Walking in Duluth
Trails along creeks, ravines and bays provide stellar hiking in the heart of town.
© Beth Gauper
Walkers go through Leif Erickson Park on the Lakewalk.
A few steps into the forest, and it hit.
The tang of cedar bark and pine needles, moistened by droplets of mist from waterfalls. The loamy richness of earth carpeted by ferns.
It was that north-woods perfume all Minnesotans instantly recognize, a powerful eau de outdoors that gladdened my heart and also made it sink with the realization that I'd stayed in the city far, far too long.
Though in truth, I still was in a city. And that was the great thing.
Duluth is a big city, with 87,000 people and a waterfront lined with the grain terminals, ore docks and paper mills that go with its status as the Great Lakes' busiest shipping port.
The celebrated North Shore begins on the city's outskirts, at the Lester River, one of hundreds of creeks and rivers that
plunge down the sides of a former glacial basin into what is now Lake Superior.
This is where most people go to get a fix of wilderness, losing themselves in the seven state parks farther up along the shore.
But Duluth itself has wild places in which the city recedes into the distance. The Congdon Park Trail is one of them, starting off Superior Street at 32nd Avenue East and following Tischer Creek 1½ miles up the hillside.
A block from rush-hour traffic, I was peering into a rocky gorge and picking raspberries.
Clambering past Norway pines on the red clay path, I passed one waterfall after another, coursing over sharp basalt boulders into a bed heaped with granite, as smooth and gray as an elephant's flank. A boy scurried past with a fishing rod and disappeared into the trees.
Mining and timber baron Chester Congdon gave this land to the city in 1908; his mansion, Glensheen, is downstream, and the trail bisects a neighborhood of hilly one-way streets and mansions that is as much fun to explore as the trail.
On the Park Point Trail, migrating shorebirds and songbirds are more common. This wonderful trail, four miles round-trip, has some of everything: the ruins of a lighthouse, a working lighthouse, quiet coves and a breakwall with views across the lake of far-off Duluth.
© Beth Gauper
The Park Point Trail passes the ruins of an 1855 lighthouse.
The trail begins from the airport, over the Aerial Lift Bridge and at the end of the street that traverses this sand spit. A wide gravel track leads hikers into a quiet world, broken only by the sawing of crickets and the occasional grunt of cranes in Superior Harbor.
From a hushed thicket of red pine, the trail emerges into sand dunes — carpeted with poison ivy; watch
out — and passes the remains of an 1855 lighthouse and an abandoned Coast Guard boathouse with stepped
At the tip of the point, a lighthouse winks at the entry. In 1871, the city of Superior, Wis., tried to stop the dredging of
the canal that now separates Park Point from the rest of Duluth; it won in court, but Duluth citizens armed with picks and
shovels finished the deed before a federal marshal could stop them.
Today, only 15 to 20 percent of harbor shipping arrives through Superior's natural entry.
The city's most visible trail starts on the other side of the Aerial Lift Bridge, where the paved, four-mile Lakewalk follows Lake Superior from the Aerial Lift Bridge to Fitger's, the Rose Garden and Leif Erickson Park. It's fun to walk, and the lakefront bustle gives it a festive air.
There's another trail on a waterfront that's less known. The five-mile Western Waterfront Trail, across from the Lake
Superior Zoo at Grand Avenue and 72nd Avenue West, follows the St. Louis River estuary.
The shady trail skirts the foot of Spirit Mountain Ski Area, with views of river and cattail marshes that are prime waterfowl habitat.
The nearly 1-mile Lester Park Trail follows the Lester River at the edge of town, off Superior Street and 61st Avenue East.
Three other trails cross paths with the Superior Hiking Trail, which stretches from
Jay Cooke State Park to Hawk Ridge, roughly following the same terraces used by Skyline Parkway.
Above the zoo, the 1¼-mile Kingsbury Creek Trail winds along Kingsbury Creek.
In the heart of the city, at the entrance of Chester Park on Skyline Parkway, the 2-mile Chester Park Trail follows an isolated ravine.
For maps, call the Department of Parks and Recreation, 218-723-3337.
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