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Take in fall colors on these Carlton County hikes

The fall season is short and mighty. Make it a priority in the next week to hike one or all of these great local trails. Enjoy the colors, because they won’t last long.

A view of the St. Louis River from the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park. Molly Milroy / Special to the Pine Journal

The leaves are starting to change and what better way to soak in the glory of autumn than with a hike through the woods?

Here are three ideal local spots to put on your list this season. Head out with the family or take a solitary walk and savor the fall colors. No matter your experience level, there is something for everyone.

Pine Valley Recreation Area

Since it’s conveniently located in Cloquet, Pine Valley Recreation Area is a great spot to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors on a moment’s notice.

The cross-country ski trails double as hiking trails. Hike any of the three designated ski trails, choosing between 1.2-mile, 2.2-mile and 3.1-mile trails.

Photo gallery: Fall hikes in Carlton County Pine Valley Recreation Area in Cloquet, Moose Lake State Park and Jay Cooke State Park offer trails to soak in the splendor of fall.
Pine needles lay an exquisite path to walk along while being surrounded by tall cedars, pines and maples.


Cloquet resident Kelly Nelson said, “I like hiking in Pine Valley because it’s quiet, serene and there is a lot to look at. The trees are beautiful, the trails are always well kept. My dog loves the trails, too.”

The trails are wide enough to accommodate multiple people, which makes it easy for a family to walk together. The 1.2-mile trail is perfect for a quick 20-minute walk while out running errands.

Whichever trail you choose, keep your eyes out for the variety of mushrooms and be sure to look up at the canopy of trees.

The trails at Pine Valley Recreation Area are perfect for a family walk. Molly Milroy / For the Pine Journal

Moose Lake State Park

Moose Lake State Park is an excellent place for family hiking.

The park offers over 5 miles of hiking trails, all of which are relatively easy to walk and navigate. At the entrance of the park is the Agate & Geologic Center, which includes interpretive displays, a gift shop and exhibits showcasing Lake Superior agates. The center is open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and during the week intermittently. When the center is closed, trail maps are available outside.

With a variety of trails and lengths, this park has something for everyone.


Echo Lake Trail hugs the shoreline of its namesake, Echo Lake, in Moose Lake State Park. Molly Milroy / For the Pine Journal

Echo Lake Trail covers a total of 1.5 miles and hugs the shoreline of its namesake, Echo Lake, a picture-perfect spot to capture fall photographs. The best viewing spots for some quick snaps are at the boat launch, down by the beach, or towards the end of the trail loop. This well-maintained walking trail is easy to explore. Choose to walk as much or as little of the trail as you’d like.

There is a parking lot near the beach area that also includes paved walking paths which lead to picnic tables and primitive toilets. The beach area is a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch or snack, and a great spot for kids to run around and play.

The hidden gem of the park is Tall Pine Trail, 0.3-mile loop, which is short but worth it. Whether you’re looking for a brief hike in nature among tall pines or you need a place to have the kids run and burn off some energy, this hike is it. It’s a quiet loop that offers an uphill climb.

Joy Leick, a campground host at the park for seven years, said, “This one is my favorite. It kind of overlooks different areas and there are a lot of ferns up there. It’s really pretty up there, and it’s not a real hard walk.”

If you’re looking for a longer hike, stroll along Rolling Hills Trail, a 1.5-mile loop full of tall pine, or enjoy the 1.2-mile Wildlife Pond Trail. And if you’re really ambitious, hike them all.


Tall Pine Trail in Moose Lake State Park lives up to its name. Molly Milroy / For the Pine Journal

Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke State Park is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. With a variety of trails, the swinging bridge and the basalt rock along the St. Louis River, this park can’t be beat.

Duluth resident Chris Russ said, “The sights, smells, sounds won’t disappoint. Breathe it in. Whatever hike you choose will carry you not just to a destination but to a feeling in the moment.”

For a moderate level hike, take the Silver Creek Trail located just over the swinging bridge to the left. This 3.6-mile loop trail is fairly easy to navigate, and there are spots to stop along the way to take in the view of the river. After walking with the river on your left, the trail cuts you back into the forest. The wide trail is a great choice for group hiking, but the uphill climbs may make it a little difficult for younger children and older adults.

Silver Creek Trail in Jay Cooke State Park is a 3.6-mile loop trail. The wide trail is a great choice for group hiking, but uphill climbs may make it a little difficult for younger children and older adults. Molly Milroy / Special to the Pine Journal

For the more adventurous hiker, choose the Carlton Trail, a one-way out-and-back trail located to the right past the swinging bridge. This trail, a more difficult one, is quite rocky and much narrower than Silver Creek Trail, and hiking shoes or boots are advised. The further you walk, the more secluded it will feel, and with plenty of viewing spots of the river, it’s a perfect trail for a solitary walk.

Be sure to stop towards the end where there is a lovely overlook of the river. Choose to turn around and go back the way you came, or continue on for a longer and more adventurous hike. The Carlton Trail connects to the Munger State Trail, Thompson Trail and then the CCC Trail, which leads you back to the Jay Cooke Park entrance. Bring a map as these sections may be difficult to navigate.

Get Out There

The fall season is short and mighty. Make it a priority in the next week to hike one or all of these great local trails. Enjoy the colors, because they won’t last long.

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