Ships! Ships! Ships! Everything You Want to Know about Shipping in Duluth

Situated 2,342 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the Port of Duluth-Superior is North America’s farthest-inland freshwater seaport. Annually, nearly 800 vessels come and go to this port, carrying more than 35 million tons of cargo. This port is the Great Lakes’ largest port by tonnage and one of the nation’s top 20 ports, playing a vital role in Duluth’s economy while also delighting visitors.

When it comes to shipping, we know there are questions. We have answers! From the Duluth ship schedule to unique ways to experience Canal Park, we have you covered. All you have to think about now is when you can visit Duluth and see some ships!

What is the Duluth shipping schedule today?

Watching a 1,000-foot ship maneuver the canal and seeing the Aerial Life Bridge in action is a quintessential Duluth experience. The Harbor Lookout website provides a schedule of incoming and outgoing ships so visitors can time their visits to Canal Park to witness this impressive sight. There are also several live cams of the bridge and canal available for those who aren’t able to catch a ship in person.

When is shipping season in Duluth?

Navigation season for Great Lakes ships is March through January, and March through December for ocean-going ships.

What are lakers and salties?

Lakers are bulk carriers specially built for the Great Lakes. Lakers do not go out into the ocean. Salties are seaway-max vessels and designed to transport goods across both the Great Lakes and the ocean. How can you tell the difference? Lakers are typically longer and have a long boom above the deck. Salties are a little shorter, with a distinguishing feature of one or more cranes coming up from the deck.

Where are the best places to see ships in Duluth?

There are so many great spots and ways to see ships in Duluth, including:

  • The Duluth Canal – Seeing a giant ship gracefully move through the canal is a treat, along with watching the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge in action. This vantage point is the closest visitors can get to the large ships as the vessels enter and leave the harbor. You can enjoy an incredible view from either side of the canal, so if one side is more crowded, take a stroll across the bridge to get a little more elbow room!
  • The Lakewalk – The Lakewalk spans nearly eight miles in Duluth, creating a paved walking path. While there are a few sections that stray away from the shoreline, the majority of the Lakewalk provides great views of Lake Superior and ships as they’re coming and going. Grab a sandwich, pizza, coffee or whatever sounds good and grab a seat on a bench, stone or the beach to refuel and relax while watching the ships.
  • Park Point Beach – For a vantage point where you can set up and relax for the day, Park Point Beach is a must-visit spot. This beach is on the largest freshwater sandbar in the world – which spans nearly seven miles – and provides plenty of room for playing in the sand, sunbathing, beach volleyball and, pending weather conditions, taking a dip Lake Superior. From here, see ships coming and going from a little further away, all from the comfort of a spot in the sand.
  • From a Scooter or e-Bike – Hop on a rental scooter or e-bike and catch a ship on the move from various angles.
  • While Relaxing at a Restaurant or Hotel – Numerous restaurants and hotels offer excellent views of ships coming in and out of the harbor. Check businesses’ websites to scope out locations and views.

What are ship-related attractions in Duluth?

Are there any tours in Duluth about ships?

There are several tour options to learn about and enjoy shipping and the Aerial Lift Bridge from different perspectives.

  • The Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center offers a free guided historic Canal Park attractions tour – all from the convenience of your cell phone! Highlighted stops include the tug Bayfield (a historic tugboat), Duluth Ship Canal, Aerial Lift Bridge, lighthouses and the shoreline anchor display. To listen to the audio tour, dial 218-213-9069 to receive instructions on how to learn about each featured attraction.
  • Vista Fleet offers various sightseeing and dining cruise options to enjoy the water and take in the views of Duluth. These cruises share stories about the harbor and shipping industry, providing an up-close experience any shipping enthusiast would enjoy.
  • Zenith Adventures offers paddleboarding and kayaking tours from the Duluth harbor. These unique experiences provide the opportunity for paddlers to cruise right next to docked ships, along with some even providing a chance to paddle under the Aerial Lift Bridge to see the sun come up through the canal.
  • Time Out Sailing offers half-day, full-day, sunset and even overnight sailing tours. Patrons can take the opportunity to learn to sail and lend a hand, or simply sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
  • Your Boat Club, located at Pier B, also offers boat or pontoon rentals. And you might even see a ship while you’re out.

What kind of cargo are the ships carrying?

Iron ore accounts for 55% of the cargo annually, followed by coal at 15% and limestone and grain both at 10%. More than one million ton of grain moves through the port of Duluth-Superior each season, making it our number 1 export. Want to dive into more information about shipping in Duluth? The Duluth Seaway Port Authority has you covered with a page full of port stats about this Great Lakes cargo capital.

Did I see a cruise ship?

The Great Lakes are an ideal cruise destination for travelers who appreciate adventure, natural beauty and authentic experiences – and Duluth is a perfect fit for all of these things. Cruising returned to Duluth in 2022, and Duluth’s 2024 schedule is available at  

What’s it like to work for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority?

Check out the Faces of Duluth feature on Deb DeLuca, the executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, to learn more about what it’s like working at the port, and to hear some tips from a local!

Shipping information and statistics source: Duluth Seaway Port Authority

Posted on March 6, 2024