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Sam Cook column: Sweet vacation with no big drive

Sam Cook

We were up north with the whole family last week. A little vacation. You should have been there. Sweet place. Lots to do.

The grown kids were with us, visiting from their near-flung and far-flung homes. One morning, not far from where we stayed, we took off into the woods and ran a piece of hiking trail for a while. Up and down, snaking around switchbacks, padding over pine needles, climbing a natural rock stairway. Gorgeous chunk of trail, and we could have followed it all the way to the Canadian border, I guess.

At one point, up high, we caught blue glimpses of a big lake beyond the maples and basswoods. What a place to be on a July morning, with the veeries and the great crested flycatchers calling.

One evening, we drove a little way and poled up a trout stream to have supper along the shore with some friends. Hard to imagine a lovelier piece of water anywhere across the Upper Midwest. As we poled up, we passed a couple of fly-fishers getting an early start on the evening, hoping the big green drake mayflies would be coming off later.

The river, spring-fed and clear, has been drawing trout anglers for decades, the locals say. They come in the spring for the big steelhead making their spawning runs. On summer nights like this one, they come at dusk and fish into the night for big browns too smart to come out in broad daylight.

We were there just for the dinner — brats and chicken and potatoes and veggies all cooked over an open fire. Somebody had brought homemade guacamole dip. Someone had brought rhubarb crisp. Someone had brought chocolate chip cookies.

The dinner table was pretty lively, what with all of the old stories being told and the ghosts of long-gone trout anglers and river runners looking over our shoulders. At dusk, we eased back into the canoes and paddled downstream.

Another morning, some of us hopped on some mountain bikes and rode several miles of the best trails a biker could hope to find. All within a 15-minute drive of where we were staying. Rode for an hour or so on trails built specifically for mountain biking. Through a stand of red pines, over a gurgling creek, up the hairpin curves of a long climb.

Spectacular, and we didn’t even get to most of the trails.

One of our last mornings, the bunch of us went for a run on a paved path along the shore of a big lake. I guess the path goes for several miles. We never got to most of it.

When we had had enough, we stopped and jumped in the lake for a cool-down. Out on the lake, a kayaker came paddling by near shore. Farther out, cabin cruisers trolled back and forth for trout and salmon.

If you like fishing and biking and running and paddling, you might think about getting away to this place.

Some people call it going up north, I suppose. Some people have called it the best outdoor town in the country. Some just call it Duluth.

We call it home.

Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or Follow him on Twitter at or on Facebook at “Sam Cook Outdoors.”