Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Explore Split Rock Lighthouse via day hike

Split Rock Lighthouse.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Map of  Split Rock Light Station Trail, courtesy Minn. DNR.

Historic light station towers
154-feet above Lake Superior

Day hikers can explore one of the nation’s most famous lighthouses and enjoy impressive cliff top views of Lake Superior on Minnesota’s Split Rock Light Station Trail.

The 0.8-mile trail is a collection of walking paths around the historic Split Rock lighthouse. Perched atop a 130-foot high solid rock cliff overlooking Lake Superior, Split Rock is among the most photographed lighthouses in the country. The Minnesota Historical Society operates the 25-acre site in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.

To reach the lighthouse from Two Harbors, drive north about 20 miles on Minn. Hwy. 61. Take the main park road to parking area for Split Rock Light Station and History Center.

Keeper’s house
Begin the hike at the parking lot’s southeast end by taking the walking path to the visitor center. After enjoying the exhibits, head back to the parking lot’s southwest end and go west on the Little Two Harbors Trail.

At the second junction, head south, taking the trail downhill to the pump house and the old dock location on the lake. When the lighthouse was being constructed and for almost a quarter century after its opening, it could only be reached by water.

Initially, this required that supplies be hoisted by crane from ships to the clifftop. By 1916, though, a tramway was constructed so that supplies could be brought up in a cart, with a gasoline engine powering the cables. Today, only the tramway’s concrete support piers stand.

Retrace your steps to Little Two Harbors Trail and head right/east. Take the next trail heading right/south. This passes two buildings of a private residence then the restored keeper’s home on the left/north.

Summer visitors can go inside the two-story brick house (It and two other grounds buildings are open from mid-May to mid-October, usually 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). The cozy first floor consists of a kitchen, dining room and living room while the upstairs has three bedrooms and a bath. A cistern is in the cellar.

Lighthouse, fog-signal building
Leaving the keeper’s house, continue on the trail. Go right/south at the next junction to the brick fog-signal building and the lighthouse.

Visitors also can go inside the fog-signal building. When the light station opened more than a century ago, two six-inch sirens powered by a 22-horsepower gasoline engine, warned off ships that might not be able to see the lighthouse beacon due to fog.

Next to the fog-signal building is the lighthouse, which recently was restored to its pre-1924 appearance. Summer visitors can enter the octagonal brick tower, which was built around a steel framework. The lighthouse stands 54-feet high, with a lens manufactured in France that flashed every 10 seconds. Officially, the light could be seen up to 22 miles away, but fishermen in Grand Marais, Minn., more than 60 miles away, reported they could spot it on clear nights.

Take the walking trail north from the lighthouse and past the keeper’s home, as if heading to the visitor center. At the next trail junction, go right/southeast by the oil house.

As the trail reaches the cliff overlooking Lake Superior, the route curves north past the old hoist location. The hoist was used to supply the lighthouse until the tram opened, which in turn was displaced by the nearby highway.

That road wasn’t constructed until 1929, and even then a driveway to the lighthouse wasn’t built until 1944. Still, the road during the Great Depression began Split Rock’s tourism tradition. During 1938, close to 100,000 people visited the lighthouse by parking off the road and hiking to the site. It probably was the most visited lighthouse in America during that decade, the Coast Guard reported at the time.

Lake Superior views
Following the hoist site, go straight/north at the next junction for a grand view of Lake Superior. The world’s largest freshwater body of water, Lake Superior covers 31,700 square miles and reaches a depth of 1,332 feet.

After taking in the beautiful lake views, retrace your steps back to last trail junction. Once there, go right/west back to the parking lot.

The station officially closed in 1969, and in the decades since became a state park and a National Historic Landmark.

Visitors should note that while pets are allowed in the state park, they cannot go the historic area.

Learn about nearby hiking trails in Day Hiking Trails of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.