Minnesota's Backyard: Like a beacon, a new campground offers yet another attraction at Split Rock Lighthouse
New in 2022, campers have another option on the North Shore with the opening of Shipwreck Creek Campground inside Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The new facility had been discussed since 1980, but finally opened this year and is all but fully booked for the entire summer.
BEAVER BAY, Minn. — In 1990, elite runner Jane Welzel won Grandma’s Marathon, the 26.2-mile race along the North Shore between Two Harbors in Duluth. It was her first time on the course. A decade later, when Welzel returned to run the race a second time, she recounted that in 1990 she was so focused on the competition that later, when a friend asked what she thought of running along the Lake Superior shore, she replied, “What lake?”
Home of one of Minnesota’s truly iconic man-made structures, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is similar in a way. One could spend several days there biking along the North Shore, hiking along the rivers that make their way down to the lake, enjoying the stunning views along the rocky beaches and camping in the Minnesota State Park system’s newest place to overnight without ever visiting the actual lighthouse.
But, since 1905 when it opened atop a cliff more than 100 feet above the surface of the lake, Split Rock Lighthouse has been a literal beacon for navigation and now one of the most recognizable symbols of the state. The lighthouse site is property of the Minnesota Historical Society and requires a separate admission from the park, but is worth the visit for the view and the history.
Prior to 2022, overnight camping at Split Rock was limited to 20 cart-in sites perfect for tenters scattered along the lakeshore. Those are beautiful places to stay for those who like a more rustic camping experience. For those with campers — from pop-ups to the largest and most elaborate homes on wheels — there is a new and stunning place to stay just up the hill from the water. Shipwreck Creek Campground opened recently and features more than 40 campsites with electric and fire pits on-site.
The campground was part of a plan for the park as far back as 1980, but ground was not broken until 2019.
"We tried to preserve everything that we could. There are still a lot of trees and we tried to incorporate as much of the natural landscape as we could into the designs," said Katie Foshay, the manager at Split Rock. "The campsites are really kind of tucked into the rock face."
She noted that the campground is booked nearly 100% of the time. There is a waiting list available in the DNR reservation system where campsites can sometimes be found when there is a cancellation.
On a recent Friday night spent there, the campground was full but never felt crowded. Supper was cooked over the fire and we tucked into sleeping bags as a bright nearly-full moon illuminated the rolling, wooded hills above the lake. After a strenuous afternoon hike to the top of Day Hill, featuring one of the most amazing views in the state, the campground’s new well-appointed shower rooms were a welcome amenity. The campground feels remote, having been created recently, although Highway 61 runs through the middle of the park, so after midnight all is quiet save for the hooting owls and the occasional passing 18-wheeler.
The morning brought sunshine and more humidity. We slept late, then ate yogurt and granola on the picnic table. A few campers walked their dogs or took strolls around this beautiful site carved out of the thick forest. The campground designers can be credited for some impressive landscape design, creating that many relatively flat campsites in this decidedly uneven topography. But a night there, taking in all of the natural wonders, is a reminder that it was worth the effort.
When a certain roadside attraction or restaurant becomes a local legend, seemingly mentioned favorably by everyone that passes by, it’s acceptable to be skeptical. Thus was the reaction when friend after friend told us about the wonder of Betty’s Pies , located on Hwy. 61, a few miles north of Two Harbors on the way to Silver Creek Cliff. How good could a small town eatery and its baked goods really be? When we finally stopped in, the dozens of cars that made their way through an active construction zone to fill the parking lot should’ve been a tip-off. We ordered a raspberry rhubarb pie to go, put it in our cooler and didn’t cut it up until we were back home a few hours later. The immediate instinct, two forkfulls in, was to hop in the car for the three-hour drive to buy another pie. Although if you’re willing to pay for shipping, they will send a pie right to your front door. Sometimes, these places are worth the hype.
This article is part of the " Minnesota's Backyard " series which returns for the summer of 2022.