Women's hiking groups in Duluth, Cloquet draw large numbers
About 125 women showed up for their first hike. “People were asking us what we were marching for,” said Sandi Larson of Women Hike Duluth. From this, Larson knew they were tapping into a need.
DULUTH — On a chilly Monday night, bundled hikers wearing headlamps set out on Park Point, illuminating the snow-covered beach as their silhouettes darkened against a sky melting periwinkle to indigo.
Snow and sand shifted under the weight of women and leashed dogs trudging in clusters toward a glowing Aerial Lift Bridge as more lights peppered the Duluth shoreline ahead.
About 30 women came out for the latest meetup of Women Hike Duluth , an online group launched by local outdoorswoman Sandi Larson in collaboration with Duluth Parks and Recreation .
Together, Larson and city recreation specialist Megan Lidd lead monthly guided hikes at various changing locations in Duluth as a way to promote low-barrier, accessible wellness and to encourage more women to get outdoors.
To support that, the city provides headlamps and snowshoes when needed, and the group’s free hikes are promoted on the city’s calendar.
Lidd directed the group of about 30 women at Park Point to the attractive ice formations with the warning not to climb them.
After sharing a bit about the location, Larson led the front of the pack, with her dog, Koda, while Lidd hiked at the rear to ensure everyone was accounted for.
Each month, 30-70 hikers trek the Duluth Traverse, Hawk Ridge and more. Larson and Lidd vary locations in the west, east and central parts of the city, and at the top and bottom of Thompson Hill, and they pride themselves on introducing lesser-known spots.
They adjust for trail closures and, during spring, they opt for more permeable or paved trails: Lakewalk, Waabizheshikana Trail or the DWP Trail.
Larson and Lidd aim to be out for an hour during the week and two hours during weekends. And on longer treks, they include an alternate, more rigorous route for those so inclined.
Exertion isn’t the goal, but meeting other women is, said Lidd, and so far, they’re successful. About 125 women showed up for their first hike in 2018.
“It was insane. People were asking us what we were marching for,” Larson recalled, and women were finishing the trail as others were starting.
From this, Larson said she knew they were tapping into a need. Women share different reasons for gravitating to the group: They feel physically and emotionally safe; they like exploring with someone who knows the area; they crave camaraderie; or they like the popular and obscure spots they visit.
Women Hike Duluth joins a Northland array of outdoorsy meetups and themed Duluth hikes featuring luminaries and glow sticks — as well as the statewide 23,000-plus-member Women Hike Minnesota .
But, as with the newer Cloquet Area Women's Hiking Group , the platform of gathering women breaks another barrier for some participants.
“It’s really a nice thing to not have to worry about testosterone and competition,” said Brenda Schrader, of Superior. She crosses the bridge each month to hike with the group, which she described as non-threatening and low-key, and you don’t have to be a “huge athlete” to join.
Standing in the Park Point lot last week, Lynette Carlson said the Northland is uniquely positioned for women's hiking groups.
Close proximity to greenspace means you can fit a short hike without having to travel far. “That’s not something that every city has … that makes a group like this possible,” Carlson added.
Outside of the group, Lidd and Larson are regular trail users.
Larson hikes daily, if not more frequently. It’s a therapeutic habit, and she’s glad Women Hike Duluth can play a part in empowering women to do this if they want to.
Wendy Larrivy’s confidence on the trails has seen a boost since she started coming.
She said she used to be scared of hiking, but now with a friend in tow and a trail app for guidance, she hikes every Sunday. “This group has given me the courage and self-confidence to be able to go explore,” she said.
'Therapeutic and rewarding'
South of Duluth, Adelle Crotteau launched the Cloquet Area Women's Hiking Group in 2021.
About once a month, she leads hikes at Jay Cooke, White Pine Trails, Cloquet Forestry Center, Ely’s Peak and surrounding areas. She sees up to eight ladies, from kid to retiree.
Crotteau leaned into the hobby on the Superior Hiking Trail. That spitballed into completing (even surpassing) the 52 Hike Challenge (52 hikes in 52 weeks) and joining the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s Hiking and Passport Club .
It’s “therapeutic and rewarding,” she said, but “solo hiking is not for me.”
Up to eight participants show up each month, and it’s been challenging to encourage people to join so far. Some feel they’ll slow the group down, but it’s not a race, said Crotteau.
She started the Cloquet Area Women's Hiking Group on Facebook at first to find other hiking buddies, but she’s happy to see it’s expanded into a way for others to meet new people. “Maybe they will realize how therapeutic it can be to be in the woods. Plus, safety in numbers,” she said.
About Women Hike Duluth
Women Hike Duluth Facebook group: tinyurl.com/2me4pune
More info from Duluth Parks and Recreation: tinyurl.com/2p94ekd6
- 2-4 p.m. March 19, Seven Bridges Road
- 6-7 p.m. April 18, Lakewalk
- 6-7 p.m. May 16, Chester Park