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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.

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The campground at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on Minnesota's North Shore has been ranked the fifth best in the nation, according to The Dyrt, a camping app.
Contributed / The Dyrt
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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.

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"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.

Minnesota's backyard logo

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.

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Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Forum News Service graphic

Notable nearby

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.

MORE OF MINNESOTA'S BACKYARD SERIES
Located not far from the more popular parks along Lake Superior, George H. Crosby Manitou State Park is home to wilderness, challenging terrain and real solitude on the wooded trails that reach cascades and waterfalls along the Manitou River.
At 500 square miles, Minnesota is home to the largest peat bog in the lower 48 states, and a mile-long boardwalk at Big Bog State Recreation Area allows visitors to explore this unique and vital ecosystem.
It's a far cry and a long plane ride from California, but at Tettegouche State Park, visitors to the North Shore can find both the water and as close as we get to the mountains in Minnesota.
This region of Minnesota that has been home to people since 400 B.C. did not officially become a state park until 1957, but today there are 2,600 acres of Mississippi River bluff land preserved, featuring one of the most stunning picnic table views found anywhere.
Long before there were lumber camps in Minnesota's north woods, lumberjacks were downing what was thought to be a limitless supply of white pine along the St. Croix River. At William O'Brien State Park, visitors can hike, bike and paddle in the place where the industry began, nearly 200 years ago.
The border between Minnesota and Wisconsin here was formed by a combination of molten lava and melting glaciers over the past billion years. The St. Croix River Valley's hugely popular public access site features hikes along the bluffs and down to the river, and ways to see these stunning rock cliffs from water level.
Founded more than a century ago and expended during the Great Depression, this gem in western Minnesota features hiking, biking, boating, beaching and abundant wildlife, along with a quartet of camping options.
Our summer tour of Minnesota's public spaces continues in a southeastern Minnesota oasis that can take visitors up onto the bluffs, into the trout streams deep underneath the ground and back in time, as Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park offers a little bit of something to appeal to a wide range of interests.
The first indication that you have left Iowa and entered the Land of 10,000 Lakes is a "Welcome to Minnesota" sign on I-35. The second, unmistakable indication is crossing Albert Lea lake, which is the centerpiece of our first Minnesota's Backyard destination of 2022.
The 20th destination on our 20-site tour of Minnesota's state parks brings us to the heart of the Twin Cities, where you will find an oasis of wilderness in the urban heart of the state. Fort Snelling State Park is neither as quiet or secluded as other parks in Minnesota, but for Twin Citians it offers history and hiking where the state's major rivers meet.

This article is part of the " Minnesota's Backyard " series which returns for the summer of 2022.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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