Virtual NorthShore is right around the corner! Here are a few spots in Duluth, and beyond, that are good options to complete up to a marathon distance on skates, plus a few resources to help you find your own nearby race course. What makes a good course? Ample parking/easy access, smooth pavement, not too many hills, low traffic, not too many stops or turns. What makes a great course? Immaculate pavement, no vehicle traffic, no stops, minimal hills, and great scenery.
A few tips to keep in mind before setting off on your Virtual NorthShore skating race:
- It’s always smart to think about the worst case scenario. We require helmets at NorthShore Inline Marathon, so you should at a minimum wear a helmet while skating. We also have an extensive medical team at the race, and that luxury will not be available for Virtual NorthShore participants! Beef up your protection by wearing wrist, elbow and knee pads. Consider packing extra tools and a first aid kit, along with ample food and water.
- If you choose to skate on a road, check your local laws. In Minnesota, skaters have the same rights as cyclists, and are therefore bound to the same laws as a vehicle. Skaters have the right to utilize the full lane of traffic, and must skate WITH traffic (on the right side of the road). Skaters are not allowed to use sidewalks! It is always a best practice to stay as far to the right if you can, signal your turns, and always keep a sharp eye out for traffic. Use all your senses! Wearing headphones is not always a great idea and keeping an ear out for cross-traffic, vehicles, animals or anything else can literally save your life.
- Skate at your own risk. Stay within your comfort zone and ability level! Plan your course before heading out.
Courses Near Duluth
Willard Munger State Trail
The Munger Trail is the go-to training ground for Duluth skaters looking to get off the road and onto a great paved trail. The trail itself runs 70 miles from Hinckley, MN north to Duluth. In the entire 70 mile stretch, the quality of pavement varies quite a bit, but the final 6 miles into Duluth are about as good as you can get. Although, it’s a pretty steady downhill into Duluth for those six miles. So, if you are going out-and-back, expect to work quite a bit harder going southbound from Duluth
- Pavement Quality: 9/10 near Duluth, 6/10 outside of Duluth
- Vehicle Traffic: None
- Busy Factor: Medium/medium-high near Duluth and Jay Cooke State Park, 2/10 south of Jay Cooke State Park
- Where to Park: There is a public parking lot at the northern trail terminus in Duluth at 7013 Pulaski St, Duluth, MN 55807. There are also several parking areas along the trail starting at the southern terminus in Hickley, in Finlayson, Willow River, Moose Lake, Barnum, Mahtowa, and Carlton.
- Options for a Marathon Distance: To do a point-to-point marathon, start at the Mahtowa parking area and travel north towards Duluth. It’s just about a 26.2 mile skate to the Duluth parking lot. Otherwise, out and back from Duluth includes the smoothest sections of trail, but a steady elevation gain out of Duluth and steady elevation loss back into Duluth.
- More Information: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/willard_munger/index.html
Gitchi-Gami State Trail
The Gitchi-Gami State Trail is a scenic paved trail that generally parallels Highway 61 from Two Harbors to Grand Marais, MN, along many small communities on Lake Superior’s North Shore of Minnesota. This trail is not continuous, and has just a couple small sections complete, with the hopes of a full trail of 80+ miles in the future. The most scenic and longest section of paved trail is between Gooseberry Falls State Park and Beaver Bay, MN. This is a very beautiful pathway, with many views of Lake Superior, cascading rivers, and forests. This makes the area potentially busy with other cyclists, skaters, walkers and runners, especially on a nice day on a weekend. There are a few sections with fairly steep hills, which could be challenging for novice skaters.
- Pavement Quality: 7/10
- Vehicle Traffic: None
- Busy Factor: Medium, but potentially very busy on a weekend in good weather.
- Where to Park: Beaver River trail head parking lot in Beaver Bay, 100 Lax Lake Rd, Silver Bay, MN 55614. There are several parking areas in each segment of trail.
- Options for a Marathon Distance: The best section of trail to complete a 26.2 mile skate is between Gooseberry Falls State Park and Beaver Bay, MN. This is a nearly 15 mile segment of trail, the longest unbroken section of trail right now. That requires an out-and-back course to achieve 26.2 miles or more.
- More Information: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/gitchigami/index.html
Scenic Highway 61
The Scenic Highway 61 section of roadway between Two Harbors and Duluth is where the NorthShore Inline Marathon has taken place the last 25 years. This road is in generally excellent shape, has wide shoulders and fairly low traffic. However, this year there is a major construction project around race mile 13, at the French River bridge. This is impassable, and requires a long detour to the Highway 61 Expressway. The best options to skate are from Two Harbors south to French River, from Brighton Beach Park in Duluth north to French River, or from Brighton Beach to McQuade Road to Old North Shore Road and back.
Either way, keep in mind that Scenic Highway 61 will NOT be closed to traffic at any point, and all pedestrians, skaters, cyclists, etc… are responsible for their own safety. Skating with vehicle traffic is inherently dangerous and it is not wise to assume that motorists are paying attention at all times, or expecting skaters sharing the road with them.
- Pavement Quality: 8/10
- Vehicle Traffic: Minimal traffic, wide shoulders. More traffic on a Friday afternoon/evening, early Saturday, or later on a Sunday.
- Busy Factor: Low–there is plenty of room to pass other pedestrians
- Where to Park: Brighton Beach Park in Duluth, on Highway 61 near Two Harbors. There are plenty of wayside “rest stops” to park as well.
- Options for a Marathon Distance: The best place to complete 26.2 miles is to start near Two Harbors and skate south on Scenic Highway 61 to the French River construction site, turn around and skate back. The best pavement is north from Brighton Beach (around NSIM race mile 18), but you can travel only 6 miles before the French River construction. You would have to do several 180 degree turns to complete 26.2 miles, but this section would be perfect for a 10k or half marathon skate.
- More Information: N/A
Here are a few other courses! There are plenty of options across the USA, whether it be on a road or on a paved trail!
Paul Bunyan State Trail – North-Central Minnesota
Elm Creek Park Reserve – Northwest Twin Cities Metro Minnesota
Midtown Greenway – Minneapolis
Dakota Rail Trail – West Twin Cities Metro Minnesota
Roseville Oval – Roseville, MN
High Trestle Trail – Central Iowa
606 Bloomingdale Trail – Chicago
George M Bush Park – Buckingham, PA
Three Rivers Park District – Twin Cities Metro Minnesota
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Rails to Trails Conservancy