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Happy Trails: Getting to Ely’s Peak can be confusing

I’ll just say this, if you want to hike up to Ely’s Peak, park at the Superior Hiking Trail trailhead and follow the blue markings of the trail. Those blue markings will never lead you astray.

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Danny Haack, left, and Gabriela Storbel, both of Madison, Wisconsin, enjoy the view Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021, on top of Ely's Peak in Duluth. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune
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Getting to Ely’s Peak is challenging in more ways than one. Not only is it somewhat of a challenging hike up the peak but you can easily end up on the wrong trail and find yourself needing to backtrack.

I’ll just say this right away, if you want to hike up to Ely’s Peak, park at the Superior Hiking Trail trailhead and follow the blue markings of the trail. Those blue markings will never lead you astray. If you’re coming from Interstate 35, the trailhead parking is just a little ways past the Short Line Park parking lot. The parking lot is on 123rd Avenue West off of Becks Road.

So now for the story of my journey to Ely’s Peak. I tried to get to the peak two different times, two different days in one weekend and had to backtrack three times in my journey to the top.

The first day, I followed Google Maps when looking for the parking area of Ely’s Peak. That took me to the Short Line Park parking lot. (Google Maps is wrong.)

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From there I took the wooden path into the woods. I took the stairs up to the Duluth Winnipeg Pacific (DWP) Trail. At the top of the stairs I turned right and that led me to the DWP Railroad Tunnel.

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The Duluth Winnipeg Pacific (DWP) Railroad Tunnel goes through Ely's Peak and is covered in graffiti. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune

The tunnel is definitely worth seeing. When I came upon it I was by myself. I looked into the dark tunnel and considered not going through it. But against my better judgment, I decided to go in. So on Friday the 13th I walked into a dark tunnel by myself and thought, “well if I get murdered that’s on me.”

I’m not going to lie, I felt like I was in a horror movie as the sounds of my boots on the gravel echoed off the walls of the tunnel. When I got to the other side I found two kids with their grandparents. One of the kids was hanging from a cliff. They were learning to rock climb.

After I watched 9-year-old twins Jakob and Jadin Martinson climb the rock face, I headed back through the tunnel to try and find my way up to the top. This is where the confusion started.

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From left: Jakob Martinson, 9, climbs down the face of a cliff near Ely's Peak in Duluth Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, as Positive Energy Outdoors' Blake Cazier and his twin brother Jadin Martinson help lower him down. Their grandparents Jere and Michele Rambow planned the outing. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune

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I took a trail up and to the left — if you're facing the tunnel — and found myself staring at a crevasse that I was not going to be able to climb by myself with heavy camera equipment.

So I climbed back down and stared at the map. I just couldn’t tell which way to go from the tunnel so I decided to head back to my car, drive home and talk to the experts.

I talked to Matt Kraska, development and communications director at the Superior Hiking Trail Association. He told me I wasn’t the first person to get confused and turned around trying to get to Ely’s Peak. He told me that I had parked at the wrong lot and that Google was wrong.

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The Short Line Park trailhead is just one of many ways to get to Ely's Peak in Duluth. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune

After telling him my story of getting confused he said he would email me a link to a Duluth mom’s blog that has pictures and directions to get to the top.

On Sunday, Aug. 15, I attempted to reach the top again. This time I succeeded and it was a very triumphant moment for me.

Because I needed to know where I went wrong I parked at the Short Line Park trailhead again and hiked up to the tunnel again. I came to the four trails, two on each side, again. This time, following the directions from Outside in Duluth’s Kristina , I took the trail on my right that led down.

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To get to Ely's Peak take the trail on the left to get to the peak. Continue to follow the trail to the left until you reach the Superior Hiking Trail. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune

Not far from there I came across a fork in the trail. I thought I was supposed to go right, but I ended up at the Munger Trail and had to backtrack. So when you come to the first fork in the trail stay left and continue up. Eventually, that trail will connect you with the Superior Hiking Trail, and I can’t tell you what a relief it was to see those blue trail markers.

Once I got to the Superior Hiking Trail I turned left and headed up the peak. It was quite the climb up but very doable. All of this would have been easier without a backpack full of expensive camera equipment.

Like I said before, the Superior Hiking Trail makes it impossible to get lost. So I just followed the blue markers up to the top and found the spur that led to the peak.

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The view from the top of Ely's Peak overlooks the St. Louis River and Duluth's Gary-New Duluth neighborhood. Adelle Whitefoot / Duluth News Tribune

I made it. I was tired but I felt like I was on top of the world.

If you attempt to make it to Ely’s Peak for the first time I hope this helps you and that you have better luck the first time around than I did. And if you’re someone who has gotten lost trying to find it, know you’re not alone.

Happy hiking!

Have a favorite trail you want us to check out? Drop us an email at outdoors@duluthnews.com with the subject line “Happy Trails.”

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Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune


Adelle Whitefoot is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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