Today’s endpoint is at the Leif Erickson Rose Garden, which is on the waterfront in downtown Duluth, only about a mile and a half from our friends’ house, so our shuttle times are getting a lot faster. I follow Matt down to the lakefront, park the car and hop in the passenger seat beside him. It’s a 15 minute drive back to Waseca Street where we will continue hiking along Kingsbury Creek where we stopped yesterday.
It’s another rainy start, and we are close enough to the cold waters of Lake Superior that the difference in air temperature is producing some atmospheric fog. Much to my dismay, I instantly have wet shoes again, which I know is going to wreak havoc on my feet.
This is our third day of hiking, and we are starting to move a little faster now. The views are socked in with the fog, and the trail is a little muddy and slippery, making sure that we keep our eyes on where we are going instead of looking for potential photos or birds. So far, we are making pretty good miles.
Despite the rain, there are a lot of locals out on the trails, walking their dogs, running with friends or even going trout fishing along Keene Creek. It’s a pretty walk along the water with all of the dark grey boulders and bright green fauna. The water is low now, but it must be quite impressive in the spring with all of the run-off from the winter snow. It would be nice to come back for a visit at that time of year.
As we leave Keene Creek behind, we climb up into Brewer Park, where there is a loop trail that the SHT forms half of. We follow our blue blazes in and out of the forest and onto rocky knobs with foggy views of Duluth off in the distance.
Back in the woods, we round a bend and spot a handsome male Yellow-bellied sapsucker low on the side of a tree right beside the trail. There’s a ton of loud chirping coming from right above us that we recognize as the call of hungry babies coming from a nest. We take a few steps up the trail and turn around and spot the hole about twenty feet up, in a maple tree.
Just then, papa flies in for a feeding. First he stops quickly at his storehouse on the other side of the trail. Then he flies over to the nest, sticking the upper half of his body into the hole to feed the hungry chicks. Unfortunately, they must still be too small to reach their heads out of the nest, so it’s a mystery as to how many chicks there are. Based on the sound volume, there must be quite a few!
A little further along, we come across a small flock of Cedar waxwings feeding on berries from a large bush. Most of the berries aren’t quite ripe yet, and the beautiful bird bandits lose interest pretty quickly. We are able to snap a few shots before they fly off.
Just before lunch, we find two chirping male Mourning warblers with a female flitting around nearby. Perhaps we are seeing some kind of territorial dispute between the males. This is one of the more rare and exciting warblers to spot during the spring migration in Chicago, so we figure that we are the winners in this scenario, seeing three of them in one small area.
We find a rocky bald around the corner with good sitting rocks that make for a perfect lunch spot. It’s sunny now, so we take off our shoes and strip out of our wet socks and lay them out with our rain gear in the bright light while we eat. Nothing dries all the way, but it’s a vast improvement from the morning. Matt has me tape a sore spot on the side of a his ankle before leaving.
From here, we continue downhill in the general direction of downtown Duluth. We pass through a neighborhood and cross Skyline Parkway several times, giving the trail a decidedly urban feel.
We arrive at Enger Park, one of Duluth’s many public parks and pause to admire the gigantic Ohara Japanese Peace Bell that is housed in a red Shinto-style temple. We take a quick break at one of the picnic tables surrounding the Japanese rock garden and take in the colorful peony blossoms that are in full bloom. It’s so very Zen, but the screaming of our aching feet detract a bit from the peacefulness of the scene.
From there, we slowly meander downhill toward the interstate. There is lots of graffiti and Black Lives Matter messages written on the wooden steps leading us into town.
Just before reaching the bottom, we walk right into a homeless camp that is hidden on the hillside just south of town. We double check our maps.me app and decide this must be the trail. There are a few tents in various states of disrepair and lots of household goods strewn all about.
We pass through quietly, seemingly unnoticed by anyone inside. We wonder how long this camp has been here. Perhaps it is Covid-related? We realize later that the trail must have turned the opposite direction to get down the hill. Sometimes it’s better to follow your natural instincts rather than an app!
We cross I-35 on a pedestrian overpass that we have driven under countless times before, never even guessing it was a part of the SHT and then follow a city path down to the lakefront.
We walk past the Great Lakes Aquarium and then along the water before crossing the bright blue Minnesota Slip Bridge just as it comes down after letting a boat pass through. We walk along the lakefront on the backside of Canal Park, and the pavement is hard on our tired, sore feet.
The Aerial Lift bridge guarding the entrance to Duluth’s shipping harbor rises to let a small boat through just before we pass underneath. We walk toward the lighthouse and around a noisy construction site before turning north again. We walk right past the backside of Fitger’s Brewhouse and fight the urge to take a spur trail to it for the pure fun of it, deciding it would be more prudent and enjoyable to finish the hike and pick up the shuttle car before indulging in our favorite Duluth beer.
It’s only half a mile from there to the Leif Erickson Rose Garden, but it seems to take forever to walk it at the end of this long day. It’s great to see how the Duluth locals enjoy their lakefront in a similar way to how we do in Chicago. Our lakefront in Chicago has been closed due to Covid-19, so it feels like an especially nice treat to be walking here. Here in Duluth, there are far fewer people making it a viable place to go for a walk, ride a bike or even practice Tai Chi as we see a small group of people doing.
We finally make it back to the car, and we both change out of our hiking shoes as fast as we possibly can, sitting at the back gate with our jaws hanging in sheer relief. Holy SHT!
We drive together back to pick up the other car at Waseca Street and then drive back to Fitger’s for another well-earned celebration dinner.
Day 3 Stats
Starting Point: Kingsbury Creek/Waseca Street Trailhead
Ending Point: Rose Garden Trailhead
Miles Hiked: 12.8 (+.2 bonus)
Miles to Canada: 256.9
Bird of the Day: 2 male Mourning Warblers with female