Duluth from above

Exploring Skyline Parkway

View from Enger Park Tower / Photo by Missy Stroh on Unsplash

You know about Duluth. The natural wonder of Lake Superior. The bustling charm of Canal Park. The beauty of the Lakewalk. The iconic silhouette of the Aerial Lift Bridge.

The next time you visit, though, I encourage you to check out the stunning vistas of Skyline Parkway, a favorite Duluth attraction of mine that’s often overlooked—pardon the pun.

The Parkway’s nearly 30 miles of sweeping views include several overlooks along the way, perfect for picture taking or just stretching your legs. The Parkway winds around the glacier-chiseled rock outcroppings of the hillside and stretches “above” the entire length of the city. The bird’s-eye view is exceptional. And I mean bird’s-eye view literally. It’s one of the few places I’ve been where I spotted an eagle in flight that was below me.

The western view: A city’s working port

I like to approach Skyline Parkway from the 40th Avenue West exit off I-35 in West Duluth. As you climb the hill, you’ll see the rugged, rocky and woodsy hillside that’s ahead. The avenue begins as a gradual ascent and then gets suddenly steeper as you drive upward. For me, that steep incline serves as an almost visceral reminder of Duluth’s vertical terrain. You’ll also need to navigate a tricky hairpin curve that sits just below the Parkway.

Crest the hill just past that curve and turn left—west—onto the Parkway, and then take another immediate left and pull in to the overlook parking area. The view that greets you is amazing.

From this western vantage point, Duluth’s landscape is an industrial working port of grain elevators, ore docks, ore boats and ocean-going vessels—the shipping supply chain in action. The western view is engaging because there is so much activity down below: from tiny cars moving along the freeways to the convergence of ships and trains coming together at one of two giant ore docks that jut out into the harbor. These days, only one of the ore docks is operational.

If you’re a fan of bridges, this angle offers a clear view of the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge, which snakes across the St. Louis River Bay, and the Blatnik Bridge—locals call it the High Bridge—which spans Duluth and Superior. Further out you can even see the Aerial Lift Bridge, a bit more distant than the others from this view.

Enger Park Tower’s panoramic vista

From that western overlook, drive east along the Parkway, taking in the gorgeous views along the way. You’ll eventually drive through a residential neighborhood and then navigate a busy intersection that used to be notoriously known as Seven Corners. It was re-engineered awhile back to reduce the confusion. Stay on the Parkway and follow the signs to your next stop, Enger Park Tower. You’ll drive by Enger Park Golf Course on the way.

City of Duluth promoters tout the five-story, stone, octagon-shaped Enger Tower as having the best view of Duluth and they’re not wrong. You’ll get another angle on the port. You’ll see railyards stretching out between freeways and streets. Walk around the top floor of the tower and you’ll also see hillsides, the golf course and nearby neighborhoods. The Lift Bridge comes closer into view at this point too, as well as Park Point, that seven-mile-long sandbar that the bridge connects to. You get an idea here of how you are basically standing on, and looking out from, the side of a cliff, more than 500 feet above Lake Superior. The Tower’s view is truly panoramic. Your awe will be struck.

Beyond the tower, you’ll find an inviting park area, picnic tables, an American-Japanese Peace Bell and public restrooms with flush toilets. Seniors and those with disabilities should take note: There’s a bit of a hill to walk up to get to the tower, and then a major hike up those five flights of stairs inside the tower. Use your judgement.

The park and adjacent golf course were developed on land purchased with money donated by West End furniture dealer Bert Enger in 1921, according to the City of Duluth. His 1931 will included more money for the park’s development, and in 1939 Enger Tower was built in the park in his honor.

The Coppertop Church angle

Drive east from the tower and you’ll eventually intersect with Mesaba Avenue, a main city thoroughfare. Hang a left and drive to the top of the hill where Mesaba intersects with Central Entrance and you’ll see one of Duluth’s major landmarks: The distinctive Coppertop Church—officially known as First United Methodist Church.

Pull in to the church’s parking lot, being respectful and mindful that it is private property, and take a few minutes to check out this angle. The church overlooks the East Hillside neighborhood where I grew up—probably why I especially enjoy this spot—and the view offers a glimpse of how the big lake spreads out from the city below. You begin to get a greater understanding of the scale of Lake Superior.

Hawk Ridge and Seven Bridges Road

Finally, finish up your Skyline journey by continuing east. At this point, you’ll need to use your GPS to successfully navigate through various neighborhoods and busy streets. At East Skyline and 52nd Avenue East, you’ll find Hawk Ridge, more than 200 acres of undeveloped land on the highest point along the eastern portion of the Parkway. The view here differs from the city landscapes you’ve been tracking. Here, the vista opens up dramatically as the sky and lake come together. In the fall, Hawk Ridge is a cool place to visit to view migrating hawks and falcons.

Continue on the unpaved road beyond Hawk Ridge and finish your adventure with a lovely, wooded, winding drive down the four-mile stretch of Seven Bridges Road, which, notably, actually has eight bridges. The road follows Amity Creek down the cliffs.

The bridges are all small, one-lane, stone-arch bridges, and the road eventually leads you down to Duluth’s Superior Street. From there, the North Shore beckons for even more scenic opportunities if time permits.

So, consider visiting Skyline Parkway the next time you’re planning a Duluth trip. Come for the big lake, but stay for the epic views.

Check out VisitDuluth.com and Explore Minnesota for more Duluth information.

Video history of the Parkway by PBS North.

Angelo Gentile is a Minneapolis freelance writer who grew up in Duluth.