Happy Trails: Piedmont Trail — the perfect spot for hikers, bikers and forest-bathers
It’s all multi-use here for cross-country skiers, dog-walkers, even snowmobilers, with access to the Superior Hiking Trail.
So, I’m afraid of getting lost in the woods.
Ne'er a hiker before moving to Duluth, I’ve since joined the ranks of outdoors appreciators and nature gazers.
Sure, I’ve trekked parts of Chester and Lester and Hartley, but I always played it safe, sticking close to easily detectable terrain, which is no way to play.
The Piedmont Trailhead was introduced to me last summer, in the midst of a pandemic with no end in sight, and, man, am I grateful.
This location, combined with the shutdown, propelled me to overcome my fear. And to be clear: That’s not because you won’t get lost, you probably will — but I’ve found the terrain to be the friendliest to scour, and re-scour, wash and repeat.
It’s all multi-use here for bikers, hikers, cross-country skiers, dog-walkers, even snowmobilers.
There are 3.4 miles of classic cross-country ski trails for beginners to advanced; 9 miles for bikers intermediate and up; access to the Superior Hiking Trail; and the trail system in its entirety runs from Hutchinson to Haines Road and along Skyline Parkway.
In the past year, my dog Lulu and I have taken in the rocky overlooks with striking views of Duluth and the St. Louis River. We’ve plunged the deep hills from the Upper and Lower Burners of the Stovetop and scurried around bike trails Deer Slayer and Red Dress.
During a break in the rain on Tuesday, Lu and I parked in the ski trail lot at 2226 Hutchinson Road and very soon ran into other Duluthians with their dogs in tow.
This has been a go-to location for Mona Knutson and Kate Dougherty since 2008, before the spot was developed and became popular, they said. Dougherty hikes, Knutson hikes and skis.
There are a number of great creeks, perfect for dogs to rehydrate, said Dougherty.
And, both said they feel safer with their pups along to alert them to bucks or bears.
“It’s forest bathing at its best,” said Dougherty, who appreciates the act of hiking because: “You don’t need any money to take a walk. All you have to do is put on a pair of shoes and go.”
Asked their advice for hiking these parts, Dougherty said to take pictures of the maps.
“A lot of people go too far and don’t know how to get back fast enough,” added Knutson. “You think you know the trail system, and all the leaves are gone and you’re thinking ‘Where am I?’”
Along with tips for cross-country skiing, they invited me to hike with them the next time I see them on the trails. Despite the rain, it was a warm Duluth moment.
After they left, I decided to take a trek through a cross-country trail nearest the trailhead that covers about 1.4 miles. (Stay off this during winter, folks.)
My boots squished on the slick mud, grass and rocks. There are little to medium inclines and wide pathways on the main thoroughfare, perfect for kids, pets and people alike; and there are many side paths, made by bike or deer, to explore.
Rain sprinkles dropped and rested on various leaves and stones, the light droplets resembling bubbles. Birds chirped overhead, and one sang a solo with the swaying branches and leaves as accompaniment.
Lu repeatedly grew frustrated at my stops and starts to take photos, and she communicated her impatience with loud exhales in her blue raincoat.
There are areas where you can see right through the woods, and others where the trees are so dense you feel cupped and held by them.
Once we got to the western side of the loop, it was easy to spot nearby homes in the distance — closer to civilization than I like while hiking.
There are several forks in the road, and we mostly stayed to the right, expecting to stick to the ski trail. I felt hopeful when we hit Marker C, but soon, the dog and I arrived at another unmarked three-way fork. After some turning and redirecting, we hit Marker D — again.
I giggled a little. Despite the zig-zagging, we’d come full-circle.
Have a favorite trail you want us to check out? Drop us an email at email@example.com with the subject line “Happy Trails.”