Monday, June 1, 2015

Trail explores longest freshwater sandbar

Minnesota Point stretches from the Aerial Lift Bridge into Lake Superior.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Park Point trail
parallels shore
of Lake Superior

Sand dunes, a lighthouse ruin, and an old growth pine forest await day hikers on the Park Point Nature Trail in northern Minnesota.

The 4.4-miles round trip trail runs along the Minnesota portion of the world’s largest freshwater sandbar. At 10 miles in length, Minnesota and Wisconsin Points form a natural harbor that makes Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., major international ports.

To reach the trailhead from Interstate 35, in downtown Duluth take the Lake Avenue exit south. Follow the road over the Aerial Lift Bridge onto Minnesota Point. On the point, the road becomes Minnesota Avenue. After passing Park Point but before reaching Sky Harbor airport, park off the road. The trail begins where Minnesota Avenue ends.

For about 0.3 miles, the trail runs alongside a fence on the airport’s north side. Lake Superior stretches beyond the beach to the north and east, but the view soon gives way to an old growth pine pine forest.

The white and red pines soaring into the sky over the trail are typical of evergreens that grow along sandbars and peninsulas in coastal areas. They are protected as part of the Minnesota Point Pine Forest Scientific and Natural Area.

Pumping stations for the cities of Superior and Cloquet’s drinking water halve the pine forest at 0.9 miles from the trailhead.

Sand dunes
Upon leaving the pines, the fairly flat trail goes up and down a little over grassy sand dunes. A number of spurs lead to either side of the sandbar; to the south/west is the Wisconsin mainland and city of Superior while to the north/east is Lake Superior.

You also can head over the sand dunes, but walking in soft sand often is harder than one might think. In addition, you want to stay on the trail to avoid stepping on heather and lichens thatre common in what locals call “The Barrens.”

If looking to dip your feet into the water, try the south/west side of the bar. The harbor water generally is warmer than that of the vast freshwater lake.

The Point Zero Lighthouse ruins are on the south/west side of the trail at 1.6 miles in. Spur trails lead to the lighthouse, which was built in 1858. A little farther along the walk are the buoy depot ruins.

The Cove
At 2.2 miles, the trail reaches its end at the concrete walls for the Superior Entry. This is the channel in which ships leave or enter Lake Superior. Opposite the entry is the Wisconsin portion of the sandbar with a modern, orange-roofed and white-walled lighthouse on the breakwall.

The beach between the sentry and the Minnesota Point breakwall is a nice spot for a picnic. Known as The Cove, the water there is warmer than that elsewhere on the sandbar’s lakeside beaches. Driftwood also can be collected.

After taking in the view, retrace your steps back to the parking area.

Before hitting this trail, make sure everyone in your party can identify poison ivy. It does grow at various spots along the way but can be avoided by not bushwhacking.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.