Duluth Fall Color Mountain Biking


We love the Lakewalk, but there are a lot of good reasons to bike on Duluth’s trail system as well. Maybe you want a more strenuous workout or a more intimate encounter with nature. During the fall there is another reason—to get a better look at all the fall colors.

Naturally you expect to see trees on a trail, but here there is a little more to the story. It is not just the amount of trees, but the type of trees that make a difference. Just as going into Duluth’s hills often involves a change of temperature, when you drive from the lowlands of Duluth to that hilly ridge you go into a different vegetation zone. Chel Anderson and Adelheid Fischer label these zones in their book “North Shore: A Natural History of Minnesota’s Superior Coast.”

In the lowlands you are in a zone called “mesic white pine–red pine.”  When you go into the hills you enter an area called iStock_000009443790XXLarge-S“northern hardwood-conifer.” In layman’s terms, this means you will see a lot more leafy trees, including a large concentration of the coveted and colorful maple trees. You could almost call mountain biking “maple biking” for all the maple you’ll see.

The above map, from the “2015 Outdoor Duluth Recreation Map,” shows the five main mountain-biking areas in the hills of Duluth. Each one is similar, but different.

The furthest east is the Lester/Amity park system. Here you will be in more of the deciduous zone. Higher up the hills, you can pass through Hawk Ridge. There you can also see some birds as a bonus.

A little further west and more inland is the Hartley Park system. This area is flatter than the Lester one and goes through some wetlands. At this point you are getting out of the hardwood zone to where some of the other trees are starting to steal some of the action. But, they look pretty good too. How can you argue with tall pines, even if they’re not multi-colored?

Further west, the Enger Park and Piedmont trails are solidly on the ridge and solidly in the hardwood vegetation area. Here the hills will be bright red and orange as you look straight down on different parts of Duluth’s waterfronts and industry. The Superior Hiking Trail also goes through both of them, which is great if you are looking for a fall-color hike instead of a fall-color mountain biking ride.iStock_000002198987Large-S

The Spirit Mountain Trails are similar to the Enger Park and Piedmont trails, but have a distinct difference—here modern technology gives you a little boost. Here, up to around October 22, you can go up the mountain on a ski lift, and come down with the help of gravity.

The help of gravity does not imply all these trails are easy. In fact, some are recommended only for expert riders. But imagine, you get to ride high up and look down at all the foliage, climbing deeper into the maple zone. Then, you look out at the area and the islands on the St. Louis River and take the plunge down that big hill. This gives a whole other meaning to the word “fall.”

All these areas have different levels of trails and have trails which are shorter and longer. The scenery varies at each one, as does the temperature, and the vegetation, as you move around in Duluth.