Fall Mountain Biking In Duluth
A Day on the Trail with The Duluth Experience
We arrive at the trailhead and I hop out of the van to unload the bikes and gear for today’s riders – a group of incoming college freshmen on an orientation trip from Ely. A crisp morning breeze sends colorful leaves floating gently through the air while I explain trail safety and provide the group with a mini-lesson on basic riding technique. Overhead, a kettle of Broad-Winged Hawks swirls upwards as thermals of warm air push them along their migratory journey to locations in Central and South America. Travelers from around the world gather along Duluth’s ridge lines to watch the epic raptor migration while our small group of riders gets ready for a mountain bike adventure in Lester Park.
Trail Evolution in Duluth
The mountain bike scene here in Duluth has definitely soared over the past couple of years. Having grown up in Duluth, I remember the wet trails and the mud. Slogging along the snowmobile trails and the overgrown ski trails was part of the adventure back then… as was the ritual of spraying off you bikes and yourself with the garden hose after every ride. This was well before the idea of purpose-built mountain bike trails had gained traction in Duluth. Oh how things have changed!
Today, The Duluth Traverse provides access to a world-class trail system that connects Duluth’s neighborhoods to an amazing network of city parks that literally traverse the length of the city. Envisioned as a beginner-level singletrack experience, the “DT” – as locals call it – connects more advanced-level trail centers across the Duluth ridge line overlooking Lake Superior and the St. Louis River. Trail clusters at Lester Park, Hartley Park, Piedmont and Brewer Park, Spirit Mountain, and Mission Creek offer a variety of riding experiences for all skill-levels.
I enjoy weaving The Duluth Traverse story into our group rides. It’s important to explain to our guests how the shared vision and hard work of our local mountain bike club – The Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (a.k.a. COGGS) – and The City of Duluth Parks and Recreation has resulted in a trail system that is now recognized as the best-of-the-best by the international mountain bike community. Folks are always blown away by the fact that Duluth is one of six locations – in the world – designated by the International Mountain Bicycling Association as a Gold-Level Ride Center.
These stories form the foundation of our Mountain Bike Experience because they add an important layer of context to our rides and connect our guests to a broader narrative – a story in which they become active participants. Believe me, it’s not hard to get excited about these trails. After getting fitted with bikes and helmets at the trailhead, today’s group hits the trail and the real excitement begins.
Diverse Terrain for Challenging Adventures
The terrain in Duluth is more varied that you might think. There’s an elevational difference of approximately 600 feet between Lake Superior and the highest points along the ridge line that creates some challenging climbs and thrilling descents. Today we’ll get a bit of both as we ride from Hawk Ridge to the Lake Superior shoreline. We set off on an amazing section of the DT – a forested route called the Lester River Trail that weaves its way along the river. We stop to check out the rapids, take a few group photos, and sip water before continuing the end of the trail. From there it’s a short ride to Brighton Beach where we hunt for agates, skip rocks, and delve into the North Shore’s unique geology.
As a mountain bike guide for The Duluth Experience, I get to constantly relive my childhood biking adventures and explore my favorite bike town with guests from all over the United States. The Duluth Traverse offering nearly limitless possibilities and every unique experience can be tailored to the group. In this case, I get to ride with students from Ely. Tomorrow it’s a business group from St. Paul. The diversity of riders we guide along the DT is incredible but they all have one thing in common… they’re excited to explore and connect with Duluth.
After finding a few agates at Brighton Beach, we pedal back to the van along the West Amity Trail and by the time I’ve packed up the bikes and transported the group back to their hotel, I’ve made a bunch of new friends and built new relationships with folks who are now as excited about Duluth as I am.
It’s fall in Duluth and prime time for mountain biking. Do yourself a favor and explore The Duluth Traverse. It’s an amazingly diverse trail system with something for everyone and if you’re interested in a guided ride check out The Duluth Experience. We offer mountain bike adventures all year round and I’d love to show you some of my favorite parts of the trail.
This article was re-posted with permission from Lake Time Magazine’s Fall 2017 Issue