The most unique hike in Duluth that you’ve probably never heard of

Should I research some hikes for our drive up? I wondered as I prepared for our long weekend at the historic Tettegouche Camp. I always enjoy the surprises we stumble upon when we don’t have plans. But given the few hours of daylight during our long Minnesota winters, I decided we didn’t have the time to take a gamble on this trip.

We have been blessed to spend a good amount of time exploring Minnesota’s Arrowhead region over the last two decades. Given our familiarity with the region, there are definitely moments when it feels like we’ve seen and done it all. But then I start to dig a bit deeper and discover hidden gems I’ve never heard of and it all feels new again.

After narrowing down a few spots that worked best for us to stop for a hike, I did a web search. How have I never heard of this? I wondered as I read about Minnesota Point Pine Forest SNA. It was all my favorite things combined into one 5-mile hike. Beaches, lighthouses, sand dunes, and an old-growth pine forest make Minnesota Point Pine Forest SNA one of the state’s most unique hikes. There is literally nowhere else in the state of Minnesota like it. Here’s everything you need to know about exploring Minnesota Point Pine Forest SNA.

The Minnesota Point Pine Forest SNA showcases a stand of old-growth red and white pines on one of the world’s longest freshwater sandbars. All photos by Holly Scherer.

What is an SNA anyway?

First off, you might be wondering, what exactly is an SNA? SNA stands for Scientific and Natural Areas. These special places protect native plants, animals, and rare species. So it’s imperative to take extra care when visiting these areas.

On its website, the Minnesota DNR states that “Scientific and Natural Areas are public lands open to recreational activities that do not disturb natural conditions, such as birdwatching, nature photography, and hiking. SNAs are established for their outstanding ecological features, which we want people to enjoy. You may see management activities such as prescribed burns and control of invasive species. Research equipment is also sometimes seen on sites.”

Due to the uniqueness of these lands, the DNR asks that you read and understand the rules before visiting an SNA. You can find the full list of what is and is not allowed here.

  • Camping and campfires are prohibited
  • No collecting or removing of plants, animals, rocks, or fossils
  • Geocaching and orienteering are prohibited
  • No organized athletic or social events
  • Rock climbing for sport, including bouldering, is prohibited
  • Do not use technologies that may disrupt natural features (drones, trail cameras, etc.)
  • No motorized vehicles are allowed outside of the designated parking areas

What makes the Minnesota Point Pine Forest SNA special?

The Minnesota Point Pine Forest SNA showcases a stand of old-growth red and white pines on one of the world’s longest freshwater sandbars. The oldest tree was core-dated from 1789, but you’ll notice a mix of trees young and old. The dunes feature a native population of American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata)—the only population in the state of Minnesota. Listed as a threatened species, please take extra care to stay on the trails. Learn more here.

Hiking the trail

Although the trail is a bit longer, at just over five miles, it is very easy and suitable for people with many levels of fitness and experience. Since the trail is an out-and-back, so you could make it as short as you like. But I recommend hiking all the way to the end for great views of the lighthouse on neighboring Wisconsin Point. There is almost no change in elevation and the only concern might be some sand in your shoes.

On your way back, consider making your way to the beach on an established trail to gain a new perspective of this magnificent forest. As you listen to the waves of Superior lap against the beach, keep your eyes peeled for ships making their way to the harbor. Another feature you won’t want to miss are the driftwood sculptures so stunning they could only be made by nature.

Finding the trail

Part of the reason I’ve likely never stumbled upon this trail is its location. Over the Aerial Lift Bridge and through Canal Park, getting there requires a drive through one of Duluth’s most well-loved tourist areas. Throughout most of the year, we tend to skip over Duluth in search of quieter and more remote places further north.

Aside from the traffic during Duluth’s peak tourist season, the trailhead is easy to get to. From Duluth’s famed Canal Park, follow South Lake Avenue over the Aerial Lift Bridge. At some point, South Lake Avenue becomes Minnesota Avenue which you’ll follow to the end of the road near the Sky Harbor Regional Airport. You’ll see a gate behind the airport which will lead you to the easy-to-navigate trail through the SNA. If the parking near the SNA trailhead is full, head back up the road to the Park Point Recreation Area where you’ll find additional parking as well as seasonal restrooms.

When to go

This is an anytime-of-year type of trail. I can imagine packing a picnic lunch and enjoying a lazy summer day at the end of the trail. Watching the snow melt and the forest floor come to life in the spring would be nothing short of magical. I can only dream of the quiet solitude you’d find heading out for a fall sunrise hike. And you really can’t beat winter, especially after a fresh dusting of snow. But as I mentioned, this is a very popular area, so I would personally avoid peak times like summer, holidays, and fall colors. If you happen to be visiting during those times, I always enjoy popular trails early in the morning and later in the afternoon. But that’s just me. Some people love the energy and excitement of crowds, especially on a perfect summer day.

Minnesota Point Pine Forest SNA is a jewel in the abundantly beautiful Arrowhead region of Minnesota. From mysterious dunes, to towering old-growth pines, and rare beachgrass, I’d say it’s a must-see. So, next time you’re headed north, be sure to set aside a couple of hours to explore this natural wonder.

Holly Scherer is a Minnesota-based writer, photographer, outdoorswoman, and guide. She’s most at home in the great outdoors; camping, hiking, paddling, cycling, and gardening. When she’s not on an adventure, she and her husband live in the Twin Cities where they’re fond of saying, “home is where we store our outdoor gear.”

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