The Weekend Tourist // A trek to the worlds longest freshwater sandbar

For years Duluth has been my favorite Minnesota escape. The hills, the lake, touristy Canal Park; it’s our state’s premier vacation destination. I’ve been there dozens of times: spring, summer, winter and fall — there’s never a bad time to visit Duluth. And every time I cross the Lift Bridge and wander onto that lovely spit of land called Park Point I lust over those quaint cottages on either side of the long, narrow road and wonder what it’s like to actually live there. Those lucky people. It’s Cape Cod of the Midwest; grassy sand dunes with water on both sides; lazy groups of Adirondack chairs surrounding fire pits; water as far as you can see; sailboats, fishing boats, kayaks and ocean-going vessels — and all right here in Minnesota. I want to live there! 

So this summer I did, for a week anyway. And I’d do it again in a minute. 

The world’s longest freshwater sandbar was created from silt deposited by St. Louis and Nemadji rivers and Lake Superior’s swirling currents. It’s essentially one long sandbar that stretches 11 miles between Minnesota and Wisconsin. A natural opening on the Wisconsin side allowed passage into the Duluth-Superior Harbor but it wasn’t until Park Point’s ship canal was created in 1871 that major shipping began. When the canal was dredged it cut off access to Park Point so in 1905 an aerial bridge was constructed that moved people, cars, and horses and carriages from one side to the other on a suspended platform. In 1929 the bridge was altered with a road that lifted so ships could pass under it — the beloved Aerial Lift Bridge is how you get to Park Point today.

From Canal Park to the Wisconsin channel, Park Point is 7 miles long. There are a couple streets close in, but mostly it’s just one long road straight down the middle dotted with houses, a couple marinas, a few churches, a decommissioned fire station and branches of the 

U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard. Five miles out the road ends at Park Point, a large public park with a beach house, an airport, and a 2-mile nature trail that goes to the end of the point. (Technically, the 7-mile stretch of land is “Minnesota Point” and only the end is “Park Point” but even the locals call the whole place “Park Point.”) 

I came across Park Point Carriage House by accident. I was trying to find out if I could charter a boat to take me around Duluth-Superior Harbor. Though I’d been a tour boat before, I always wanted to get up close to the grain elevators and see the ore docks from the water. After a quick Internet search I found Carriage House Charters; sailboat rides on Lake Superior. When I talked with Captain Jerry he said he normally takes people out onto the nice blue lake water but he’d be glad to take me past all the industrial sites of the inner harbor if that’s what I really wanted to do. Then I noticed on his website they also had a guesthouse to rent on Park Point! Really? Right there? I could actually stay overnight on Park Point? Sign me up. 

The place was spectacular. And above a garage, so we had a terrific view over the sand dunes. It was a spacious one bedroom with a large living room, dining room, kitchen combination, with gigantic windows overlooking the lake. It was stocked with everything we needed including binoculars and a grill. We brought our bikes and parked the car for a week. 

It was all I could have dreamed it would be: ships sailed by our windows, I gathered driftwood on the beach, we read on cozy chairs by the water, the biking was easy, a sunrise rose brilliantly over the water, kids played on the beach, swimmers in wetsuits swam by, the sailboat ride was a terrific adventure that even included a visit from a homeland security boat, and we vowed we’d be back again. 

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