Duluth is a bike city. Yes, it has the big lake, and a number of monikers that come along with it. But in recent years the City on a Hill has utilized its topography to become a major biking destination—that is, for those who enjoy riding them down and around hills.
Thanks to aggressive trail building efforts spearheaded by the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS) over the last decade, mountain biking in Duluth has exploded in popularity. The city went from around 30 miles of trail in the early 2000s to what will be 90 miles by the end of this season—most of which is multi-use, singletrack trail. This commitment to the sport has led to Duluth being named an International Mountain Biking Association Gold Level Ride Center, one of only six in the world.
What sets Duluth apart from other mountain biking hubs is that there are a variety of different trail types all within the city limits. The current major undertaking by COGGS is the Duluth Traverse Project, a multi-use trail which will eventually connect all of Duluth’s trail systems as it winds from the St. Louis River on the Wisconsin border to the Duluth’s northeast boundary on the North Shore.
The entirety of the Duluth Traverse (DT) is composed of beginner green trails, though its construction is made with riders of all skill levels in mind. Reflecting the DT’s spirit of accessibility, all of the systems in Duluth have multiple entry/access points, opening up more opportunities for different rides.
For visiting mountain bikers, the true benefit of the Traverse is that it allows for the use of multiple trail systems in one ride. Use the DT to go from Hartley Park to Lester Park via Hawk Ridge, with some awesome panoramic views of Lake Superior as an added bonus, or access Spirit Mountain or Mission Creek from the east via the highly-popular Keene Creek portion of the DT, a quick descent from the Brewer Park system that features switchbacks, rollers and some sizable jumps.
Beyond the DT, there are plenty of easy-riding trails to enjoy in all the trail systems in Duluth. That being said, with relatively tame, flat terrain (by Duluth standards), Hartley Park is a great option for those new to mountain biking. While the look of the park has changed significantly since a July 2016 windstorm toppled a number of trees, the trails have been largely unchanged for years save for minor reroutes.
The trail system ranges from beginner to intermediate, with uphill climbs but nothing too strenuous. This is one of the older mountain biking areas in Duluth, a history reflected by its old-school style that has plenty of rocks and roots. Hartley is a park often enjoyed by hikers, so be careful flying around blind corners—not that the berm-free, “raw” trails allow you to pick up too much speed.
Those who enjoy old-school handmade trails will also like the Pokegama Trail, a singletrack out-and-back trail in Superior, Wisconsin. and managed by COGGS, though this is a more advanced ride than those at Hartley.
Sections of smooth, flowy trails can be found throughout many of the trail systems in Duluth, but Mission Creek on the far western reaches of Duluth is the ultimate in machine-made flow track.
As construction began in 2014, it’s Duluth’s newest trail system and perhaps the most impressive, with 23 miles of contour lines and bench cut trail that rolls along the eroding hills of the St. Louis River Valley, providing some excellent views that will force you to hit the brakes.
There are dozens of bridges and more berms and switchbacks than one can count. As the climbs and descents of many of the trails are relatively equal (and pretty constant), riding them in either direction provides a different and satisfying experience.
On the opposite end of Duluth, Lester Park also features over eight miles of smooth, rolling track. The trails roughly follow the bluffs along the Amity Creek and Lester River from the top of Seven Bridges Road almost all the way down to Lake Superior. The trails are pretty much ascent or descent, depending on which way you ride them, so prepare for a lung-busting ride if you parked at the top of Seven Bridges Road where the trails begin.
While some of the lines are intermediate, beyond a few technical sections Lester Park is pretty welcoming trails for riders of all levels. There’s plenty of flowtrack, which can get pretty fast going downhill. Just keep an eye open for other trail users; it’s a pretty popular hiking area as well, and several paths intersect some of the mountain bike trails.
Rock Lovers Rejoice
The Piedmont/Brewer Park trail system in West Duluth provides the quintessential Duluth mountain biking experience: a technical, rocky trail which climbs upward to provide some breathtaking views. With plenty of exposed bedrock and large boulders to roll over, the trail can be relatively difficult at points, so taking the proper line is important. However, there are plenty of flow sections in both systems such as with Brewer’s Lollygagger (which shares the name of a special Bent Paddle brew).
While several of the trails are pretty friendly, Piedmont features some of the gnarliest black and double black diamonds in town.
Brewer Park, which is across Haines Road from Piedmont and can be accessed via a tunnel that runs underneath the road, is a more recent build that has Piedmont’s rocky features mixed in with plenty of berms and rollers.
Park in the lot off of Haines Road in order to easily access both Brewer and Piedmont systems, but be sure to get there early on the weekends because the small lot fills up fast.
Both Piedmont and Brewer intersect the Superior Hiking Trail at a number of points, as do many of the mountain biking trails in Duluth. Be sure to pay attention to signage and stick to the mountain biking paths, as the SHT is strictly foot travel only.
A Ski Hill in Summer
This may come as a shock to the geographically challenged, but there aren’t many options for lift-accessed, downhill mountain biking in the Upper Midwest. Duluth’s Spirit Mountain is one of the few, and certainly among the best.
Located just a few miles west of Brewer, Spirit Mountain features much of the same geography, just on a grander, gravity-fed scale. In addition to a skills park that has jumps of all sizes, Spirit Mountain boasts four downhill lines from 3,000–5,000 feet in length, ranging from the smooth and rolling Candyland to Calculated Risk, a fast and rocky trail for experts only. When the lifts are going (from late May to mid-October), it can be the best riding experience in town—though one day lift tickets are $29 for bikers.
Spirit Mountain, a popular ski hill in the winter months, is a great place to hone your skills or chase some thrills. Like with all of Duluth’s trail systems, there’s something there for all experience levels and tastes.