Monday, May 12, 2014

Enjoy classic Minnesota Northwoods setting on Babbitt trail

The Stony Spur Trail in Babbitt, Minn., is north of
Duluth and northeast of Virginia.

Stony Spur Trail segment
passes Dunka River, ponds

Families can day hike alongside a river in a classic Minnesota Northwoods setting on a section of the Stony Spur Trail.

The trail runs 23 miles from Babbitt to just south of Bear Island State Forest, but segments of it can be done as short hikes. A 2.2-mile round trip section near the Dunka River southeast of Babbitt is perfect for such a hike.

Evergreen-birch woods
April through late October marks the best time to walk the trail, which runs across sandy ground. The trail is flat and wide, though it may contain a few muddy spots after a hard rain.

To reach the trail, from Babbitt take Scott Road/County Highway 623 east of town. After Matilla Road, County Road 623 becomes Forest Route 112. A little more than a mile southeast of the Matilla junction and just west of the next road heading north, pull off to the north side of Scott Road. Park between the trail and the Dunka River.

The trail is the dirt path paralleling Scott Road; head southeast. Be careful crossing the dirt road as it’s very near the intersection.

For about 500 feet, the trail runs alongside Scott Road and the river, then it veers away from both into an evergreen and birch woods. The trail passes through wetlands and between five unnamed, intermittent ponds over the next 0.9 miles.

Land of 10,000 Lakes
That five ponds are so close together is common this far north, where 10,000 years ago glaciers left behind chunks of ice whose weight depressed the land and then filled the basins with meltwater. Because of this ice age action, Minnesota is known as The Land of 10,000 Lakes.

To be a lake in Minnesota, the waterbody must be at least 10 acres in size and remain year around. Officially, Minnesota has 11,842 lakes.

A mile from your start, the trail and Dunka River remeet. A small waterway, several of its branches south of the trail in the Superior National Forest merge into one before reaching Birch Lake’s Dunka Bay which is north of the trail.

About 0.1 miles later, the trail reaches Scott Road/Forest Road 112. This marks a good spot to turn around.

The trail is maintained by the City of Babbitt and the Babbitt ATV/Snowmobile Club, so of-road vehicles use it as well during hiking season. Allow ATVs to pass by stepping to the trail’s edge. In addition, as you’re heading through wetlands, be sure to bring insect repellent, especially during spring and summer.

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