MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Duluth's hiking heaven

On Superior Hiking Trail, enjoy the wilderness, then return via bus, taxi, shuttle or bike trail.

The view from Bardon's Peak in Duluth.

Beth Gauper

From Bardon's Peak, hikers see a panorama that includes the Oliver Bridge and Morgan Park, a U.S. Steel company town.

If you love to hike and you like Duluth, this is a good time to get to know a new part of town.

West Duluth always has been a hub for bicyclists on the Willard Munger State Trail, paddlers on St. Louis Bay and skiers on Spirit Mountain and in Magney-Snively Park.

Now, it's a hiking destination unlike any other: Hikers can immerse themselves in  wilderness, then return to their starting points by way of bicycles, city buses, taxis and motel shuttles.

There are now 45 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail between Jay Cooke State Park and Duluth's Martin Road, roughly following the same ridges and glacial beach terraces used by Skyline Parkway.

The most scenic sections are through West Duluth and from Jay Cooke State Park.

And now there's an added incentive to visit that part of Duluth. Construction started in May 2010 on the three-year I-35 Duluth Mega Project, which can cause traffic headaches downtown.

Instead, get off at Midway Road south of town and head for Skyline Parkway and West Duluth. From West Duluth, you can hike 9 miles through Magney-Snively Park and return by bicycle on the Willard Munger State Trail, or hike to Enger Park with a return on Skyline Parkway.

Hike to Piedmont and return by city bus. Or stay at the Willard Munger Inn and get a free shuttle within Duluth or pay $15 to be taken to Jay Cooke and hike the 16 miles back from the Grand Portage Trail.

Feeling adventurous? Here's how to do it.

One of the most scenic sections of the trail is perfect for a bicycle self-shuttle, compliments of the Willard Munger State Trail.

Just stash your bike at the Kingsbury Creek trailhead, behind the Lake Superior Zoo on Grand Avenue in West Duluth, then drive to the 123rd Avenue West trailhead (from Grand Avenue, drive 1.8 miles on Beck's Road to 123rd Avenue West).

On this 9-mile hike from 123rd Avenue to Kingsbury Creek, you'll walk through Magney-Snively Park, enjoying panoramic views of St. Louis Bay and far-off Lake Superior from Ely's Peak and Bardon's Peak.

View from Superior Hiking Trail in Duluth.

Beth Gauper

The trail east of Highland/Getchell offers many views.

You'll walk past Spirit Mountain — if you feel like it, stop and treat yourself to a ride on the Timber Twister alpine coaster — and descend to the Lake Superior Zoo along Kingsbury Creek.

From there, just get on your bikes, cross Grand Avenue and ride back your car on the Willard Munger Trail, which ends its 14-mile run from Carlton and Jay Cooke State Park behind the Willard Munger Inn.

For the next stretch, you can take the bus. Park at Kingsbury Creek behind the Lake Superior Zoo, then hike 3.2 miles from Kingsbury Creek to the Getchell-Highland trailhead and take the No. 3 bus back to Grand Avenue, where you can catch the No. 2 or No. 5 bus back to the zoo.

The 7-mile hike from Getchell-Highland to Twin Ponds at Enger Park is ideal for a bicycle shuttle, since both trailheads are on Skyline Parkway. Just stash bikes at the end of the hike and ride back to your car.

Or, hike the 8.9 miles from Kingsbury Creek to Piedmont Avenue, just beyond the North 24th Avenue West trailhead. From Piedmont Avenue, you can take the No. 5 bus all the way back to the zoo.

On Saturdays, it looks as if the bus passes Piedmont at about 15 minutes past the hour, arriving at the zoo 36 minutes after the hour.

When planning your hike, pick up a good map of the city and cross-reference with the Duluth bus-route map. If you don't want to take a bus, take a taxi. Split by two or three people, the fare isn't that much.

In April, Tom Salwasser of Circle Pines, Minn., hiked the first 21 miles of the trail, getting a free ride from a local on the first half and paying $25 to return by Yellow Cab from Spirit Mountain to Fond du Lac. Salwasser is moderator of the Superior Hiking Trail Yahoo group, whose members dispense lots of good advice to people who want to hike and backpack on the trail.

On the group's message board, he wrote,

"We hiked 6.6 miles on the SHT from Jay Cooke to the Grand Portage trailhead, then 4.2 miles to the Fond du Lac trailhead. What started as an interesting walk on cross-country ski trails turned into a real leg pumper as we left the ski trails behind and headed up and down the glacial ravines and eskers, especially on the Gill Creek Trail segment.

"The next weekend, we picked up where we left off and hiked 10.2 miles, covering the next three sections: Fond du Lac to 123rd Avenue (2.7 miles), 123rd Avenue to Magney-Snively (4.3 miles) and Magney-Snively to Spirit Mountain Chalet (3.2 miles).

"There is a lot of elevation change on these sections, and it was a great workout. I found these miles to be every bit as challenging (and almost as scenic) as the Silver Bay to Highway 1 section of the Superior Hiking Trail. Ely's Peak was a great spot to break for a very early lunch — stunning views after scrambling to the top.

Mission Creek on Superior Hiking Trail.

Beth Gauper

Hikers pass Mission Creek on the Superior Hiking Trail between Fond du Lac and 123rd Avenue West.

"The Bardon's Peak area offers a couple of miles of scenic vistas of the St Louis River valley. The forest (with patches of huge old white pine) seems to run forever.

"With hiking like this right in town, I often wonder why I don't just move to Duluth."

Trip Tips: West Duluth and the Superior Hiking Trail

Getting there: If you're coming from the south, get off I-35 at the Midway Road exit and turn right; it’s three miles to the beginning of Skyline Parkway off County Road 3, or Beck's Road, and another mile to the 123rd Avenue trailhead of the Superior Hiking Trail.

Beck's Road ends at Minnesota 23, or Grand Avenue, the thoroughfare through West Duluth. Take it east to downtown or west to Fond du Lac. From there, take Minnesota 210 into Jay Cooke State Park.

Or, get off I-35 even earlier by taking the Carlton exit from I-35 and 210 through Jay Cooke. For an even more scenic and peaceful route, get off  I-35 just north of Sandstone at Banning State Park and take Minnesota 23 to West Duluth.

That 50-mile route is a Minnesota state scenic byway known as Veterans Evergreen Memorial Drive.

Maps: Call the Superior Hiking Trail Association, 218-834-2700, or pick up maps at the office in Two Harbors or at many places around Duluth. The sixth edition of the "Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail," $15.95, includes maps of the new Duluth sections.

Shuttles: The SHTA offers occasional guided hikes where leaders organize a shuttle. Hikers also can use the city bus to return to their starting points; check Duluth Transit. Or they can leave bicycles at end points and return on Skyline Parkway (for more, see Duluth's Skyline Parkway).

The Willard Munger Inn, a hiker-friendly motel near the trail in West Duluth, provides complimentary shuttles to guests who want to go to any point on the Superior Hiking Trail within Duluth city limits (some parts of the trail between the inn and Jay Cooke State Park are in townships, however). It's $15 for shuttles to Jay Cooke. 800-982-2453.

If you'd like a taxi, call Go Green, which uses Priuses, 218-722-8090. Yellow Cab is 218-727-1515.

For more about bike shuttles on the North Shore part of the Superior Hiking Trail, see Walk 'n' roll.

What to bring: Water, snacks, sturdy boots and insect repellent. In spring and early summer, be sure to wear tucked-in long pants and watch for ticks.

More hiking in Duluth: See Walking in Duluth and Hiking in Duluth. Also see Hiking the North Shore.

Details: For more about  lodgings, dining and attractions, see Duluth stories

Last updated on October 8, 2013
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