First a brief trail update. The trails actually held up really well with the warm weather this past weekend- that’s the good news, the bad news is that the spring like temps eroded much of the trail base, leaving very little snow for the groomers to work with during the week which may mean little if any grooming taking place if we don’t get more snow- stay tuned to see how this plays out.
This week’s trail in focus article is not just on a single trail but a whole miniseries of trails close to the Duluth area known as the Reservoir Riders Snowmobile Club Trails. Just north of Duluth are three reservoir lakes, Fish Lake, Island Lake and Boulder Lake. These lakes have been a favorite destination in both the winter and the summer for Duluth residents. In the summer they boast some pretty decent fishing for Walleye and Northern Pike and Island lake has even been known to produce a few illusive Musky. In the winter the lakes boast great ice fishing and top notch snowmobile opportunities.
The Reservoir Riders trail system was the brainchild of Steve Adolphs and other residents of the three reservoir lakes who enjoyed snowmobiling and envisioned a trail system to link the three lakes together and to build a trail that would connect the lakes area with the recently completed North Shore State Trail. The Reservoir Riders Snowmobile Club was formed to make this vision a reality. The lakes were connected by a series of trails along with a bypass trail that would keep riders off of the water in fall and spring. A trail was also built linking the area to the North Shore state trail. Soon other nearby trails that were managed by the DNR were turned over to the Reservoir Riders to be maintained as official snowmobile trails. These additions are referred to by the club as “The Taft Area Trails.” All in all the club maintains 94 miles of trails that are groomed three times a week and have become some of the most widely used trails in the entire state. The Reservoir Riders trail system is varied and unique presenting a vast array of riding opportunities and conditions so a detailed breakdown of each trail in this system is warranted to maximize your riding experience.
THE RESERVOIR LAKES TRAIL & FISH LAE TRAIL: The reservoir Lakes Trail is the trail that is at the heart of the Reservoir Riders Trail System. It intersects with the CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail in the east and runs west below Island Lake and continues past Fish Lake all the way to the Alborn Canyon trail. The first section of this trail from the North Shor State Trail to the Sporty’s Spur is your typical Point A to Point B trail. It was a trail designed to get you from one location to another. There aren’t any spectacular features for this section of trail aside from a few terrain changes as it goes through forest and swamp alike. Shortly before you reach the Sporty’s Spur you also have an option to take the Island Lake Trail which runs the entire length of the lake over the ice. It is a well-marked and well maintained lake trail but as with any lake trail you have to watch out for ice ridges and ice roads. Island Lake is a big lake and I wouldn’t suggest traversing it in a storm because you can easily get disoriented and lost. The trail section from the Sporty’s Spur to Fish Lake is referred to by the locals as “The Driveway Trail” as it crosses several driveways and roads on its way to Fish Lake. This section of trail is a true testament to the cooperation of landowners with local clubs to make the snowmobile trail system we enjoy a reality. It is important that riders obey the rules and speed limits set up on this trail as they should with all GIA trails to ensure that we have access to them in the future.
Fish Lake itself is a treasure trove of resorts and bars, with plenty of options to feed a hungry group. It is also an ice fisherman’s paradise which means ice roads galore so watch out! Fish Lake is also where you can catch the Hermantown trail which Connects to Fish Lake at the Eagles Nest Resort and will bring you all the way down to the Willard Munger state trail. This connection is the most direct route between the North Shore State Trail and all of Southern and Western Minnesota which is why the Reservoir Lakes trail from Fish Lake to The North Shore State Trail is one of the most widely ridden trails in the entire state. “That section of trail is a constant battle for us,” says the Reservoir Riders’ Phillip Lockett. “Everyone uses it and it gets beat up pretty quickly.” This section of trail is why the Reservoir Riders are out grooming three days a week.
From Fish Lake your options really open up at the intersection of the Island Lake trail and the Reservoir Lakes Trail. Here you will find a fantastic area map marked with all of the nearby gas and food locations including the nearby Minnoette, a great place to refuel for a day of riding as they have all grades of gas and oil of every type including manufacturer brands. From here you travel west toward the Fish Lake trail and experience some fun and interesting terrain changes. This section of trail has everything, hills, turns, and many areas flanked by huge white pines. This is a great ride.
When you reach the Fish Lake trail intersection you can take the Fish Lake trail south to the lake and run the lake all the way back to the Hermantown Trail intersection. The trail crossing the lake is unmarked and beset by numerous ice roads and ice ridges so be careful. Occasionally, however, it does provide some incredible views of island and wooded shore line and some really wonderful riding. If you continue on the Fish lake trail you will cross some farm fields STAY ON THE TRAIL! There are few places where this advice is wise to follow. For one going into the field is trespassing, for two the field contains many obstacles hidden under the snow that can wreck a sled including rock piles and huge drop offs and treacherous drifts. Believe me the temptation of fields full of powder is great but there have been a large number of sleds and bodies towed out of this area in pieces. From this trail you can also reach Caribou Lake, another small lake littered with ice houses. Continuing south the Fish Lake trail terminates in the town of Twig at the Twig store which has fuel available.
Following the Reservoir Lakes Trail farther west from the Fish Lake trail intersection runs you through some fantastic Terrain: hills, swamps, ditch riding, fields, and majestic pine forests. This section of trail has it all. Once you Cross the Cloquet river you can go North on the Three Lakes Trail or continue on the Reservoir Lakes Trail. This section of the reservoir lakes trail travels along the bottom of a ridge that is sometimes plagued by freezing runoff and some unforeseen dips in the trail. Keep it slow and steady through this section so you can react to sudden terrain changes. Once you make it through this section the Reservoir Lakes Trail turns north onto powerlines and this is powerline riding at its finest. The terrain here consists of miles of rolling hills and is truly a blast to ride. Remember that you are cresting multiple hills and you never know what is on the other side- including the possibility of a groomer, so be careful! The trail also comes to an end rather abruptly where it connects to the Alborn Canyon trail. This connection comes at the end of a long stretch of powerlines and suddenly there is a hairpin left turn. Many a snowmobiler has been flying along at 50 MPH to suddenly come face to face with a fence. Don’t let that be you!
THE THREELAKES TRAIL, CHICKEN CREEK TRAIL, HARRIS ROAD TRAIL AND MUDLAKE TRAIL: I group these trails together because they are a whole different animal from what you are used to as a snowmobile trail. While the Reservoir Lakes Trail and Fish Lake Trail fall into your typical Minnesota Snowmobile trail mode of wide trails with various manageable twists and turns catered to the modern snowmobile, the “Taft Area Trails” as the club refers to them were old trails managed by the DNR. When the DNR turned the management of these trails over to the club, the club kept them essentially as they were- traditional trails cut through the woods by outdoorsmen years ago. Most of us have seen trails like this in your past- the trails through the woods that you hiked on as a kid and rode your BMX and dirt bikes on in the summertime. In the winter these narrow trails were converted to snowmobile trails with single lanes and hairpin turns. That is what this group of trails are- good old fashioned snowmobile trails. “We wanted a family atmosphere, a place where you could take your kids on a winter picnic without having to worry about other riders flying around corners at high speed. The Taft area trails are our family trails and we wanted to keep them that way,” said Lockett. Each of these trails has their own personality, however.
THE THREE LAKES TRAIL is one of my two favorites in this group. When you ride on this trail you are transported back in time to an era where the only snowmobile trails were the ones cut through the woods by your neighbors. When riding the section of this trail from the Cloquet River Crossing to the shelter, you find yourself dreaming of riding that old Ski-Doo through the woods to your friend’s cabin or the deer shack. This trail has a real back woods wilderness feel to it and once you reach the shelter you have found a perfect place for a winter picnic. From the shelter onward the trail cuts through a logging operation and is well marked- in some of the older logged areas you may be tempted to hit the powder but don’t, the ground is littered with hidden stumps and brush piles. This trail will eventually get you to the Hawks trail that leads to the iron range but before you get to the Hawks trail intersection you come to the Chicken Creek Trail.
THE CHICKEN CREEK TRAIL: Imagine a trail cut through the woods where all you did was cut just enough to get your sled through. This is the Chicken Creek Trail. If you want a riding challenge at 10 MPH this is the trail for you. It is narrow with hairpin turn after hairpin turn and you wonder how they ever get a groomer through it. This is a grooming feat of epic proportions. This trail goes through woods, swamps, logged areas and about any type of crazy terrain you can imagine. This is one challenging tiring and sometimes frustrating trail and it takes a special kind of snowmobiler to run it. If you like wide open spaces and break neck speeds this is not the trail for you. If you like to feel like you are riding on a trail in 1968 then this trail is what you are looking for.
THE HARRIS ROAD TRAIL: This trail is as its name implies- a road. A section of Harris Road is unmaintained in the winter and thus you have the Harris Road Trail.
THE MUD LAKE TRAIL: This is another one of my favorites. Once again this trail is old school narrow but it has a little more room than the other trails in this group. It still, however, takes you back to the roots of snowmobiling and puts you back into the early seventies type riding. The highlight of the Mud Lake trail is the shelter on Mud Lake. This shelter is the kind of place you ride out to as a teenager to make out with your girlfriend. This trail is accessed by the Three Lakes Trail in the East and the Reservoir Lakes Trail on the power lines in the West. From either direction it is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. This trail also hooks up to the South end of the Chicken Creek Trail. The Mud Lake Trail is also frequented by bald eagles in the winter time and if you are lucky you might see one hovering above you. If the snow conditions are just right, both the Three Lakes Trail and the Mud Lake Trail bring you through sections of snow laden pine forests that are right out of a story book. If you like a nice slow pace and are more into seeing the sights than riding like you are trying to win the I-500 then these trails are definitely for you. If you are in a hurry to get somewhere, stick to the Reservoir Lakes Trail.
In closing I will say this, If you are in the Duluth area and are looking for a day of riding that will provide you with a little bit of everything, then the Reservoir Riders Trails are worth checking out. You can literally spend the whole day riding them. There are lots of places to eat and get gas and the trails are well marked and well maintained. You are guaranteed to see a lot of sleds, however, because the Reservoir Lakes trail is a pipeline from Southern Minnesota to The CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail and also a pipeline to the Iron Range and Western Minnesota. From this group of trails you can get anywhere in the state so they see a lot of traffic. The great thing about this trail system is that it offers a little bit of something for everyone all wrapped up into one trail system: lake riding, trail riding, swampy terrain, hilly terrain, farm fields, hardwood forests, pine forests, old growth forest, new growth forest, logged areas, ditch banging, power lines, bridges, Od school trails, new modern trails, railroad grades- you name it and you have it here. The Reservoir Riders have created an incredible and unique trail system for everyone to enjoy and I highly recommend it. Until next time, ride safe!
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