Monday, March 31, 2014

Willard Munger heads to pretty river bridge

Bike path/hiking trail runs 63 miles
from Duluth to Hinckley, Minn.

Day hikers can walk to a bridge over a scenic river on a segment of the Willard Munger State Trail in Barnum, Minn.

The Willard Munger ranks as among Northeast Minnesota’s premier recreational trails. The paved bike path stretches across three counties, running 63 miles from Duluth south to Hinckley. It’s the fifth longest paved trail in the United States.

This segment of the trail, located west of Barnum, goes 0.78-miles round trip. It’s best done in late spring through early autumn when temps are the most clement, though July and August can be hot and humid.

Former rail line
To reach the trailhead, from downtown Barnum, head west on County Road 6/Main Street. A paved lot is on the road’s south side. The trail runs north-south of the lot’s east side. Head north on the trail, and be careful when crossing County Road 6.

The trail heads through an outwash plains. The soil is sandy and loamy with stones.

Tracks for the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad used to sit on what is now the Willard Munger. The line originally was built as the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad and later became part of the Northern Pacific Railway.

The trail is named for a Minnesota state legislator who sponsored bills advancing environmental protection and trail development. Munger's earliest efforts, which date to 1954, make him among the first lawmakers to advocate outdoor recreation and preservation. He passed away in 1999, and his family runs an inn at the trail’s northern end.

Crossing the Moose Horn
About a third of a mile into the hike, the trail reaches the bridge over the Moose Horn River. The 36.4-mile-long tributary of the Kettle River rises as the outlet of Wild River Lake, about seven miles southwest of Cloquet. It meanders south, flowing into the Kettle southwest of Sturgeon Lake.

The bridge marks a good spot to turn around. Of course, the hike can be extended by continuing north, but the trail heads through a more built-up area for a couple of miles beyond the bridge. After that, the trail roughly parallels the Moose Horn River to Mahtowa, a six-mile trek one way from the Barnum parking lot.

As the trail is paved, it’s handicap accessible. However, because it’s wide for bicyclists, you will be exposed to the sun, so don sunscreen, wear a brimmed hat, and bring extra water on hot days.

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