Early Spring Hiking on the North Shore

By Mark

It’s mud and yuck season. How about some pavement?

This time of year, which we typically call the “shoulder season,” has plenty of beauty and opportunity to offer. 

The thing is that getting in to see many of early spring’s raging waterfalls, great views, and perfect spots require trekking through mud, gunk, what is left of the ice. Even a little bit of snow can make your hike a bit interesting and challenging. 

Depending on the timing of the thaw, March and April present excellent opportunities to strike out and find new trails and North Shore sights. 

The usual ways of getting to your favorite spots maybe a little more adventurous (and messy) than you were hoping. Good wilderness stewardship dictates that you just may have to stay off those tried and true trails until the meltdown’s mud has dried up. 

If you enjoy a good hike, this is the perfect time of year to take a trail that is a bit more relaxing and effortless. So that you can take it all in and most likely take a trail that you may not have been on before. 

Those who enjoy a hardy hike typically don’t care much for paved trails. We appreciate the challenge of the (sometimes exhausting) journey to our favorite spots on narrow, rugged trails. 

That being said, there are quite a few good options when it just isn’t possible because the hiking trails just aren’t passable, or we should just stay off of them for a while. You can still take in some sights that are maybe a bit closer to the lake and some trails that will take you places you never thought you would go. Starting in the far-western end of Duluth and working up the shore, here are my favorite paved trails for a gentle spring hike. 

Willard Munger State Trail

The famed Munger Trail is an overall 70-mile trail that begins all the way down near Hinckley and ends by the beautiful Lake Superior Zoo. You don’t have to do all 70 miles, though. Grab the trailhead by 75th Ave. W. in Duluth and begin your journey as far as you would like to go before making your return trip on the same trail. Old railroad grades make fantastic trails for hiking or biking. Consider this place for a nice, casual bike ride as well.

Waabizheshikana Trail (Formerly the Western Waterfront)

This 3-mile trail will allow you to travel from the Riverside neighborhood in Duluth and again end close to the Lake Superior Zoo. (Or the other way around). This trail will take you close to the beautiful St. Louis river and estuary, where bird fans can have a chance to spot over 270 different bird species. To be fair, most of the trail is packed gravel, but we will include it anyway. (Gravel is the next best thing).

Tischer Creek (Congdon Park)

In all of my ramblings in this blog, Tischer Creek has come up many times. This is an amazing spot to see some serious waterfall action without having to go too out of your way. 

This time of year, on the East end of Duluth, Tischer Creek can really provide a “wow factor” comparable to anywhere along the North Shore. There is a nice, paved “people trail” on the top side and the creek is accessible when you see that spot you just have to get down to for pictures. Work this one in as a part of your day of hikes in Duluth for sure. Don’t miss this gem! 

Gitchi-Gami State Trail

The Gitchi-Gami is a trail that, once completed, will span 80 miles along the North Shore. The most popular sections of the existing trail lead from just north of Gooseberry Falls State Park (which, by the way, has plenty of paved trails) to Silver Bay and then on up to a section from Schroeder just about to Lutsen. The Gitchi-Gami will make for a fantastic getaway. Grab a daypack, throw in some snacks and water bottles, head on up the trail, work your way back through several different types of topography and catch some great views of the lake. 

Grand Portage State Park

If you thought the highest Waterfall in the state was the High Falls at Tettagouche State Park, you are not alone. The High Falls at Grand Portage have those falls beat by a few feet. This is truly an easy go on a paved trail that will take you a half-mile back to an observation deck where you can see the falls on the Pigeon river right in front of you. While you are there, say hello to Canada! Our Canadian friends are just across the river. My advice, If you are planning a day trip to Grand Marais, why not go the extra mile or 40 miles as the case may be and see the biggest of them all? If you have it in you, there is a rugged 3.5-mile trail taking you back to the Middle Falls that isn’t paved (or gravel) but very worth the go when trail conditions get better.

These represent a few more options for those of you who want to get out on trail during the shoulder season. When even the most experienced of us shy away from the rugged trails as they dry and firm up. 

There are plenty of options for people who just have to be out there, and yours truly included. 

These trails are great year-round, but they take on particular importance this time of year as we are getting rid of the snow and ice and waiting for spring to settle in. These are only a few options for you, and there are a few that I failed to mention, like the Lakewalk in Duluth that will take you from Canal Park all the way over to Brighton Beach, but I think that may be a no-brainer for most of you. 

No matter what you do, how you get out there, or what kind of trail you have your feet (or wheels) on, the important thing is getting out there. 

Yours truly gets a little surly if I don’t spend enough time outside, although I know many of you would find that hard to believe. 

No matter what I do or how I get there, I just want to be out there. I truly believe that is what living and being on the North Shore is all about. 

Hopefully, these ideas help you find your way onto a trail when otherwise the mud, ice, and whatever snow is left make this a bit more complicated in some woods. So download the All-Trails app, which will tell you where you are and what is around you, and get out there. However, this time of year, you may have to be a little less adventurous. The enjoyment of being outside will feel no different, though. 

OK. It’s time for Jade and me to get outside, even though Mother Nature can’t decide if she wants to rain or snow. Maybe we will head to the Waabizheshikana Trail. 

Jade loves thinking she can chase all the birds.

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