Saint Marie. The main attraction here is the Soo Locks. Take a tour and go through the locks on a boat or just head to the free visitors station and watch the big (and little) ships go through the locks.
Lake Superior is one of my favorite places, the crystal clear waters and all the beauty that surrounds it. We love spending time on her shores and sharing that with our family!TMM Team Member Jami
I have loved Lake Superior since I first visited it in my early 20s. Taking my kids there through their baby and toddler years and sharing hikes, time paddling and hours on the pebble and sand beaches has made its shores an incredibly special place. The many state parks, public beaches and miles of hiking trails make it a great place to explore when kids are still young.
If you have your passport and decide to continue your tour of Lake Superior through Canada, make sure to check out the Lake Superior Circle Tour Trip Planner.
Lake Superior Adventures with Young Kids
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