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Feature Photo by Visit Duluth

Discovering The Great Minnesota Outdoors In The St. Louis River Valley

Minnesota is one of the best Midwest states for outdoor activities and recreation as it’s a haven for lakes, rivers, forests, and all-around natural beauty. Each region of the state features a unique way to explore the outdoors, but one of the best and most beautiful regions is northeast Minnesota where the magnificent Lake Superior, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and Voyageurs National Park are just a few of the natural highlights. The only downfall is the vastness of the area and the abundance of amazing places to see, which may make it hard to pick where to visit next. A great starting point for exploring northeast Minnesota is the St. Louis River Valley, the perfect place to get a taste of all the region has to offer.

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Photo by Visit Duluth

Located at the spot where the St. Louis River runs into beautiful Lake Superior on the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, Duluth is northeast Minnesota’s biggest and most exciting city. Duluth’s prime location on the North Shore gives the city dramatic natural beauty and provides the area with many options for adventure. Some ways you can experience Duluth’s outdoors are hiking the Superior Hiking Trail and Enger Park, kayaking on Lake Superior and the St. Louis River, or mountain biking at one of the many locations including the popular Spirit Mountain. Another unique area to visit is Park Point Recreation Area, which is situated on a large sand dune between lake Superior and Duluth Harbor. You can expect to see amazing scenic views of Lake Superior during all your outdoor pursuits, especially on the Superior Hiking Trail, a high traffic trail that follows the shoreline of the lake while taking you to the top of various vistas to get a birds-eye view. When you’re done exploring the outdoors, be sure to check out everything else this buzzing city has to offer before you leave.

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The North Shore of Lake Superior is one of Minnesota’s most-visited destinations, expanding 145 miles from Duluth to Grand Portage. Featuring small towns, state parks, scenic trails, historic sites, and untouched wilderness, which is one of the reasons why travelers find it so attractive. If you’re only going as far as Duluth, the best places to experience Lake Superior are Canal Park, the Lakewalk, and by booking a sightseeing or dinner cruise with Vista Fleet. However, if you fall in love with the small part of the lake you’ll see in Duluth, you may be interested in seeing the entirety of the North Shore on the North shore All-American Scenic Drive from Duluth to the Canadian border. Whichever way you end up experiencing Lake Superior, the lake itself is something to behold and will leave you with lasting memories.

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Another must-visit spot along the St. Louis River is the historical Jay Crooke State Park. Featuring over 50 mi of hiking, 8 mi biking, 6 mi horse trails, 34 mi of cross-country ski, and 8 mi snowmobile trails, the park is a delight for outdoorsmen of all types. Jay Crooke State Park is full of natural beauty and wildlife with wildflowers in the spring, vivid colors in the fall, and hardwood forests, as well as a deep water-eroded gorge and massive rock formations. Along with the natural elements, the park features several historic sites including the Swinging Bridge, pioneer’s cemetery, and grand portage trail. To explore the park you can hike, bike, or ski, among other recreational activities, but there are also geocaching units and snowshoes on site. Jay Cooke State Park is also open to campers, offering a variety of options including tent campsites, RV campsites, and cabins if you want to stay one night or several days.

Mesabi Trail

Whether you are an avid cyclist or just an average bike rider, the Mesabi Trail is another location in the St. Louis River Valley for outdoor enthusiasts. Traversing over 135 miles and soon to be one of the longest paved trails in the US upon completion, the Mesabi Trail is a premier bicycle trail that highlights the most scenic parts of the state. The trailhead is located in Grand Rapids, but there are many places to jump on the trail, including Eveleth, a city that lies in the St. Louis River Valley. When starting here you can head southwest towards Grand Rapids or northeast towards Ely depending on where you would like to travel and how far you plan on going. You’ll see forests, streams and creeks, man-made mountains, and some of the world’s largest mines including the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine on this scenic ride through the heart of Minnesota wilderness. Also, as the trail winds through various communities, you will have plenty of opportunities to stop for food and shelter. The Mesabi Trail is truly a unique experience that you can customize to your interests and skill level, making it a perfect way to explore Minnesota outdoors.

Iron Range

If you are a thrill-seeker, a final destination in the St. Louis River Valley is the Iron Range Off-Highway Vehicle State Recreation Area in Gilbert, Minnesota. Much like snowmobiling, a great way to explore the outdoors is on an off-highway vehicle cruising the trails. Iron Range is Minnesota’s premier off-highway vehicle recreation area with 36 miles of scenic trails to explore. Here you are allowed to ride all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles, and off-road vehicles of all types on their trails, as Iron Range gives riders a great place to safely ride. With iron-ore pits, stockpiles, and tailings basins, Iron Range features a hilly environment and a variety of altitude changes on trails ranging from easy to most difficult. You can expect spectacular off-road riding, scenic overlooks with views that stretch for miles, and a great day in the great Minnesota outdoors.

I am a student, aspiring writer, and avid reader of books. My favorite things in the world are my German Shepherds and hiking in Colorado.
Maeve Miller

Writer , River Travel Magazine