Minnesota : Safety by City
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Duluth, Minnesota, looks a lot like a New England town while being called the San Francisco of the Midwest for its hilly terrain.
Still, this mid-sized city on Lake Superior holds its own with a rich tourism industry backup by a historic shipping port.
Sweetening the pot is the neighboring city of Superior, Wisconsin, earning the nickname the Twin Ports.
Duluth is also the southern terminus of the All-American North Shore Scenic Road, spanning 150 miles northeast to the Canadian border.
Duluth (“duh-LEWTH”) has three main sections.
For example, West Duluth is part of Duluth, not a separate city.
Each section brings something new and exciting:
- Central Duluth: The downtown area, port, and home to Canal Park (aka Duluth’s Playground).
- West Duluth: Less urban, more adventures like the zoo and Spirit Mountain.
- East Duluth: The “Gateway to the North Shore” and home to a must-see mansion and numerous parks.
If you want to see it all, take the Skyline Parkway Scenic Byway.
Itching to get on the water?
There’s a boat for that.
Plus, the town really heats up at night, even in winter, with a robust list of bars, live music venues, and creative cuisine.
Whether you’re here for a week, a weekend, or a day trip, Duluth could quickly become your favorite port on the Great Lakes.
Warnings & Dangers in Duluth
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low risk, but some safety risks we need to discuss. Duluth is more than just a lakefront city. It's an urban shipping port with a beeline to the border. Violent crime is just below average, but the theft rate is high. It's definitely a city where you'll need street smarts.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Duluth Transit is a public bus system, and you can coordinate routes and fare payments using the My DTA app. Taxis and rideshares are plentiful, while rental cars open the roads to more adventures in the Arrowhead region. Rideshares or your own car are the safety options and limit bus rides to the daylight hours.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
I'm surprised someone in Duluth didn't steal this topic before I got here. With nearly 40 pickpockets or purse snatchings in 2021, this city has a bad habit compared to other mid-sized Midwestern cities. On top of that, theft rates are more than twice the national average, and car break-ins and thefts skyrocketed in 2022. Protect your personal items, and don't bring valuables in your car or on your person.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
Flooding and extreme winter weather, like blizzards and ice storms, are the biggest risks here. If you look at the flooding video from 2012, you'll see the worst of what can happen here. Severe thunderstorms in warm weather are possible, but it's far less likely to see a tornado here than in most parts of the Midwest.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
The robbery rate is at the national average, and 40% of all robberies are on public streets or sidewalks. It's a low risk but still worth keeping your guard up, especially at night.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
Any city with such a large port will come with inherent risks but also that much more security. Even with Duluth being 150 miles from the Canadian border, it's still the first larger city on the road into Minnesota. That brings concerns about illegal drugs and guns, plus the potential for human trafficking risks. None of that should be a deterrent, but you should definitely know the latest Terrorism Advisory from Homeland Security and report anything suspicious you see.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
After researching so many scams in cities nationwide, it's appalling to see how many ways criminals can think of to take people's money and how easy even seemingly smart people are to manipulate. Start with the local Better Business Bureau to see local scams and then search the words "scam" and "fraud" on the police department's Facebook page to track the newest risks. While most scams here target locals, you should never give personal information to someone who calls you. When in doubt, call the agency or businesses the scammer claims to be from instead.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: MEDIUM
Sexual assaults surged to 74 incidents in 2021, which is enough in itself to warrant a medium risk for anyone who plans to socialize during their time in Duluth. My research can't find a common thread, and while many victims of violent crime here are known to their assailants, an "acquaintance" could be someone you meet at a bar. Stay in public spaces. Ask a security guard to walk you to your car. Even if it was a fluke, it's worth taking seriously.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations in the tap water. The state also launched an interactive map called the Watershed Health Assessment in 2022, where you can learn about water quality in rivers and lakes.
Safest Places to Visit in Duluth
Visit Duluth is the official tourism website under the Explore Minnesota state tourism program.
There is not an official tourism site for the Twin Ports, but there’s a malicious website that shows up in search results appearing to be one.
I’ve reported the website to Google, but if you see a “Twin Ports Travel” result, don’t click on it.
To learn more about Superior, Wisconsin, visit SuperiorChamber.org.
Duluth offers so many different things to do in all seasons, and for all indoor/outdoor/extreme/serene personalities, I feel like I’m channeling my inner Auctioneer to fit in the best.
Minnesota Point is a long, narrow island that stretches out from downtown along Minnesota Avenue.
You’ll get Lake Superior views to the north and the skyline of Superior, Wisconsin, on the other.
Several parks and vistas are along the road, which eventually turns into a walking path out to the Superior Entry Lighthouse.
You’ll go through the Canal Park entertainment district (CanalPark.com) on the way back to the mainland.
The Maritime Museum sits right on the port, where the displays inside rival the views outside as massive ships coming into or out of the Port of Duluth-Superior Lift Bridge.
This district is full of hotels, shopping, dining, boat tours, and watercraft rentals.
At the downtown waterfront, a must-see attraction is the Great Lakes Aquarium.
More than a dozen exhibits inside showcase everything from freshwater phenomena to shipwrecks to invasive species to eco-solutions for the future of drinkable water.
A little-known fact is that Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, and the city honors his legacy with a Cultural Pathway along a two-mile stretch of downtown.
Duluth’s Dylan Fest is held each May.
The Lake Superior Zoo is in West Duluth, with more than 300 animals mixed between indoor and outdoor attractions, which is helpful since the zoo is open year-round.
Check the schedule before you go, especially in the winter, as the weather can shut it down.
For example, the day I’m writing this, it’s -20°(F) in Duluth, and the extreme cold has closed the zoo.
It also quickly shut me up for complaining that it’s -4°(F) where I live.
Spirit Mountain brings adventures throughout each season, with winter trails for downhill skiing, Nordic skiing, and snow tubing.
Summer brings out zip lines, mountain biking, an adventure park, and an alpine roller coaster.
The mountain also includes a handful of dining options to eat between runs or rides.
Most mansions you’ve seen will pale in comparison to the Gleensheen Mansion in East Duluth.
Right on Lake Superior’s stunning shoreline sits the most visited historical mansion in the entire state.
What’s even more impressive is the artifacts inside that are preserved to the point even the handwritten letters still sit in the same drawer as when they were first stored.
The expansive grounds cover 12 acres, and the mansion has nearly 40 rooms.
Places to Avoid in Duluth
While tourist areas like downtown, Canal Park, and the aforementioned places are relatively safe, you should still use standard safety caution as this is an urban area.
You’ll feel safer with larger crowds and more police presence.
The streets in this area are better lit.
If you start to get into a poorly-lit area, that’s a signal the safety risk is going up with the crime rates.
Central Hillside and Lincoln Park are some high-crime areas to avoid, and they’re close to the downtown and West Duluth attractions.
Stick to the main roads and highways, and don’t cut through neighborhoods.
There are plenty of places to see the ships coming in at local parks and shorelines, but stay out of the industrial port shipping and loading areas.
This is a real working port, and you don’t want to get in the way or trespass.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Duluth
- The Duluth Police Department has a new police chief who is a veteran of the force. The mission in 2023 and beyond is to focus on community connections. You should feel comfortable reaching out to ask specific safety questions through email or by calling the main line.
- The department is also launching crime mapping technology as of this publication, so soon you can search for specific crimes in your selected radius. For example, you can set parameters to find out how many car break-ins have happened within 1/2 mile of your hotel.
- Use the Tip411 app to report any suspicious activity or crime information that isn’t urgent. You’ll be anonymous if you’d prefer and still get a chance to help make the community safer. Examples of things to report include graffiti, the aftermath of a burglary, or any information from a hit-and-run you might witness.
- Duluth is called the San Francisco of the Midwest because it’s very hilly. Even the best four-wheel drive vehicles can be helpless when roads are covered in ice. Some of the most dangerous roads are the ones ending in “Avenue,” and try to avoid the Avenues just west of Lake Avenue in slick winter weather.
- Use the Park Duluth app to find and pay for parking from the safety of your vehicle. Parking zones are listed throughout the city and university parking areas. You can also get alerts when your parking time is about to expire and add more money through the app.
- Visiting during the spring or summer means a lot of construction will be underway on main roads and side streets. The city offers an interactive road closure map to see what streets are closed, and if you click on a closed section, you’ll get a pop-up window with project timeline information.
- For those planning to take the Skyline Parkway scenic drive, there’s an interactive map for that too. The site takes you on a virtual tour, which is cool, but also very functional. One of the options includes a “Pavement Condition” detailed report do you’ll know about potholes, gravel, or rough pavement.
- Sign up for Northland Alerts to get emergency weather notifications to your mobile device. While all severe weather here comes with plenty of warning, a severe weather watch can quickly become a warning. You need to be prepared to take shelter as soon as possible. You’ll also need this in the winter to get alerts about the Snow Emergency declaration that changes the parking rules so snow plows can get through.
- While the city keeps going during major winter events, you should prepare for possible side effects for a visitor. That means keeping some cases of bottled water in your car or hotel room, since freezing pipes can easily burst, and that puts water quality or water pressure at risk.
- Lake Superior is a cold lake, even in the heat of summer. The highest average temperature in July is 55°(F). Water temperatures in the 40s and 50s can cause hypothermia to set in within 30 minutes to an hour. Keep that in mind before you dive in head first or consider swimming without a wetsuit.
So... How Safe Is Duluth Really?
Duluth is facing challenges many cities in America are coming of the pandemic – rising crime rates with historically low police staffing levels.
While the police department touts lower crime rates in 2022, they didn’t provide official data.
The only nugget of data provided was the following:
- Part A Crimes, including violent crimes and thefts, were down 1,620 incidents compared to 2021. There was no indication if the crime decrease was in thefts (of which there were 2,612 in 2021) or violent crimes.
- Part B Crimes, including a wide berth of everything from vandalism to drug crimes to sex offenses, were down by 338 incidents.
“2022 was a challenging year for the Duluth Police Department due to a historic staffing shortage and several changes in leadership positions,” said Duluth Police Chief Mike Ceynowa.
“I am extremely proud of the work that both our sworn and professional staff did this year.
Despite these challenges, they continue to be creative and innovative on ways to approach public safety with and for our community.
In 2023, we will continue to recruit staff with a character who wants to be part of an innovative and forward-thinking team.”
For a visitor, you should be worried mostly about petty theft – car break-ins, stolen catalytic converters, and pickpockets.
Never leave a vehicle running to “warm up” unless you are inside it, and don’t leave your purse on the back of a chair or under the table at a restaurant.
Drug overdoses are a problem in Duluth, and the growing nationwide opioid crisis is creating a rash of people selling prescription-type drugs that are laced with deadly doses of fentanyl.
Stay away from the drug scene and report any suspicious activity you see related to drugs.
People in Minnesota can thrive in winter because they are used to them.
If you are new to this brutal winter weather, take your time to acclimate and dress in proper layers.
Summers will be humid and breed a lot of bugs, so bring bug spray and always scan your body for ticks after spending time in the woods.
How Does Duluth Compare?
|New York City
|Buenos Aires (Argentina)
You'll need a U.S. Visa for a particular purpose, like travel, work, or education. The travel visa process was backed up going into 2023, but there are new regulations that could speed up your application. Check out the U.S. State Department website before starting your application.
You can only use the U.S. Dollar here, and if you're heading up to Canada, there is a currency exchange just before the border. Since credit cards are widely accepted, and theft is so bad, use the card as much as possible or book tickets online. The more you can limit pulling out your wallet, the better. Don't throw out receipts, either. Keep them with you to shred at the hotel.
Dress in warm layers for winter, as the temperature stays below freezing for more than 100 days in a row on average. Feel free to be fashionable downtown, as it's artsy and hip, but choose comfort over couture. Spring and fall will be best if you bring layers to peel off or layer on as the temperatures swing. Summers will be warm with humid conditions. Since there's a lot of fog here, bring any hair products you need to tame the curlers or keep the frizz to a minimum.
Duluth does have an international airport. It's just six miles from downtown and your best option. The biggest airport is two and a half hours away in the Twin Cities.
We highly recommend travel insurance for a place with so much travel-impacting weather. If you'll be exploring the Northland wilderness, consider adventure insurance for your activity to protect against injuries, accidents, or rescues.
Duluth Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Minnesota - Safety by City