Despite the popularity of Enger Tower, Enger Park’s Gardens are among the hidden gems that await visitors to Duluth, Minnesota.
Since they are not as well-known as other Duluth attractions, the sprawling gardens tucked under the trees high above the city can be an unexpected oasis of beauty and calm.
Skip the tower, enjoy the gardens in Enger Park
Located on the bluff above the city, Duluth’s Enger Park is best known for its odd stone tower and its sweeping views over the city.
But don’t just climb the tower and leave. Instead, take a hint from the stone markers along the parking lot and explore the gardens below the tower.
Woodland perennial gardens
The area below Enger Tower includes intermixed gardens and a picnic area. At first glance it might be mistaken for a natural woodland or an old garden gone rogue. However, a closer look reveals carefully designed perennial gardens that include an ever-changing mix of greenery and colorful flowers.
While the area nearest the parking lot might be filled with picnicking families, the farther you move into the garden, the more peaceful it becomes.
Paths veer off in multiple directions. All are lovely, but don’t miss the one that leads to a large gazebo on the bluff above the city.
For an even better view, step beyond the pavilion and relax for a while on one of the benches set at the edge of the bluff.
(It’s really not as close to the edge of the bluff as it looks, but you can see almost the entire Duluth waterfront from here.)
The Superior Hiking Trail also connects with Enger Park’s paths, giving visitors their choice of formal garden paths or a more natural hiking trail.
Either choice is lovely.
The Japanese Peace Garden
At the other end of the park, a small Japanese garden fills a mostly sunny spot.
The Japanese Peace Bell Garden includes a large zen garden (a dry rock garden), some unusual evergreens, and a Japanese bell tower that houses the Ohara Peace Bell.
The original bell seems to date back to 1686 and once hung at the Cho-ei Temple in Ohara (now Isumi), Japan. While the temple was (apparently) destroyed long ago, the bell survived World War II. But barely. At the end of the war American sailors aboard the USS Duluth found it in a pile of scrap that was to have been melted down to feed Japan’s war effort. It became an American war souvenir instead.
By 1949 it was on display in the Duluth city hall.
However, just a few years later, scholars visiting from Japan recognized the bell. Not only had it come from a temple in Ohara, but it was the oldest surviving temple bell from that city. They asked city officials to return it to its home city in Japan. And so, the bell returned to Ohara and went on display there.
That could easily have been the end of the story as far as Duluth was concerned, as the bell’s time in city was a brief, largely forgotten bit of city history. But the bell’s return meant a lot to the people of Ohara — and they didn’t forget Duluth’s role in returning it.
Officials from Ohara asked Duluth to become a sister city in 1989. In 1993 a “replica” of the Ohara bell (now called the Ohara Peace Bell) was sent to Duluth as a gift.
While the bell in Duluth is constantly described as a replica of the ancient Cho-ei Temple bell, it really isn’t. It’s a “close replica” that displays the Duluth logo and an inscription with the bell’s history. (It’s also the second replica sent to Duluth, as the first cracked shortly after installation.)
And yes, visitors are allowed to ring the peace bell.
Plan your trip to Enger Park Gardens
Enger Park is located high above Duluth along scenic Skyline Drive and the Superior Hiking Trail.
The parking lot has a gate that can be closed when the park isn’t open.
- The park is closed during the winter.
- During the rest of the year, the park closes at 10 pm.
- There is no charge to visit the park’s tower, gardens, or picnic area.
- Parking is also free.
- Restrooms and picnic tables are available.
- Overnight parking or camping are NOT allowed.
Only a portion of the garden is fully accessible with wide, paved pathways. In other areas, paths wind over bare stone, up steps, or through woodlands via trails covered with woodchips or crushed stone. It’s easy walking, but not all paths are smooth or flat. And some paths follow the bluff edge which, while not super steep, has spots where you wouldn’t want to take a tumble or let a young child do so.
The best time to visit the gardens
Enger Park’s gardens are open from May through October.
The blooming season starts when daffodils fill the woodland floor with spring color and continues through the first hard frost of autumn. The best time for flowers is spring through mid-summer. The best time for fall leaf color is late September into October.
This is a popular lunch spot for local families, so don’t be surprised to find lots of children in the picnic area near the parking lot. It can be surprisingly busy mid-morning through early afternoon on week days.
It’s also a popular spot for weddings. That means Saturdays also tend to be very busy.
More things to do in Duluth
Duluth is both a great tourist destination in its own right and the first stop for road trips along Minnesota’s spectacular North Shore.
Duluth truly offers something for everyone: Outdoor adventurers will find ample hiking, biking, skiing, and watersports available right in and around the city. Meanwhile, urbanites will discover a range of arts, cultural events, shopping, dining, drinking, and historical sites throughout the city. There’s even another (very different, but very wonderful) garden along the waterfront.
Want to know more about Enger Park? Zenith City has a detailed article on the history of Enger Park.
Want to know about the temples of Ohara? The Japan Visitor has a page on the village’s remaining temples.