When visiting Duluth for the first time (or the second, or the third..), visiting the Ariel Lift Bridge and the Marine Museum is a must! The lift bridge was the third attempt to connect the city to a penninsula in Lake Superior called Canal Park. This narrow canal is a key to great lakes shipping and it was imperitave that two things needed to happen. People needed to get back and forth from their homes to the mainland and ships needed to pass through the canal. Because of the narrowness of the canal, a normal bridge wouldn't do, so the lift bridge was created. It's a beautiful bridge that believe it or not, Richard I. Bong, a WWII pilot flew his plane under the bridge!
When visiting the bridge, be sure to visit it's next door neighbor, the Marine Museum. Canal Park's Marine Museum draws more visitors than any other museum on Lake Superior. You will find film shows, model ships and exhibits featuring the commercial shipping of Lake Superior and the Duluth-Superior Harbor. At Canal Park you are within yards of giant lake carriers and foreign ships as they pass under the world-famous Aerial Lift Bridge. While you are there, sit back and enjoy the numerous gulls, and walk along the canal's piers to its lighthouses. New exhibits on lighthouses and Lewis & Clark Bicentennial open with assistance from Lake Superior Marine Museum Association. Open year-round. No admission. Programs always free. Groups must register in advance. It's the boatwatchers paradise. Come and enjoy it. Spring (mid March-May): 10am-4:30pm daily, Friday & Saturday closing at 6pm; Summer (June-September: 10am-9pm daily; Fall: (October thru mid-December): 10am-4:30pm; Winter (mid-December thru mid-March): 10am-4:30 pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
If you are lucky you can see the largest Great Lakes ships. The largest are the three "1000 foot class ships" and the largest of these is the Paul R. Tregurtha at 1,013.6 Feet long. These photos were taken Sept. 22, 2009.
One can call the Boatwatchers Hotline, 24 hours a day at (218) 722-6489 by Duluth Shipping News. The Paul R. Tregurtha is a self unloading coal ship for Midwest Energy making, in season, round trips to Michigan. It is really impressive to see her go through the channel at the Lift Bridge. See www.boatnerd.com/pictures/fleet/prtrgrth.htm
Canal Park is a focal point of the unique things that Duluth has to offer. With the recent development (since I left town over 20 years ago), of hotels, restaurants and shops, the area is a good place to spend time. Of course, there is the museum, bridge, lighthouse, and ship canal all located here, but there are also memorials and ships anchors scattered around the grounds.
On a warm day, it is a pleasant are relax and watch people and boats.
The Aerial Lift Bridge is a great opportunity to drive across and to wander around piece of a cities infrastructure. Most bridges, you get to see by driving over it. This one, you can take a boat ride (see Vista Tour tip) under, walk-on, drive across, and stand beneath. You'll hear it, you'll feel it and of course, you'll see it (from afar and up close and personal).
The Corp of Engineers runs the Maritine Museum at Canal Park. Here, you'll find ship models, a full size ships bridge, numerous plaques and parts of old ships and a full size ships engine. On a blustery summer day, you'll find shelter from the wind and cold and still have a fine view of Lake Superior and the Duluth Canal.
The Port of Duluth-Superior is one of the largest inland seaports in the world. This natural harbor covers parts of both Minnesota and Wisconsin and the coastline is filled with grain elevators, coal docks, and large cargo facilities. 1,100 ships dock in the port each year, hauling some 45 million tons of cargo. The most common cargo in this port is ore (40%), coal (40%), and grain (10%). This is the busiest port in the Great Lakes and the 16th busiest port in the US.
When we walked out to the bridge, it started to rise. We walked sown along the edge of the canal, and watched a large ship approach in the distance, silhouetted by the moon. When the ship arrived we saw it was the Philip R. Clarke a 1950s vessel built by the Pittsburgh Steamship Company, and named after a former member of the US Steel Corporation board of directors.
Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge was originally built in 1905 and is one of the key attractions in Canal Park. The original bridge was called a transporter bridge, and it had a gondola that ferried people and goods across the span. It was one of just two transporter bridges ever built in the US.
In 1929 the original bridge was altered and extended to the current configuration. The bridge connects Park Point, to the downtown Duluth. It can rise to the top in about a minute, and is raised about 25 times daily. The bridge is 227 feet high and 386 feet long.
Next to the bridge is an Army Corps of Engineers' maritime museum.
I lived in Duluth for 18 years... and I must say I enjoy Canal park as mus as (or more than) the tourists do. If you go here, explore the shopping down there but be careful for overpriced knicknacks and arts and crafts. Also, go sit by the Lift Bridge and watch cars and boats go by. My friend and I used to sit at the base of there bridge, in front of the safety arms and watch people go by.
Also, you can catch a ferry and go see some Lake Superior or go to Playfront is you have kids. Playfront is a big, old wooden playground. I don't recommend the aquarium. It is costly and full of trout and bass and other things i see at the grocery store. But I must admit, the kids really liked it.
Canal Park is cheap if you just walk around, go on the lakewalk and watch the lake. Fun stuff.
Canal Park is the place that many tourists end up in Duluth. It's the area down by the Lift Bridge, the Omnimax Theatre, the Great Lakes Aquarium and the SS William A Irving. You'll also find a number of restaurants and shops that are enough to occupy a full day.
The lift bridge dawns the Duluth/Lake Superior waterscape so it's impossible to miss it but if you can see it rise to let a boat through, it is really a sight.
On this trip to Duluth, I drove across the lift bridge for the first time in my life. It takes you across the canal to another part of Duluth where there are homes and boat launchings, ect.
Duluth has the busiest harbor of any city on the Great Lakes.
(What? You don't believe me? Look it up in the World Almanac.)
When it "lifts", this bridge witnesses the passage not only of Great Lakes freighters, but also ocean-going vessels. Read about who is coming into and who is going out of the harbor in the "Duluth Shipping News," a free daily publication that is distributed near the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Canal Park.
On the day that I was there, one ship was entering the harbor carrying limestone, while others were in the process of leaving the harbor with cargos of grain, coal, iron ore, and beet pulp.
Yes, beet pulp. It was being picked up by a Dutch Cargo vessel for shipment to Europe, where it is used for animal feed.
Duluth's most photographed landmark. The Lift Bridge links the mainland to seven-mile long "Park Point," the world's largest freshwater spit.
How appropriate that the world's largest freshwater spit be on the world's largest body of freshwater! (Largest by surface area - Lake Baikal actually contains more water because it is so bizarrely deep.)