It’s November. This is the time I start getting antsy and start looking at the forecast daily and praying for snow. The general rule of thumb this far north is after Halloween it can snow any time, and after Thanksgiving any snow that falls will be on the ground until spring. It’s also the time that snowmobilers from the southern half of the state get a jump on their season by taking advantage of the early Northeast Minnesota snowfall. We don’t have any snow on the ground yet but since many of my readers trailer their sleds to Duluth and points north I decided to fill you in on one often overlooked gem that is just a few minutes ride away from the C.J. Ramstad North Shore State Trail head at Martin Road: Hawk Ridge.
Each year there are a large number of riders that unload their sleds at the Martin Road lot, pull on to the trail, take a quick left and head North- not having any idea that they are missing out on a golden opportunity. When leaving the Martin Road lot hanging a right instead of a left puts you on the East Duluth trail system- a small trail system run by the Drift-Toppers Snowmobile Club, one of the oldest snowmobile clubs in the state. Although the trail system isn’t great in size it does hold one of the most spectacular destinations one can find on a snowmobile- Hawk Ridge. The trail to Hawk Ridge is really unspectacular- it is what I call a point A to point B trail, in other words a trail that was designed to link two destinations, in this case Hawk Ridge and the Lakeside neighborhood of Duluth with the C.J. Ramstad North shore state trail. The trail to Hawk ridge is relatively narrow and has a multitude of steep terrain changes, hairpin turns, road crossings and some icy patches where hillside runoff creeps across the trail and freezes. This short connecting trail ends at a T- taking a right on this T intersection brings you to a stretch of Skyline Parkway that is closed during the winter months. It is this trail that brings you to the Hawk Ridge scenic overlook. This is the spot that is crowded with birdwatchers in the fall. In winter most of the birds are gone but you can still see an occasional bald eagle soaring high overhead. To say the view from here is spectacular would be a gross understatement. From here you can see a huge chunk of Duluth, The Ariel Lift Bridge, part of the St. Louis River valley, the harbor and a phenomenal view of Lake Superior. This is a photographer’s heaven. You will be snapping a ton of pictures here that are all postcard worthy. When you leave you can continue on Skyline Parkway and enjoy this beautiful closed road trail as you descend to the Amity Creek trail which loops you back to the T intersection.
The history of Hawk Ridge is almost as spectacular as the view. The area was first accessed by the construction of a road that was the brainchild of Samuel F. Snively, Duluth’s longest serving mayor who owned property in the area. The road which later became part of Skyline Parkway was completed in 1939. Unfortunately the first attention that Hawk Ridge received was by people illegally shooting migrating birds in the area. The Duluth Bird Club (which later became the Duluth Audubon Society) was able to bring public pressure to stop this illegal activity. It soon became evident that the Hawk Ridge area was the site of one of the largest bird migration routes in the United States and was being used by several species of raptors every fall. The Duluth Audubon Society purchased the area in 1972 and turned it into a nature reserve.
The history of snowmobiling on Hawk Ridge is as old as the history of the snowmobile itself. As Scott Marshall from the Drift-Toppers said “When the first Ski-Doo arrived in Duluth in the early 1960’s the destination of one of the first ever snowmobile rides was Hawk Ridge.” It has been a destination for snowmobilers ever since, seeing hundreds of thousands of snowmobiles stop to catch the view over the last 50 years. In 1972 the City of Duluth turned the maintenance of the Amity Creek Trail and the closed portion of Skyline Parkway over to the Drift-Toppers and they have been grooming, brushing, and repairing the trail ever since. The Amity Trail which completes the loop from Hawk Ridge back to the T has been plagued over the years by washouts and downed trees making maintaining and repairing the trail a year round job as it is also used in the summer by hikers bikers and everyone in between. The Skyline and Amity portions of the trail are year round multi-use trails and many Duluth residents take advantage of the fact that snowmobilers create a hard packed surface for them to walk on. When snowmobiling these portions of the trails you must be aware of cross country skiers and hordes of people walking the trail, many of whom have dogs with them. In addition to the Amity Creek trail is the Lester Park trail that makes its way down to Lester Park. This trail is crisscrossed with multiple cross-country ski trails so you have to be exceptionally careful and alert for skiers. On your next trip to Duluth, Hawk Ridge is a must see snowmobile destination that is only a quick jaunt away from the Martin Road lot and well worth the time. For more on Hawk Ridge and its history and the opportunities it offers for bird watchers in the fall visit www.hawkridge.org
Special Thanks to Scott Marshall and Bob Klein of the Drift-Toppers for their contributions to this article.