Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hike woodland oasis in Northwoods city

Rock Pond at Bagley Nature Area. Photo courtesy
of University of Minnesota Duluth.

Rock Pond and Hill Trail

offers quick nature fix

In the middle of northern Minnesota’s largest metropolitan area sits a pleasant woodland with a pond and vista point perfect for day hiking.

Several unnamed trails run through the Bagley Nature Area, which sits on the northwest corner of the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. The 0.95-mile round trip Rock Pond and Hill Hiking Trail – named here for convenience’s sake – takes you past each of the nature area’s major features: Rock Pond, Rock Hill, the woodlands, and Tischer Creek.

Summer when the university is not in session is the best time to hike the trail, as the nature area will offer more solitude. The trails are open for cross country skiing during winter.

Rock Pond
To reach the trailhead, from Interstate 35, exit onto North Lake Avenue in downtown Duluth, heading northwest. Turn right/northeast onto East Fourth Street, which also is County Road 9; at the Heritage Garden, follow County Road 9, as it splits due north and becomes Woodland Avenue. After passing the UMD campus, turn left/west onto West Marie Street. Turn right/north into the second road for Oakland Court then take the first left into a metered parking lot.

Head to the lot’s northeast side, picking up the trail that goes around the small rock Pond’s northeast side. Watch for turtles basking in the sun on half-submerged logs in the water, which sits at around 1160 feet elevation.

On the pond’s north side, the trail crosses a fork of Tischer Creek, which was named after Ursa Tischer, who in 1862 homesteaded the Duluth area. The creek dates to the end of the last ice age, when melting glaciers cut channels as flowing into icy Lake Superior.

The natural area is named for W.R. Bagley, the doctor who owned the property that was donated to UMD as a natural area in the 1960s. Many of the larger trees here are 70 to 80 years old. The pond and woodland is used for some coursework at UMD but primarily is recreational.

Once you’ve almost completed your loop around the pond, take the trail going right/west. This begins your climb up Rock Hill.

Rock Hill
At the next trail junction, go left/southwest. This is a steep section as the trail continues to the hill’s top. At one time, Rock Hill was used for downhill skiing.

The trail makes a tight loop about an open area at the hill’s summit, which peaks at 1271 feet; a viewing platform there offers a great vista of the campus and city below.

From that loop, take any of the connector trails heading west; each brings you to a segment of the Superior Hiking Trail that heads south and descends the hill through the thick woodland.

Don’t be surprised to see some critters, even though the area is in the middle of a metro area of more than 280,000 residents. Red fox, great blue heron, black crows and red-tailed hawk all reside or at least stop off in the natural area. Black bear even have been sighted here.

Upon reaching the trail junction at the hill’s bottom, take the first path going left/west. This trail gradually descends as approaching Rock Pond’s west side. Follow the loop around the pond back to the parking lot.


Read more about day hiking Northeast Minnesota in my Headin’ to the Cabin: Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.