Mission Creek Trail
Even the avid hiker will find the Mission Creek Nature Trail to be one of the most challenging hikes in the city trails network. Steep and muddy in sections this 4.5 mile hike will take a good four hours and good footwear is a must.
Mission Creek is located at the far western end of the city in the Fond du Lac neighborhood. Take Grand Ave (Highway 23) to 131st Ave West. Turn right past Fond du Lac Park and follow the street until it ends in an open field. You may park here or continue on and park where the road meets the creek. The trail is in one of the oldest historic areas of Duluth and uses some old highway and railroad grades which would otherwise be completely abandoned. It also passes through a great cross section of geological and botanical examples of the northern forest region.
By the 1880's a Brownstone quarry had been opened near where the DNR dam is today. Owned by C.A. Krause this "Fond du Lac Sandstone" was hauled out by rail and shipped as far away as New York City to build Victorian townhouses on 5th Avenue. Many local buildings also used this fine building stone and still stand as testimony to its durability.
In 1925 the City of Duluth acquired the first parcel of land for the Fond du Lac Park and the second parcel which completed the park was added in 1934.
Also during the 30's the WPA constructed a road to connect Grand Avenue to Skyline Parkway just above the present Becks Road. It followed Mission Creek part of the way and the hiking trail still follows the remnants of it. Another WPA project was a tree nursery which grew a great many of Duluth's beautiful boulevard trees. Until 1969 when the business was sold a wide variety of trees and shrubs were grown there.
Always popular as a recreation site the park was host to many a skating and sleighing party. The Fond du Lac Ski Hill opened in 1941 and was the scene of lots of ski jumping contests and other winter activities. After the spring floods in 1972 the ski jump was removed and the erosion damage to the hill was filled, reseeded and planted to prevent further erosion.
Jumping forward in time to only about 1 million years ago, the Pleistocene Age, massive glaciers descended and covered the area in hundreds of feet of ice. This and the following three continental glaciations acted like huge earth movers and transported tons of "rock flour", sand and boulders of all sizes into the area. This glacial "till" contained rock which can be traced to origins far to our northeast on the Canadian Shield.
When the Pleistocene glaciers melted this till formed a huge dam which blocked outflow of water from the eastern end of the preglacial basin thus forming Glacial Lake Duluth who's only outlet was across the Brule-St. Croix Divide to our southeast. The water level in Lake Duluth was 500 feet higher than the level of Lake Superior. The shores of the lake lay where Skyline Drive runs today, high above the present waterfront.
Red and grey clays were washed into the lake bed for several hundred years and formed the clay deposits we are familiar with here and along the south shore of modern Lake Superior. When the last glacier finally retreated it opened outlets at the far eastern end of the lake which gradually drained to its present level.
was able to cut its bed through glacial till rather than through the shallow
soils and rocky terrain which characterize other north shore streams.
Much of its course gradually descends broader and more open slopes to
end in the St. Louis River. Cutting through this soil layer the creek
exposes not only the more recent sandstone layer but also the older Thompson
level as well giving hikers the opportunity to examine a long stretch
of Duluth's geological history.
Two areas of climax forest, spruce/fir and further up the hill northern hardwoods including oak, maple, basswood and elm, display the whole spectrum of local trees. Climax forests arise because these species are shade tolerant when young but spread broad shady canopies when grown which prevent the rise of under brush and provide the open forest floor characteristic of this stage in forest development.
forest area is primary or Pioneer Forest. Consisting of Poplar, White
and Yellow Birch and smaller woody under story this type of forest replaces
Climax Forests when they are burned, logged or decimated by some other
means. These species need open sun to flourish but are short lived and
will give way to the shade tolerant seedlings of the hardwoods.
The trail starts up through the Climax Forest of Balsam Fir and White Spruce. Be prepared for wet and slippery spots caused by water seeping out around the tree roots.
B. As the trail climbs higher the forest changes from evergreen to deciduous hard woods and flattens out to the old logging road which connects with the Willard Munger multiple use trail.
C. This state trail uses the old Burlington Northern Railway grade and is gradually being linked to other trails and will extend all the way to St. Paul when finished. It is used heavily all year and you should be watchful for bicycles and horses sharing the trail with you.
D. Mission Creek Trail takes a left after crossing the old trestle and the view to the northeast is dominated by Ely Peak. This is an outlier of the hard volcanic Gabbro which was left in place when the glaciers went through. It is older and harder than the Fond du Lac Sandstone which surrounded it. There is a side trail, not included in Mission Creek Trail which will take you there.
E. & F. The trail winds through the Pioneer soft wood forest and follows the old Seven Bridges Road crossing and re-crossing the creek. Lower down in this section are some old growth White Pines and White Spruce which may be some of the largest in the Duluth area.
G. West of the creek the trail changes it's route due to some repeated washouts. Hike uphill toward Highway 23 and left parallel to the road for about 3/4 mile then left again and down a runoff gully to the bottom of the old ski jump. Cross to the east side of the creek and follow the old roadway back to the trailhead.