- Duluth Traverse (DT)
- Brewer Park
- Hartley Park
- Mission Creek
- Spirit Mountain
- Other Nearby Trails
A BRIEF WORD ON ILLEGAL RIDING
Here’s the thing: You won’t get arrested for riding on the Superior Hiking Trail, the Grand Portage Trail, City of Duluth Nordic ski trails, or any of the many other Duluth-area trails on which mountain biking is either expressly prohibited or dubiously acceptable. But aren’t there a lot of other lame, stupid, and uncool things you could do without winding up in legal trouble? Doesn’t mean you should do ’em.
We’re not perfect; we’ve ridden those trails unintentionally and, to be honest, with very conscious intentions. We also try to avoid doing so as much as possible, because we understand that walking trails—as much as some mountain-bikers don’t want to admit it—are routed, packed, and traveled in ways that make mountain-biking on them damaging if not dangerous. We also know that hikers often carry long, stout sticks.
You can follow a simple principle to make sense of such matters. Christians refer to it as the Golden Rule. Buddhists and Hindus call it Karma. All religions have some way of phrasing it, and non-religious folks call it The Ethic of Reciprocity. Here’s our version: You don’t want someone being a jerk to you, or messing with your stuff? Don’t be a jerk to them; don’t mess with their stuff. (And if you choose to be a stuff-messing jerk, assume it will come back at you, probably when you least need or expect it to.) This includes riding on wet mountain bike trails. Yeah – sometimes mud is fun. But it also wrecks your bike parts. Bike parts are expensive. Riding wet trails also increases erosion and eventually makes trails not as fun. Please stay off wet trails.
“If I could ride only one bike in Duluth,” says Ski Hut guru Mick Dodds, “it would be a mountain bike.”
But what one mountain-bike ride would Doddsie choose? “That’s a horribly unfair question,” he says. “You could easily make a six-hour Duluth mountain-bike ride without repeating any terrain [and with relatively little time on pavement]. Lester to Hartley, Hartley to Piedmont, Piedmont to Spirit Mountain, Spirit to Jay Cooke. Point-to-point, that’s 20 miles one way.”
“Mountain-biking in Duluth,” says bike-handling savant Scott Kylander-Johnson, “can be as technical as you want it to be,” depending on where and what bike you ride.
Disparate options do exist: Spirit Mountain is now a lift-served gravity destination. Mont Du Lac is also big on the gravity-fed scene. The wide, flat, Western Waterfront Trail is pleasant and bucolic, and fun if you’re into leisurely bicycle strolls. As is the paved and often crowded Lakewalk. Lester Park and Hartley are what we consider intermediate. They both have great, flowy and relatively tame trails (Lester recently added nearly 4 miles of real beginner flow trail)…but due to our topography you can expect to encounter some lung-searing climbs. Piedmont is a near continuous rock garden with drops and berms galore. The wildness of it recalls the good old days of Duluth single track:
“Duluth has no easy mountain biking,” says Kylander-Johnson. “Unless you want to ride the Munger or the Western Waterfront trails, Duluth has no….”
“No giggle trails”—ones appropriate for cruising and giggling, instead of focusing on staying upright—says Scott’s wife, Sarah Kylander-Johnson, a former competitive cross-country skier who’s been one of the Midwest’s top mountain bike racers in the last decade or so.
“Some top riders from other areas come here and can’t do our races–it’s the rocky, rooty nature of the trails. It’s very unforgiving. When she was first learning to ride, Sara would say her brain was getting full. It’s just a natural part of the geography. When you build a trail in Duluth, there are going to be rocks and roots. Even if it starts smooth, it gets rocky and rooty.”
And while trails like that still exist – they are becoming harder to find. The emphasis now is on diversity. In one day you can experience lift-served downhill, super rocky and dangerously technical single track or nice easy, super-flowy smoothness. Even with this new found diversity of trail these words still ring true:
“Full suspension is nice around here,” says Dr. John Morrison, who spent a fair amount of time living and riding in the Twin Cities metro before moving to Duluth a few years ago. “I don’t know how Marshik [Morrison’s riding buddy and fellow St. John’s alum Ryan Marshik, a Duluth physical therapist] rides his bike [a fully rigid Surly 1×1].”
“Trails around here seem unique. They have a lot more rock. Better climbs. You could take the Piedmont trail and compare it to any trail anywhere else.”
Patrick McEnaney, who started mountain biking when he lived in Santa Cruz, CA, and who now lives in central Michigan after a handful of years in Duluth, says that “the unique thing about Midwest trails in general is that they’re more technical and tight than out west. Out there it isn’t the same forest ecology, so you don’t have the effect of having to work your body through trees. Duluth makes you bring your A game to any ride.”
“Most of the time it feels like mountain-biking might as well be my own activity, because a lot of times I’ll go ride and not see another person. It can actually feel a lot more personal than riding does in some other places. Picking through ferns and rocky creek bottoms on my own, it feels kind of intimate. With the quantity of green space in town, Duluth has the potential to be a huge destination—we could have a hundred miles of single track in town. And all those existing trails and all that potential just happens to exist in a quaint town.”