Break free of pandemic grip with some local fun outdoors
July 17, 2020
The summer of COVID-19. In northern Minnesota, pandemic responses have canceled most local festivals (but not Wrong Days in Wright, and only part of Carlton Daze) and many of the sports leagues that occupy so much time in the summer. Concerts? Largely on hold for now, even outdoors. County fairs are mostly on hiatus as well.
But they can't cancel the great outdoors, and that is where many people have fled in the wake of coronavirus.
We've seen them walking around town, or taking up different forms of cycling so much that bicycles are now in short supply. High school students are fishing again, in larger numbers. Campgrounds are booming. Swimming in Minnesota's thousands of lakes - including the big one only 20-40 minutes away - is also a desirable form of recreation.
In short, northern Minnesota in the summer is a decent place to hunker down during a pandemic and a person really doesn't even need expensive gear to enjoy it.
Go on, get out and have some fun.
Take a bike ride
Carlton County is home to some pretty special bike trails, including paved trails for regular-bike riders and mountain bike trails for those who prefer a more challenging ride. The 70-mile-long Willard Munger Trail runs through Carlton County on its way from Hinckley to Duluth, along with other trails such as the Alex Laveau Memorial Trail and the partially paved Saint Louis River bike path.
For those who prefer more adrenaline with their biking, Cloquet's Pine Valley Park now boasts 3.5 miles of mountain bike trails to go with its 5.5K trail system for hiking and running. The newest mile of the Pine Valley bike trails includes expert level features. Less experienced bikers can choose to bike around those features.
Additionally, the Jay Cooke State Park trail map includes not only hiking, but about 5 miles of fat-tire biking trails accessible just off the Munger Trail: https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/state_parks/spk00187_summer.pdf.
Only a short drive away, Duluth offers mountain bike trails galore, too many to mention. Check out https://www.coggs.com for more information or just Google Duluth bike trails.
Want to rent a bike (or a group of bikes) for a day or just get your old one up and running again? Visit Carlton Bike Rental and Repair, where they're offering free rentals to Carlton County residents every Sunday.
Walk or hike or run
Neighborhood walks are wonderful for young and old and help build both fitness and community. Consider wandering around the West End of Cloquet, where you can catch up on your history as you walk from historic sign to sign. Start at Fauley Park and the train, then walk down Broadway to USG, on to the Voyageur statue and city campground or under Highway 33 to the playground at Dunlap Island park before heading back via the old City Hall building at Arch Street and Avenue B. Esko has a fabulous multipurpose trail, so does Moose Lake.
Want something a little more woodsy? There are numerous paved and forest trails all over Carlton County for walkers, hikers and runners. While there are too many to list here, check out Pine Valley, Spring Valley and the Cloquet Forestry Center trails in Cloquet. Jay Cooke State Park has a large trail system suitable for all levels from a casual stroll to a challenging hike.
Fancy a really long hike? The single track Superior Hiking Trail starts in Carlton and goes all the way to the Canadian border.
The honeyberry season is mostly over, but strawberries are still available for picking at Spectrum Farms near Cloquet. Meanwhile, raspberries are ripening fast, with blueberries not far behind. Check out CarltonCountyFruit.org to find out more. Because of COVID-19 pandemic precautions, pickers are encouraged to call ahead or get information from social media on protocols for picking. Some farms are taking pickers by appointment only. Wild blueberries and raspberries also grow in northern Minnesota.
Fly a kite
Veterans Park in Cloquet is a great place to fly a kite, and it's not very busy down there this summer since all the big events were canceled. Dig those old kites out of the garage or wherever you stashed them, and let's go fly a kite.
Make a bird feeder
Take an empty toilet paper roll, spread peanut butter on the outside and roll it in birdseed. Then hang it outside and sit back and watch how many different species of birds come visit.
Catch a fish
Whether you've got a boat and an array of fishing rods, or a strong stick, some fishing wire and a hook, fishing is an option. Minnesota residents can fish for free without a license in most state parks, and kids 15 and younger don't need to purchase a license.
Frolic in the water
Yes, we miss The Beach at Pinehurst this summer of COVID, but this is the land of 10,000 lakes and it's summertime, so what are you waiting for? Park Point Beach is open (but watch out for riptide warnings), and so are dozens of other area lakes and swimming holes. It's always a good idea to wear a floatation device, particularly for younger swimmers but it can benefit all ages. Or just run through the sprinkler at home; regardless of your age, it's a thrill.
Want to be at your strongest when you swim in the lake? Sign up for swim lessons through Cloquet Community Ed so you can feel safer in the water and impress friends and family with your prowess.
Tennis and pickleball are both sports that naturally involve social distancing, especially when played one on one. Cloquet has public tennis courts at Pinehurst Park and Churchill Elementary School. Churchill is also striped for pickleball. Never tried the fastest-growing racquet sport in the country? Cloquet Community Ed has pickleball racquets and balls available to borrow; all they ask is that the borrower leave an ID to ensure the equipment is returned.
Try disc golf
Speaking of equipment available to borrow, Cloquet Community Ed also has two sets of beginner disc golf sets that local residents can check out. Disc golf, aka frolfing, is a sport basically combining Frisbee with golf, using specialized discs. Carlton County has disc golf courses by South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton, Wrenshall school, the woods near Hilltop Park in Cloquet. All of the courses are free to play on. Discs are sold in most area sporting goods stores and at the Carlton bike shop.
Play mini golf
Make your own backyard course or bring the family to Kendahl Miniature Golf in Cloquet. Kendahl's is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, weather permitting, at 812 Sunnyside Drive/Highway 33. Putt your way through a lighthouse, a water wheel, a large castle, a steamboat, and more in 18 unique holes. There are a few restrictions and expectations for players due to the coronavirus pandemic virus, but not too much that changes the golfing experience. Social distancing is strongly recommended but isn't a difficulty on the pretty course layout. Clubs and balls are sterilized after each round. The price for 18 holes is $6 for adults and $5 for ages 12 and under.
Most public and private campgrounds in Minnesota are open for business now, with the exception of those in national parks and forests. It's best to call ahead to make sure things are open and spots are available.
State parks offer more than 5,000 campsites or a variety of cabins, guesthouses and other lodging. Carlton County boasts two state parks, Jay Cooke near Carlton and the Moose Lake State Park. While most ranger stations are closed due to the pandemic, camping is still a great way to get away for a weekend or longer. However, due to the boom in camping this summer, know that many state parks are already full.
State forest campsites are still first-come, first-served, and the last hope of the spontaneous camper. State forests provide more than 2,000 miles of forest roads and thousands of logging trails, including 46 campgrounds with 1,000 campsites across the state. Of course, they also lack flush toilets and showers, so keep that in mind.
For those not prepared to rough it a little bit, setting up a tent in the backyard is also good fun and maybe a good first step for those with younger children.
Step outside and look up. Granted, some places (away from light pollution) are better for stargazing than others, but most of Carlton County offers a glimpse of the stars and planets on a clear night, and sometimes (like now) even a comet. Check out the Astro Bob blog at areavoices.com for local insights on celestial happenings, or just enjoy the view.