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Happy Trails: What it's like to hike tallest bridge in Minnesota

Reporter Teri Cadeau crossed the Thomas Rukavina Memorial Bridge on the Mesabi Trail.

A paved trail leading into the woods.
There are a few places one can hop on the Mesabi Trail to walk across the Thomas Rukavina Memorial Bridge on U.S. Highway 53. Reporter Teri Cadeau chose the entrance at the end of Chestnut Street, but there is more parking a quarter-mile down the trail near Kaleva Hall.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
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VIRGINIA — It's been five years since I first walked across the bridge that spans across U.S. Highway 53. My sister and I took part in a community walk across the brand-new bridge in September 2017 to celebrate its opening after a couple of years of construction. Back then it was still unnamed, it was referred to mostly as the "Highway 53 Bridge."

I returned to the now-named Thomas Rukavina Memorial Bridge hike with my mother on an overcast Sunday. It's a trail she became familiar with over the years as she used to meet up with a group of people from the dog training academy to walk their dogs and socialize. We left her dogs at home this day so we could focus on the walk.

Happy Trails logo.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

We entered the paved trail from the very end of East Chestnut Street. Before too long I noticed a change from my previous visit. There's now a gravel trail that leads to a small area with benches and a plaque named "Bridge View Park." There's information about the late Tom Rukavina, a long-time DFL Minnesota Representative and county commissioner. The small park offers a nice view of the 1,100-foot-long, 204-foot-high bridge across the Rouchleau Mine pit.

A gravel trail leads to a small park area.
A gravel trail leads to a set of benches and memorial plaque for Thomas Rukavina, the namesake of the bridge. The park also offers a good, long-distance view of the bridge, hence the name Bridge View Park.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

The trail continued to leave plenty of space for walkers and cyclists until about 100-feet before the start of the bridge. There a walled-off space for ATVs is sectioned off beside the trail. One the bridge, there's a line that designates this space. We saw a few people out on the trail on ATVs, but I never felt nervous about having enough space for them to pass by safely. Cyclists also gave plenty of warning as they approached us from behind.

A multi-purpose hiking, biking and ATV paved trail runs alongside a busy highway across a bridge.
The Mesabi Trail is divided across the Highway 53 bridge to ensure space for ATVs, cyclists and pedestrians next to the busy highway.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

Once on the bridge, I wished I'd worn a jacket as the wind is much stronger there. But the view made it worthwhile. Between the bars that guard the side, you can get a good view of the mine pit as well as some of the taller landmarks in Virginia, such as the steam plant, City Hall and the blue water tower.

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Fair warning to all who decide to take the trek, you are right next to the highway. There's a concrete barrier that runs alongside it, which made me feel pretty secure. But it also means that sometimes people will honk at you if they recognize you.

A view of a former mine pit filled with water.
The view of the Rouchleau mine pit from the Thomas Rukavina Memorial Bridge on Highway 53.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

The walk ended up being around 2 miles round trip, including a walk across the bridge from end to end. Not a particularly long walk, but one with a wonderful view. If you wanted to make it longer, the Mesabi Trail has many entrance points from Virginia and neighboring cities that could add to your mileage.

For a Sunday morning walk with my mother, this was the perfect length and well worth the time.

Hwy 53 bridge trail.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune
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Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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