Skyline Parkway’s 125th Anniversary

Skyline Parkway Tour Photo

A group of tourists explores Skyline Parkway with The Duluth Experience. Photo: Duluth Experience.

If you’ve ever visited Duluth you’ve probably ventured up to Duluth’s scenic Skyline Parkway. If you haven’t… you should probably put it on the “Duluth Bucketlist” for your next visit. In fact, we make it a priority to introduce our guests to this amazing roadway because it offers spectacular views and allows us to delve into many of the stories that explain Duluth’s historic evolution.

Skyline Parkway meanders along Duluth’s ridgeline and offers amazing views of Lake Superior, the City of Duluth, and the St. Louis River Estuary. From the top of Duluth you can see the Aerial Lift Bridge and Canal Park, you can see Rice’s Point and the industrial part of Duluth and in the distance you can see the St. Louis River disappearing in the distance as it winds its way past Spirit Mountain.

BONUS: If you make it onto Skyline Parkway this year you might consider singing “Happy Birthday” because Duluth’s most famous (and historic) route is turning 125 years old!

Celebrating Skyline Parkway’s 125th Anniversary

By Kyle Chisholm

When tracing Skyline Parkway back to its inception, one actually has to go back to the last ice age! As the ice sheets in North America retreated, they created a system of glacial lakes in the center of the continent that varied in size over time. In the case of Glacial Lake Duluth, the glaciers left us with an ancient shoreline that became the home to the great City of Duluth. One visionary Duluthian saw a wonderful opportunity in this geologic formation. His name was William K. Rogers and he was the President of Duluth’s first Park Board.

William K Rogers Duluth Skyline Parkway

1877 image of William K. Rogers. Photo: www.AmityCreek.com.

Rogers came to Duluth around 1856 when his friend, President Rutherford B. Hayes, purchased land in Duluth. As Hayes’ former personal secretary, Rogers helped oversee his holdings in Duluth and over time Rogers invested in land, banking, and even the incline which sought to develop residential land on top of Duluth’s hillside. In the late 19th century, Duluth’s hillside was hard to access, and the incline was seen as the key. During his involvment with the incline planning and construction project, Rogers observed and surveyed the ancient shoreline that would later become known as Skyline Parkway.

In 1888, Rogers pitched his master park plan to the city. His plan called for a network of parks along Lake Superior’s shoreline that would encompass many of Duluth’s hillside creeks, and a road along the hilltop to connect them all. His vision for Skyline Parkway would make Duluth’s hillside park system a destination for visitors and open up additional recreation opportunities for Duluth locals – today we have a variety of parks along the Skyline route and two world-class trails – the Superior Hiking Trail and the Duluth Traverse.

The former glacial lake shoreline created a natural terrace along the ridgeline, making Skyline’s road construction a feasible project. By 1900, the road extended a modest 5 miles and connected Chester Park with Lincoln Park. Carriage parties, called “tally-ho’s”, enjoyed scenic excursions along the road which was initially called Rogers’ Boulevard. Around that same time, the picnic area at Gem Lakes (known to locals as Twin Ponds) was created by damming Buckingham Creek. This was a great place to have lunch and water the horses and today provides many of the same opportunities… although you don’t see as many horses up there as you used to.

Tally Ho Party Duluth

Old postcard depicting a Tally Ho Party near Gem Lakes around 1900. Image: Zenith City Online.

If you’ve driven Skyline Parkway you know it’s longer than 5 miles today. In fact, the route traverses nearly 30 miles from its far northeastern point at Seven Bridges Road to the southwest just past Spirit Mountain at Jay Cooke State Park. Skyline’s expansion can be largely attributed to the efforts of Duluth’s longest serving mayor: Samuel Frisby Snively. Snively was a huge fan of Skyline and he wanted to see it extended across the entire length of Duluth. The first phase of expansion extended the road west to Jay Cooke State Park in the 1920s. A second phase completed in the 1930s extended across Hawk Ridge to Seven Bridges Road (a road Snively had previously built with private funding).

Over the years Skyline Parkway was broken into various segments as city streets expanded and I-35 arrived in Duluth. Even today, however, you can drive, bike, and/or walk along Skyline from one end of Duluth to the other. Just follow the city’s scenic byway signs. I’ve done it. Last summer, my kids and I spent six hours traveling the entire road from east to west. We stopped to visit some of Duluth’s parks, have a picnic at Twin Ponds, and take in the route’s tremendous views along the way. My kids especially liked Stewart Creek Bridge out beyond Spirit Mountain (all stone), and Bardon’s Peak above Gary New Duluth… they said it was like climbing a mountain.

Enjoying Skyline Parkway with the kids

Enjoying Skyline Parkway with the kids. Photo: K. Chisholm.

Skyline Parkway is a destination in and of itself. I highly recommend that you explore Skyline and join us in celebrating 125 years of amazing views!

If you wish to visit a fantastic page for more Skyline Parkways we recommend that you visit Mark Ryan’s History of Skyline Parkway.

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If you’re interested in learning more about Skyline Parkway, please check out our Duluth History & Sightseeing Bus Tours or click on the calendar below to book your Experience.

[ESPRESSO_CALENDAR cal_view=”basicWeek” event_category_id=”history-bus”]

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