There’s a new trail along Duluth’s scenic eastern ridgeline. Coursing along the rim of the hills above the Lester Park neighborhood, it’s part of the Duluth Traverse trail, a multi-use trail that will eventually run from one end of Duluth to the other.
The trail is open to all forms of “non-motorized human powered trail users.” It’s wider than a typical hiking trail, and it has groovy banked turns. Though it was obviously built for mountain bikers, it’s good for hiking too. In places, the trail construction is awesome to behold: billion-year-old bedrock has been pounded away, entire hillsides landscaped. Hiking-trail builders don’t get to use excavators, but bike-trail builders do.
The section of the Duluth Traverse located below Hawk Ridge is called the Hawk Ridge Trail. It’s connected to the Lester Park bike trail system maintained by the volunteer group Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores, or COGGS. It reminds me of the rim trails at Bryce Canyon or Grand Canyon National Parks, mostly level and wider trails with amazing views. You’re never more than about twenty yards from the gravel road that is Skyline Drive, but you get much better views.
The new trail is about two miles long. Starting from the eastern end at the top of Seven Bridges Road, the trail first climbs some long switchbacks to a scenic viewpoint, then follows the shoulder of Skyline Drive. It’s one awesome view after another; I don’t know how the bike riders keep their eyes on the jumbled path. The scene was even distracting while hiking.
When I came through here in early October 2015, the signage was not yet in place. The new Hawk Ridge Trail crosses a number of existing hiking trails — trails that are part of the legacy Hawk Ridge trail system. Until the signage is made clear, please stay on the new trail so you don’t get lost on unmarked trails.
After about a mile and a half, the Duluth Traverse crosses Skyline Drive and winds through the woods for about a half mile before reaching a suburban street corner. That last half mile nearly follows the route of a Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) spur trail. The new Duluth Traverse will actually replace the SHT and that old spur trail will no longer be maintained as the SHT. If you’re just hiking this trail for the view, turn around where the trail crosses Skyline Drive.
(Side note: I wrote some not-so-nice things about this section of the SHT in this post, where I took on Backpacker Magazine’s inaccurate review of a local “best day hikes.”)
To reach the Hawk Ridge Trail trailhead:
Take Skyline Drive from its far eastern Duluth stretch. You’ll find Skyline Drive just east of the busy intersection of East Superior St. and 60th Ave. East. The signs might say “Skyline Drive” or they might say “Occidental Boulevard”…or even “Seven Bridges Road” depending on where you intersect. Take this road uphill past all seven bridges to the intersection with Maxwell Road, then take a left to continue on Skyline Drive. The parking lot is on the right. The Duluth Traverse/Hawk Ridge Trail starts kitty-corner across Skyline Drive from the parking area.
Skyline Drive in eastern Duluth is home to the 115-acre, city-owned Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, and the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. There are miles of trails where you can explore geology, flora, and wildlife. Observatory staff conduct bird research and provide public education during the fall season, when hawks begin migrating past Hawk Ridge on their annual routes. On big days, usually in September when the winds is blowing from the west or northwest, tens of thousands of hawks can be seen flying over Hawk Ridge. There are naturalists on staff daily from 9am to 4pm, September 1 to October 31. Learn more here.
And here’s a link to a quick post from years back about the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve trails (not to be confused with the Duluth Traverse/Hawk Ridge Trail I’ve just written about, above.)
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