A hometown newspaper with a local office, local owners & lots of local news

Summer fun

A guide to Carlton County

Pine Knot News staff report

Whether you’re looking for a way to while away an afternoon or plan an entire week’s worth of activities — staycation style — there’s plenty to do in Carlton County. Now that summer has taken hold, it’s the perfect time to explore everything the area has to offer, from hiking in Jay Cooke State Park and whitewater rafting down the St. Louis River, swimming at The Beach or perfect rainy day attractions like our local museums.

Established in 1857 and home to more than 35,000 citizens, Carlton County encompasses Cloquet, Esko, Carlton, Moose Lake, Wrenshall, Barnum, Mahtowa, Kettle River and Cromwell. Within these towns lie outdoor wonders, family-owned businesses, historical buildings and monuments and excursions fit to fill a summer’s day.



The neighboring cities of Cloquet and Scanlon offer a wide range of summertime activities. There’s fun in the water and mountain biking for more-active folks, along with mini golf, and a local history museum in Cloquet’s former library for those who would rather not break a sweat. Downtown Cloquet offers shopping, parks and the historical museum. Pinehurst Park has long been a gem in the heart of the city with summertime swimming and outdoor sports, while Pine Valley Park gives people a forest to explore in the middle of town. Spafford Park provides access to the St. Louis River and camping, while Veterans Park honors area veterans and serves as a large community gathering space for events such as the Fourth of July, Cloquet’s biggest summer celebration.

Up the hill on North Highway 33, there’s mini golf, and a small dog park at Gordy’s Hi-Hat, Cloquet’s most famous restaurant, a must-visit for many out-of-town guests or tourists passing through. The Northeastern Hotel & Saloon on Dunlap Island offers visitors an historic location to enjoy a beverage or spend the night. It is definitely Cloquet’s oldest watering hole, a rare structure that survived the Fires of 1918.

Around the river bend in Scanlon, there’s more river access, with fishing, boating and whitewater rafting trips down the St. Louis River.

Here’s a little more information for those pondering a day out in the Cloquet/Scanlon area.

Cloquet riverside

No longer a site where unsupervised children can skip across log jams, the cleaned-up St. Louis River remains a significant part of both industry and recreation for the area. Those looking to get outside will find opportunities for fishing, canoeing and kayaking, in addition to the campgrounds and walking and/or ATV trails that run across and parallel to the river.

There are multiple entry points to the river, with the main boat landing in Cloquet in Spafford Park, home to a public campground and the Voyageur statue. Boating, canoeing, and kayaking down the various stretches of flat water and Class I and II rapids are a few ways to cool down during the summer.

Around the river are walking and hiking and ATV trails connected by a walking bridge that crosses from Spafford Park to the trails below the Cloquet Chamber of Commerce building.

East of Spafford Park, on the other side of Highway 33 (connected by a walking trail and a driveway under the bridge) is the new and improved Dunlap Island Park, which features an elaborate destination playground for younger children, a picnic shelter and tables, public restrooms, paved walking trails and a view of the St. Louis River as it rolls by.

The river is also a fun place to fish. Catfish, trout, and bass are the most common catches, and the dock and benches alongside both river banks are great places to cast bait.

Mini golf

Up the hill from the river is Kendahl Miniature Golf, at 812 Sunnyside Drive. Putt your way through a lighthouse, a waterwheel, a large castle, a steamboat and more than 18 unique holes. The mini golf course is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, weather permitting. Admission is $7 for adults, and $6 for children age 12 and under.

Pinehurst Park

The Beach at Pinehurst Park (601 Pinehurst Park Dr.) is a popular family destination and one of only a handful of swimming ponds in the state, featuring a sand-bottom pool with chlorinated water and lifeguards. The beach is open June 10 to Aug. 10, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 12-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting. The sandy bottom gives it a lakelike feel, and the swim lanes and lifeguards make it safe for children. Additionally, the beach has changing rooms, two slides, a sand volleyball court, picnic areas, shade umbrellas with chairs, and concessions.

Daily admission is $5 per person and a family pass is $109.

Two playgrounds are located outside of the beach, just a short walk up from the entrance. Tennis and basketball courts, in front of the beach entrance, are lit after dark. The adjacent softball field is home to several leagues and open for pickup games.

Pine Valley Park

While the ski jumps are the most distinctive feature of Cloquet’s Pine Valley, the city’s woodland park features 5.5 kilometers of unpaved trails for walking, trail running and Nordic skiing. There is no charge for use of the park, and the chalet there is available for party rentals through Community Ed. Dogs are welcome, and should be leashed.

In addition to the hiking trails, Pine Valley also boasts 5 miles of relatively new mountain biking trails. Beginner-level bike trails are in the front of the park; intermediate- and advanced-level trails are deeper into the valley. No ATVs or electric bikes are allowed in the park. All trails are groomed for fat biking in the winter. Follow the signs from Armory Road next to Super One or search for 1554-1560 White Pine Trail online.

Cloquet skatepark

Located on the corner of 14th Street and Prospect Avenue, the skate park in Athletic Park is open from 8 a.m. till dusk, Sunday through Saturday. Skateboards, inline skates, scooters, and BMX bikes are allowed. The skate park features an open bowl, handrail, bank, stairs, flat rail, and more. The skate park is open to all ages, at no charge.

Carlton County Historical Society

The CCHS museum, located at 406 Carlton Ave., includes the “Barns of Carlton County,” “The Great 1918 Fire,” and “Trains and the 1918 Fire’’ permanent exhibits along with special short-term exhibits. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. Stop in to learn about or research Carlton County’s history.

History walk

Catch up on your Cloquet history as you walk from one historic sign to another. Start at Fauley Park and the train, then walk down Broadway to USG, then 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. There is also a historic sign outside the CCHS museum and new interpretive signs coming to the riverside in July 2024, which will feature the area’s indigenous history.

Stop in at the Northeastern Hotel & Saloon on Dunlap Island for a drink and more history, as the building is one of the city’s oldest, one of the few to survive the 1918 Fires.

Whitewater rafting

Paddling down the St. Louis river is one way to experience the flowing rapids and green scenery. No prior experience is needed; all rafters must be physically able to paddle. Minnesota Whitewater Rafting and Swiftwater Adventures are the two rafting companies in the area; both launch from near the River Inn Bar and Grill in Scanlon at 3214 River Gate Avenue. Check out their websites (swiftwatermn.com or minnesotawhitewater.com) to book a trip.

Ropes course

High Ropes Minnesota, sister company to Swiftwater Adventures, offers a high ropes course at 3200 River Gate Ave. in Scanlon. The aerial challenge course features 12 elements throughout two levels, including the Burma and Indian Jones bridges, and swinging vines. Call 218-451-3218 or visit highropesmn.com to find out more.

Esko history

Just a couple of miles down Highway 61 from Scanlon sits the Esko Historical Museum, open 2-5 p.m. Sundays in the summer or by appointment. Museum entry is free. There are eight buildings to visit in exploring the origins of rural northern Minnesota, including the 1897 one-room schoolhouse filled with historic documents and artifacts, a mill, log farmhouse and smoke sauna. To make an appointment to visit, call 218-879-9450.

Hungry? Thirsty? While you’re in the area, stop for a bite at unique local restaurants including Carmen’s, Gordy’s Hi-Hat, Gordy’s Warming House, Pedro’s Grill and Cantina, Family Tradition, Panda Buffet, Perkins, Heather’s Cafe, Bearaboo Coffee Escape, Holy Smokes BBQ and Coffeehouse and Sammy’s Pizza in Cloquet. In Scanlon, take your choice of Hank’s Sports Bar & Grill, the River Inn Bar & Grill or the Rendezvous Sports Bar & Grill.


Carlton is a small town with a lot to offer, especially for those who love the outdoors. In Carlton, there is access to the Willard Munger Trail, which is great for hiking, biking, inline skating and roller skiing. Jay Cooke State Park offers spectacular views of the St. Louis River and a wide variety of outdoor activities along with educational opportunities facilitated by park staff. Chub Lake is a local swimming and fishing spot located not far from Carlton and Wrenshall. There are also many locally owned restaurants to enjoy.

Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke State Park is located off Highway 210 about 10 minutes away from downtown Carlton. It is home to the famous swinging bridge which hangs over the St. Louis River. There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails, with many attractions along the way, as well as biking trails, and cross country skiing. Free loaner equipment includes GPS units for geocaching, birding kits (binoculars, guide books and lists), fishing kits (rod, reel and stocked tackle box), and Kids Discovery Kits featuring activities, stories and tips for a fun visit. There are several camping opportunities at the park, including a group camp, backpack sites and more than 80 drive-in sites. Camper cabins hold up to six people, or up to five people in accessible cabins; electricity and heat are available year-round. Vehicle day or season pass required.

Munger Trail

Carlton offers many hiking and biking trails, and the most popular is the Willard Munger Trail, a paved bike trail that runs from Hinckley to Duluth. Most locals enter the trail from the parking lot adjacent to the Little Caboose Playground, off Highway 45 near the railroad tracks in Carlton. Next to the playground, there is a pavilion, an ideal spot for taking a break from hiking or biking and having a picnic. There are maps of the trail near the pavilion, and a bike self-repair station on the corner of Third Street and North Avenue near the Streetcar Kitchen & Pub. Or check out Carlton Bike Rental and Repair in downtown Carlton.

The Munger Trail is also a popular walking, running, inline skating, longboarding and rollerskiing destination.

Chub Lake

Chub Lake Park is located just outside of Carlton. Chub Lake features a public beach, perfect for relaxing and swimming. There’s a handicapped-accessible dock offering fishing opportunities, and a boat launch for public use. A pavilion makes it easy to host a picnic by the lake. There is a small sand volleyball court, baseball and softball fields, and a lot of wide-open space for summer fun.

Disc golf

Disc golf, aka frolfing, is a sport basically combining Frisbee with golf, using specialized discs. Carlton County disc golf courses include the Carlton Disc Golf Sanctuary by South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton, a course on Pioneer Drive behind Wrenshall School in Wrenshall, and Hilltop Park in Cloquet. All of the courses are free to use. Discs are sold in most area sporting goods stores and at Carlton Bike Rental & Repair.

Hungry? Thirsty?

Visit the local restaurants and cafes including the Streetcar Kitchen & Pub, Third Base Bar & Grill, Magnolia Café and The Loon’s Nest Coffee Shop in Carlton, plus the Brickyard Restaurant and Bricks Pub & Grub in Wrenshall. Black Bear Casino Resort offers three restaurants plus gaming and entertainment. Or take a drive down old Highway 61 toward Mahtowa and grab a bite to eat at the Elmwood Inn. Want to spend the night somewhere unique with a fascinating history? Check out the Oldenburg House Bed & Breakfast.



Moose Lake offers history, geology and plenty of small-town charm with its swimming beach and fishing piers. Known as the Agate Capital of the World, the small southern Carlton County city is home to the world’s largest agate, weighing in at 108 pounds. Explore the local state park and history museum. The Willard Munger Trail runs through Moose Lake for easy access to biking and hiking trails. The Soo Line ATV trails also run through Moose Lake.

Moose Lake State Park

Moose Lake State Park is a beautiful place to hike and enjoy fishing, swimming and more. There are 5 miles of hiking trails, and boats, canoes and kayaks can be rented 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Or head inside to the Moose Lake Agate and Geological Center to learn more about Minnesota’s state gemstone, the Lake Superior Agate and Minnesota’s other rocks, minerals, and geology.

Moose Lake Depot & 1918 Fire Museum

The fires of October 1918 were the largest natural disaster in Minnesota history. The series of fires burned 250,000 acres, destroyed 38 towns, took 453 lives, and 52,000 people were either injured or displaced. The adjacent Historical Society has numerous displays related to the 1918 fire, which are changed on a regular basis. The museum also features exhibits such as a 1920s-era kitchen, history of local area railroads, and much more. At Riverside Cemetery, located off of Highway 61 just a short drive from the museum, is a monument dedicated to those who were lost in the fire.


Carlton County Fairgrounds

Barnum is home to the Carlton County Fairgrounds. The fair is scheduled for Aug. 15-18 this year, and Barnum residents make full use of the race track and facilities there for their Barnum Spring Fever Days the second weekend in June. Find out more at carltoncountyfairmn.com.

Rugged Spruce, Mahtowa

It’s a golf course, but the food and music are just as important at the Rugged Spruce. Find live bands most Wednesdays 6:30-8:30 p.m. and Saturdays 7-9 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. To find out who’s playing when, call 218-389-9754 or visit http://www.golfruggedspruce.com.

TJ’s Country Corner, Mahtowa

Is it a grocery store? An event center? The heart of Mahtowa? It’s all of the above. Search for TJ’s Country Corner on Facebook to find out the latest.

Hungry? Thirsty?

Visit the nearby local restaurants and cafés including Lazy Moose Grill, El Alce Mexican Restaurant, Poor Gary’s Pizza & Grill, Joe Jitters Coffee House, Moose Lake Brewing Co. and Route 61 Lounge and Bowling in Moose Lake. Enjoy the Lazy Bear Grill or the Chickadee Coffeehouse & Deli in Barnum, plus the Park Lake Grill & Saloon, Mahtowa Tavern and Rugged Spruce Golf Club in Mahtowa.

It’s a golf course, but the food and music are just as important at the Rugged Spruce. Find live bands most Wednesdays 6:30-8:30 p.m. and Saturdays 7-9 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. To find out who’s playing when, call 218-389-9754 or visit http://www.golfruggedspruce.com.