15 Aug Boat Tour on Lake Superior
After getting rained out from camping, we made our way down to Duluth for some much needed sunshine. We were deciding between a few activities to occupy our day, and ended up booking tickets for a boat tour on Lake Superior with Vista Fleet to explore another side of the city. There are a few different tours offered such as a dinner cruise and various sightseeing options, but we were deciding between two: the Lake Superior Express Tour or the Grand Sightseeing Tour. The Lake Superior Express tour is a shorter tour that goes to Lake Superior and back, and the grand tour takes you around Lake Superior, the harbor and the St. Louis River. I had been on the express version of this tour many years prior, but due to the weather conditions, we had to stay in the safety of the harbor instead of venturing out onto the lake. This time we opted for the Grand Sightseeing Tour so we could see it all.
The tour started out…and continued with lots of corny jokes, but I must say I got quite a chuckle out of many of them! Our first destination was Lake Superior, so we made our way out of the harbor through the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge. The bridge was originally built in 1905 and used an aerial gondola to transport people, cars and wagons. But due to the increasing traffic across the bridge, it was upgraded to a vertical lift bridge in 1930. Now, there is a lower portion of the bridge that allows cars to cross when it is down, and when a ship needs to come into the harbor, the road lifts up to allow ships to pass.
Once we were out on Lake Superior, we had great views of the city. The lake almost feels like an ocean as it is so large and expansive. Because of the high ship traffic and harsh, quickly changing weather, Lake Superior is home to many shipwrecks. The shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is the most mysterious of them all–the ship had completely disappeared during a storm in a matter of 10 minutes. No one has been able to determine the cause of the shipwreck or why it sunk to the depths of 535 feet so quickly. After listening to a few stories and looking at the beautiful city and hills, we turned around to head back to the harbor.
Our next area to explore was the harbor. The Port of Duluth is one of the 20 busiest ports in the United States in terms of cargo tonnage. Being situated near large highways, railroads and shipping channels makes the harbor an ideal location for moving cargo around the heartland. During the port opening, the Queen of England even made an appearance at the harbor to honor overseas trading. The large grain terminal located in the harbor is the only one in the country that is equipped to accommodate trains, ships and trucks. It was interesting to hear all the facts about the harbor again–we learned all about the various buildings and what they were used for. But, I have to say, the tour I took several years ago was much more special as we got to listen to my grandpa’s own narrative. He was a truck driver and made many trips to the Duluth Harbor, so he filled us with stories about his experiences there.
After the port, we made our way to the St. Louis River. The water in the river looks brown and polluted, but it’s actually because of the tannin that’s given off when plants die; tannin is also found in tea, beer and coke. One fact I found really interesting about the river is that the lake can reverse the direction of the rivers water flow. The river is also the state border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The boat had both indoor and outdoor seating–there was also ample standing room along the edge of the boat as well. There are drinks and snacks offered at the boat’s bar, so if you are in need of refreshments, you won’t have to wait until the tour is over. Despite the fact that we could feel the bright sun burning our skin, we stayed outside for most of the ride –the inside of the boat was fine, but it just felt a bit stuffy to me.
While we enjoyed our boat tour on Lake Superior, we probably would have enjoyed the shorter tour even more–it just got a bit long towards the end. The ride that we went on lasted around 1 hour and 45 minutes and the express tour is only 45 minutes. Because the price difference isn’t too much ($15 vs $22), which persuaded us to go for the full tour. Either way, it is a great activity to learn about the history of the city and how the Port of Duluth and Lake Superior have made the small town thrive.