Top Trail Towns: Duluth, Minnesota

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Photo by Zach Pierce

Home of the iconic Grandma’s Marathon, which took place in June for the 37th annual time, Duluth is a road-running town with a trail-running problem. Or, might it be vice versa? Andy Holak thinks so. The 45-year-old St. Louis County Forest Recreation Specialist, race director and ultrarunner who has lived in Duluth for 15 years says, “I’ve got to call Duluth a trail-runner’s town. As good as the Grandma’s Marathon is, the trails are twice as good because we have the Superior Hiking Trail that runs the city’s ridge top. I can run two minutes from my door, onto the trail and all the way to Canada.”

Duluth is propped at the west edge of 
Lake Superior, with its downtown on the 
water and the rest of the city sprawling 
up a couple-hundred-foot-tall ridgeline.
The city is northern Minnesota’s 
civilization enclave within the region’s boreal forest. In the wilds beyond, moose, bears and wolves inhabit the thick, conifer-dominant woods. Through those woods wind the Superior Hiking Trail and hundreds of other trail miles.

As a port town, Duluth has always been a water-focused city. “If you want to see
what we’re all about, walk the Lakewalk,” recommends Holak. This 7.3-mile paved trail traces along the lake in downtown Duluth and provides easy access to most of the town’s tourist attractions, like the Great Lakes Aquarium, Canal Park and its aerial lift bridge and Fitger’s Brewery, an awesome brew pub that’s been around since the 1800s.


> GET THERE / Fly directly into the Duluth international airport, or into the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and make the two-and-a-half-hour drive north. You can also arrive on daily greyhound service. Car rental agencies are plentiful in Duluth.

> BE A TOURIST / The Fitger’s brewery, on the national register of Historic places, is a must-do for any Duluth tourist. If you visit in fall or early winter, try their seasonal blueberry porter made with local, wild blueberries. They are also famous for their burgers; their veggie patty, made from local-grown wild rice, is the best I’ve met anywhere.

> TAKE NOTE / Black flies and mosquitoes are summer nuisances in northern Minnesota. Black flies are thickest in May and June, while mosquitoes pester until fall’s frosts. Wear insect repellent, and, if you’re camping, a bug net, long sleeves and pants.


1881 Year that Fitger’s opened its beer-brewing doors!

296 Number of miles on the superior Hiking Trail.

−41 In degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest-ever temperature in Duluth, recorded in January 1885.



> SUPERIOR HIKING TRAIL / FROM JAY COOKE STATE PARK TO DULUTH / This point-to-point run begins southwest of Duluth and covers over 30 miles. “Get dropped off at Jay Cooke State Park and make your way on foot all the way back to town, through river gorges, past waterfalls and climbing over Ely’s peak,” says Holak.

> SUPERIOR HIKING TRAIL / FROM SILVER BAY TO HIGHWAY 1 / Holak’s favorite place on the superior Hiking Trail is Mount Trudee. “I love the mountain for its rocky outcroppings and pine woods. I like to just sit in the pine needles, high above everything else.” It’s 11 miles between Silver Bay and Highway 1, so you can run this as a point-to-point or as an out-and-back from Silver Bay to Mount Trudee. Watch for glacier-carved Bean and Bear Lakes, which are stowed away in the thick forest.


> SUPERIOR RUN WILD 25K AND 50K TRAIL RACES / In May and on the Superior Hiking Trail, both races are out-and-backs. runners see constant Lake Superior views while traversing the rolling, rocky and rooty trail (

> SUPERIOR 26.2-MILE, 50-MILE AND 100-MILE TRAIL RACES / All of the races are point-to- point along the Superior Hiking Trail northeast of Duluth. In September, the 100-miler is considered the granddaddy of Minnesota trail races for its long tradition and challenge (

> WILD DULUTH HARDER’N HE!! HALF-MARATHON, 50K AND 100K / Holak directs these October races and says, “You run primarily on the ridge above the lake. Runners who have never been to Duluth before are amazed by huge white pines, cliffs, waterfalls, gorges and expansive views.(

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