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Happy Trails: Knife River Trail marks lush, well-loved spot

The 5.7-mile hiking- and skiing-only trail features river and waterfalls.

Water rushes through the Knife River.
Poplars and white pines abound with new growth sprouting above and below along the Knife River Hiking Trail on June 12.
Melinda Lavine / Duluth News Tribune
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KNIFE RIVER — As I headed north on a Sunday afternoon, the skies were blue, the temps were mild and, hey, there was a candy store along the way.

I swung left on Minnesota Highway 61 and slowly followed East Shilhon Road until I spotted the mouth of the Knife River Hiking Trail on the right.

A few cars sat in the modest parking lot, and a blue sign read “foot travel only” ahead of the zig-zagging wooden planks that lead you into the woods.

Two hikers move along the start of the Knife River Trail. A sign reads "foot travel only."
Two hikers move along the start of the Knife River Trail on June 12.
Melinda Lavine / Duluth News Tribune

It’s a 5.7-mile, out and back, hiking- and skiing-only trail that follows the river and moves you past some of its waterfalls. (You can access the second trailhead a mile up Hawk Hill Road.)

To me, there has always been something dreamy about Knife River. This area feels remote, like a tucked-away treasure, and being on the trail supported this.

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Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

The forest was alive and budding. Poplars and white pines abound with new growth sprouting above and below. I heard the river flowing — sometimes softly, and sometimes loudly — to my left.

There are several breakaways from the main trail where you can get close to the river and take in its rocky shore, and a few steepish drops, thin pathways and many, many forks in the road.

There are benches — one human-made, and several fallen trees — to choose from.

It’s well-marked with vertical blue paint lines and signage for “Knife River Ridge,” “Second Falls” and “wolf clearing.”

Little human-made delights greeted me along the way: a paper decoration hanging from a tree branch, and small, circular metal pieces nailed above a large tree growth create a silly-looking face.

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A paper decoration hanging from a tree branch on the Knife River Trail on June 12.
Melinda Lavine / Duluth News Tribune
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Small, circular metal pieces nailed above a large tree growth create a silly-looking face on the Knife River Trail on June 12.
Melinda Lavine / Duluth News Tribune

It’s clear this is a well-loved trail. The Knife River Recreational Council took it over when the Superior Hiking Trail route moved closer to the shore.

This felt easy to navigate, and there are plenty of clearings and places for shade, making this a family friendly spot.

I trekked to the top of the river spur before turning around, though miles lie ahead. I ran into one pair of hikers and one single hiker during the trip, which I didn’t mind. On these excursions, I sometimes prefer the company of the trees.

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Blue paint lines are one form of signage along the Knife River Hiking Trail on June 12.
Melinda Lavine / Duluth News Tribune
Happy Trails logo.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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