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Happy Trails: Hike to Bayfield's historic iron bridge on Gil Larsen Trail

Easy to access in downtown, this short trail follows the ravine stream under the iron bridge.

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Looking up at the Iron Bridge from near the pillars along the Iron Bridge and Nature Hiking Trail in Bayfield, Wis. on July 27, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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A visit to Bayfield often involves a little walking as tourists visit the downtown restaurants, shops and marina. If you’re in the mood for a hike, you don’t have to travel too far. A straight shot up Washington Avenue from the Madeline Island Ferry loading ramp will take you to the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Trail. The trail is named for Gilbert Larsen, a conservationist who grew up near the ravine. Larsen passed away in 1977.

“As many times I have been to Bayfield, I have never been on this trail before and it is delightful,” said Paul Savides of Eau Claire.

Also delightful for Savides was an encounter with a fellow hiker.

“I did see a number of people. I met a little girl on the walk and she gave me an acorn. She was a delightful little girl and I don’t know if it was her father or grandpa, but she was having a really nice walk with him and she gave me an acorn,” Savides said.

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The sign at the beginning of the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Hiking Trail in Bayfield, Wis. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The trail is three-quarters of a mile long and follows the ravine creek under the old Iron Bridge, going uphill. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Under a sunny sky with a temperature of 73 degrees on July 27, Savides hiked about 2.5 miles through the Big Ravine Trail System. There are multiple options for hikers and the most common one is the three-quarters out-and-back jaunt from the trailhead to the historic Iron Bridge.

The parking lot for the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Trail is on the left if you’re heading west on Washington Avenue and just before its corner with North Broad Street. There is also a parking option opposite the lot on the other side of Washington Avenue.

The trail is marked by a large wooden sign, which indicates the trail was constructed by the Wisconsin Conservation Corps in 1984. Beyond the sign, the scenery is already stunning with numerous trees, the Big Ravine and the old Iron Bridge in the distance.

“There’s a good variety of up and down and some fabulous views,” Savides said.

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One of three signs along the beginning of the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Hiking Trail in Bayfield, Wis. that highlights the Big Ravine. This one focuses on the Big Ravine Trails. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Along with the scenery, signs are a sight to see as you hike. The trailhead features a placard showcasing Bayfield’s history with apples and as you begin your journey by heading left on the gravel path, you’ll walk past three signs that highlight the Big Ravine. You’ll encounter other signs along the way, including those that describe the flood of 1942 and how the iron bridge was used as a shortcut to school for students in the 1910s.

The trail is for foot traffic only and as long as your shoes or sandals have a little grip, you’ll be fine. Rounding the corner, you’ll take a right turn down a stair slope and toward a long wooden bridge that takes you over Pike Creek. The bridge allows for multiple spots to sit, take pictures or just take in the sights. After crossing the bridge, the trail heads right and gets a little closer to the ravine creek, which is on the left side. Flowing water from a small waterfall can be seen and heard. At the top of the ravine are property and homes along North Second Street. But at the bottom is a bench and it provides the perfect spot to relax and listen to water flow.

As you continue your hike, you’ll travel up steps before reaching the pillars of the iron bridge. It was built in 1912. According to the website bridgehunter.com , the bridge stands 50 feet above the ravine and Pike Creek. It has dimensions of 230 feet in length and 18 feet in width. The bridge connects Rice Avenue, but it is closed to vehicular traffic. Don’t worry about pedestrian traffic, you’re OK to be on it. At this point, it is just a matter of getting there.

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The view looking up at the steps leading down from the first left-hand turn on the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Hiking Trail in Bayfield, Wis. on July 27, 2021. The trail is for foot traffic only. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

After passing the pillars, you’ll have the option to head left and experience the other parts of the Big Ravine Trail System. But if you go right, that’s where you’ll take more steps up to North Second Street and reach the historic Iron Bridge. It was completely restored in 1988 and according to bridgehunter.com, additional work was done in 2006.

“I saw up at the top that it has been renovated and more power to the folks that raised the money to do that. It is a challenge and I’m sure it was not inexpensive. It is great and nice to have it,” Savides said.

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The Iron Bridge connects Rice Avenue in Bayfield, Wis., though the bridge is closed to automotive traffic. From the bridge looking east toward Rice Avenue, Lake Superior is in the distance. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

That’s where you’ll encounter nice views. You can’t miss Lake Superior. The big lake can be seen looking east down Rice Avenue. As you travel across the wooden planks and look south, you’ll see Lake Superior as well as the parking lot and trailhead. As much as you’ll focus on the views, be sure to be aware of the wooden planks, especially if you have little ones or four-legged friends with you. There are approximately two-inch spaces in some spots, which can be a hazard, but also provides an opening to look directly down on Pike Creek. From here, you can return to your vehicle by taking the trail in the reverse direction. You also have the option of taking the street, heading east to North Second Street or west to North Third Street as both will take you to Washington Avenue.

“There’s a little bit of everything and you can’t beat the pure Lake Superior air. I’ll go back and try some of the longer loops I think next time” Savides said. “That’s what I love to do. Walk and hike along the big lake here. Just to look for different hikes and be near the lake.”

If you hike the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Trail, you'll get exercise and scenery and who knows, maybe even an acorn?

"That was kind of a highlight of the trip,” Savides said.

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The ravine creek flowing under the historic Iron Bridge in Bayfield, Wis. on July 27, 2021. This small waterfall can be seen on the left after crossing a wooden bridge near the beginning of the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Trail. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

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A wooden bridge is near the beginning of the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Hiking Trail in Bayfield, Wis. It crosses the ravine creek and provides a place to sit, take photos/video and enjoy the scenery. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

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A bench along the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Hiking Trail in Bayfield, Wis. sits at the bottom of a ravine. At the top of the ravine are homes and property along North Second Street. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

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This sign along the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Hiking Trail in Bayfield, Wis. highlights the old Iron Bridge and how it was used as a shortcut to get to school for students in the 1910s. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

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On the historic Iron Bridge in Bayfield, Wis. on July 27, 2021. This view is facing west toward a neighborhood on Rice Avenue. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

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Looking down at the ravine creek through a space between the boards of the historic Iron Bridge in Bayfield, Wis. on July 27, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

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From the historic Iron Bridge, looking south toward the parking lot of the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Hiking Trail on Washington Avenue in Bayfield, Wis. on July 27, 2021. The ravine creek flows through the middle. From this view, Lake Superior can been seen in the distance. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

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

Dan Williamson joined the Duluth News Tribune in June 2021 where he's involved in digital content such as video, photos and podcasts. Previously, he worked in television broadcasting as a Sports Director/Anchor at WDIO-TV in Duluth, Sports Director/Anchor in Bismarck, N.D., News and Sports Anchor at KSAX-TV in Alexandria, and Reporter/Photographer/Editor with the syndicated show "Life to the Max" in Eden Prairie. He was also the Development Director for the Duluth Salvation Army. Williamson grew up in Alexandria, graduated from St. Cloud State University and has lived in Duluth since 2012.
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