Why not try a STAYCATION?Bored in Carlton County? Well, if you like adventures and the outdoors, you shouldn’t be.
By: Luke Heine, Pine Journal
Bored in Carlton County? Well, if you like adventures and the outdoors, you shouldn’t be. The solution may be as easy as reading this article.
Jay Cooke and the surrounding bike trails
First, if you haven’t been to Jay Cooke, you really owe it to yourself. With miles of the Superior Hiking Trail — the longest hiking trail in Minnesota — winding through, Jay Cooke is an athlete’s, picnicker’s (more on that later) or backpacker’s dream.
While late spring presents the best time to run (think no long grass), later in the summer the park offers blueberries, and the rapids are always a sight.
The best access points to the myriad trails are Leimer Road, East Palkie Road, Kangas Road, Gary New Duluth, the Carlton bike trail parking lot (on Highway 45), and the Jay Cooke Visitor’s Center.
As for biking, within the town of Carlton, Jay Cooke offers convenient access to the Munger Trail, the longest paved bike trail in Minnesota which stretches from Duluth to Hinckley, on Third and North Avenue.
However, a lesser known trail, the Alex Laveau, also begins a mere block south on Third Street. An asphalt gem, the Laveau offers a tremendously scenic ride through Wrenshall’s green fields and forests and eventually merges with Highway 23, a National Scenic Byway, which passes by a scenic overlook in Jay Cooke, winds by Mont-du-Lac Ski Resort, and terminates along the St. Louis River of Gary New Duluth.
For a change of pace, County Road 4 offers an excellent ride and connects with the Munger before it reaches Mahtowa. Another cycling option, taking Third Street, to Webbeking Drive, to East Chub Lake Road presents the rider with the opportunity to jump in Chub Lake.
The variety of festivals and races
It seems that during the summer, every Carlton County weekend boasts a fantastic festival. Some to visit are the Agate Festival, Carlton Daze, the Fond-du-Lac Dam Daze, and Brickyard Days, not to mention the Carlton County Fair.
Additionally, the area features races and competitions of all types, from the canoe races at the Ojibwe language camp, to the Moose Lake Triathlon.
Like running? Consider the Moose Lake 10K, the Sawdust 5K, the Cloquet River Run, the Sorenson 5K (the writer is a three-year defending champ), the Brickyard Day’s 5K and the Carlton Daze 5K, among others — the choices abound.
Last but definitely not least, the 50-mile Voyageur Trail Race (this weekend) starts in Duluth, grinds through Jay Cooke, and terminates in Carlton; it’s a beast, the holy grail of local endurance races.
And, if you’re more into tournaments, try the Northland Frisbee Invite, area volleyball, softball and baseball leagues, The Hook and Slice snow golf tournament in Carlton, or the Memorial Day Wiffle Ball Tournament in Cloquet, along with many, many more.
Finke’s Berry Farm
Open only a select number of summer days, Finke’s Berry Farm — located on County Road 4 — offers pesticide-, fungicide-, and herbicide-free strawberries for the picking, with a gallon-sized ice-cream pail of fresh-plucked berries going for $10.
The picking itself offers a feast for the eyes. The green foliage brushed over the sandy loam, the deep red berries crested by a pale, tall blue sky, Finke’s Berry Farm offers not only the opportunity to pluck your own food straight from the stem, but also the enjoyment of savoring the surrounding beauty that is rural America, and that satisfaction is evident with every sampling of berry.
Why not a riverside picnic? A checkered gingham blanket, a crisp bottle of apple cider with some steel-cut cheese sandwiches, a slight breeze … picnics not only offer an intimate setting, but they also offer one that is more authentic.
Any chump can order-in food, but when you take the time to prepare it — bonus points to whoever takes out the propane burner for some quasi-Teppanyaki preparation — it really expresses a level of personal attention and rarified class. Michael Pollan, author of “Cooked,” once said cooking “situates us in the world in a very special place, facing the natural world on one side and the social world on the other. The cook stands squarely between nature and culture, conducting a process of translation and negotiation.”
Sharing that cuisine with others in a natural environment completes the dining experience.
Located off of Highway 23, the Wrenshall or Veterans Scenic Outlook also doubles as a semi-whispering gallery.
First, know there are two overlooks. The one located directly off the road offers an impressive vista, and if one stands in the direct center of the overlook and speaks, the walls of the memorial distort the sound to a muffled level. Additionally, jetting off from the first overlook, a paved asphalt trail leads to second, smaller overlook located deeper from the road.
Smaller and damaged by the flood, the second overlook offers a more quieted view of the park. While badly damaged by the flood, the overlook still maintains some whispering gallery qualities. Either overlook is worth the trip, especially when coupled with the Wabegon Bar and Supper Club’s Thursday ribs. The Wabegon is located at the bottom of a mile-long hill.
Silverbrook Corn Maze
Think you’re too old for a corn maze? Think again. On a crisp autumn night, head out to the Silverbrook Corn Maze, located on Matten Road in Wrenshall. Bring some flashlights, rope in some friends, tell some urban legends before, and make it a star-speckled evening. Personally, while I prefer playing flashlight tag within the corn-wrapped corridors — it sounds juvenile, yes, but you’ll see — it’s a great time for everyone, especially when washed down with some hot apple cider.
Some call the wooded park southeast of the hockey shelters Cloquet’s best kept secret. Pine Valley is a great place to hike, look for Bigfoot or hold a Nerf war in the warmer months. In the winter, visit the extensively groomed trails for some skate and classic skiing. Boasting 5K, 2.5K, and 3K loops, the park requires no ski pass, and offers exhilarating drops and climbs. For those post-work skiers out there, parts of the park are lighted at night (the 2.5K trail). And, for the youngsters in the family, the park offers tubing and a grassroots built snowboarding rail park, open most weekends and during the week on school breaks. The park is also home to two ski jumps, utilized by the Cloquet Ski Club, which offers coaching in both jumping and Nordic skiing for kids ages 4-14 once the snow flies.
These are writer Luke Heine's top "staycation" options in Carlton County. We'd love to know what you think should be added to the list. Email your suggestions (and photos if you've got them) to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Staycation" int he subject line.