The Willard Munger State Trail is a collection of multiple use trails between Hinckley and Duluth. It consists of interconnecting trails offering hiking, bicycling, in-line skating and snowmobiling. It highlights the picturesque scenery and rich history of East Central Minnesota. The trail follows the route of the railroad that saved many lives in the historic Hinckley and Cloquet fires in the nineteenth century.

There are three different trail segments in the Willard Munger State Trail: Hinckley - Duluth segment, Alex Laveau Memorial Trail and Boundary segment.

The 63 mile Hinckley - Duluth segment of the Willard Munger State Trail is now completely paved, making this the longest paved trail in the world. The trail extends between Hinckley, Willow River, Moose Lake, Barnum, Carlton, and Duluth. The trail passes near Banning State Park, through Finlayson, Willow River and General C.C. Andrews State Forest, and through the spectacular scenery of Jay Cooke State Park. The northeast portion of the trail provides scenic views of the St. Louis River and the twin ports of Duluth and Superior.
The Alex Laveau Memorial Trail honors the memory of a former county commissioner and dairy farmer who was a strong advocate of the idea of reusing abandoned railways as public trails. This trail allows users to ride from Gary-New Duluth 16 miles through Wrenshall into Carlton. Six new miles of off-road paved trail from Carlton to Highway 23 are open. The remaining miles are a combination of bike routes on paved highway shoulders.

The Boundary segment is a 80 mile natural surface trai l used primarily for snowmobiling, horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. This trail passes through remote forests linking St. Croix State Park with the Chengwatana, St. Croix and Nemadji State Forests. Some areas may be impassable in summer.

Many nearby DNR recreational areas
Banning State Park , Moose Lake State Park , Jay Cooke State Park , St. Croix State Park , St. Louis River Water Trail , Chengwatana State Forest , St. Croix State Forest , Nemadji State Forest , General C.C. Andrews State Forest , Hemlock Ravine S.N.A.

Willard Munger State Trail Location:
Between Hinckley and the southwest end of Duluth Distance: 69 paved miles

In 1894, a raging fire swept through Hinckley, and a train carried the townspeople to safety, following the route that is now the Munger Trail.

The Hinckley Fire Museum , near the southern trailhead, tells the compelling story of this tragic forest fire and its heroes. The trail passes fields, stands of woods, and links several small towns.


Willard Munger Trail Log South

One of the longest trail rides in the state awaits riders of the Willard Munger Trail named after the state representative that served West Duluth for 43 years supporting many environmental and recreational projects throughout Minnesota.

The southern segment of nearly 55 miles, from Hinckley north to Carlton, and the northern segment of about 15 miles from Carlton north to Duluth provides bikers a wide variety of experiences from gambling to rock outcroppings, state parks and lakes.

The southern segment, known as the Hinckley Fire Trail, goes though Finlayson, Willow River, Sturgeon Lake and Moose Lake.

Side trips can be made to Sandstone connected to the Munger with its own part-trail, part-road route and three state parks: Banning, St. Croix and Moose Lake.

Nearly all of the trail is flat and straight on the bed of abandoned railroad right-of-way, although there is one spot (M15) the trail takes a dip and curves. The trail crosses several bridges, skirts ponds, crosses rivers and goes through the woods; there are also a couple stretches that parallel a busy highway.

The last 3.5 miles into Carlton were recently paved and takes riders through a mix of wetlands, woods and even rock before skirting logging operations.

Highlights along the trail, beginning at Hinckley

•M6 Skunk Lake historical site. In 1894 the railroad grade was an escape route for the victims of the Hinckley fire in 1894 that destroyed six towns and killed over 400 persons.

Skunk Lake today looks like little more than a swamp, but during the fire storm many persons left the train and escaped the flames in the swamp. Markers and a display tell the story.

•M13 Finlayson depot offers a rest stop that includes an old depot and an outside toilet. Refreshments and food are available at several locations in the town that borders the western side of the trail.

•M15 The trail leaves its straight, hill-less route and dips up and down hills to the east for nearly 1.5 miles. It’s a welcome relief if you sometimes get bored with straight, flat rides. Enjoy the high speeds and tight turns, but watch for other bikers and be alert for abrupt turns.

•M17 River crossings begin and offer new views and the sound of running water. The Kettle River eventually leads into Banning State Park that stretches north and south for several miles.

Rutledge, just to the east, is the half-way point between Finlayson and Willow River.

•M23 Willow River has a grand entrance: the old railroad signal structures on both sides of the trail. A small park area is nicely-kept and offers a covered picnic area, inside toilets, playground and plenty of grass for napping or picnicking. The town is split by the trail so plenty of food and refreshments are close by.

•M24-26 Several river crossings that should whet your appetite for a canoe or kayak trip.

From here to Moose Lake, enjoy miles of sun-tanning open country with some road noise from Hwy. 61 on the right that some will love and others will want to use as a time trial. Enjoy the sun, bear down in the wind and push for speed.

•M32 Moose Lake is the largest town along the trail between Hinckley and Duluth. A trail through Moose Lake will take you to the next segment of the Munger Trail .

•M 35.3
If you’d like a rest, stop at the bench that overlooks a pond.

•M 36.2 The first of two route into Barnum. Hwy. 6 goes into Barnum where there’s food, water and friendly shop owners.

•M 38.4 Cty. 140 on your left is another route into Barnum.

•M 39.6 The trail dips into a tunnel, perfect for sitting out a rain or just hearing your voice echo.

•M42.5 The little town of Mahtowa pops up, but be careful. See that biker that crashed into the wall of the building on your right?

•M46 If you don’t like to stop and smell the roses, this is a perfect spot to sniff the wonderful barnyard smells of this farm, complete with cattle.

•M48.6 The trail dips under the freeway and is a perfect hide-out if it rains.

•M49.5 Although Hwy. 61 is a companion on the left, there are all kinds of natural wonders along the trail. A creek, some pines and those signature rocks at this milepoint are part of this scene.

•M51.3 The trail that has been going into the woods goes over a small bridge that’s a little bumpy.

•M52.3 The trail cuts through rock that will be more evident in sections of the Carlton-Duluth segment of the trail.

•M52.7 The trail comes out of the woods as it approaches the industrialized area of Carlton.

•M53 A long fence keeps cyclists away from the piles of logs and the railroad tracks that are still used.

•M54.5 The Hinckley-Carlton segment of the trail ends at the highway. If you look across the highway you’ll see the beginning of the eight-mile long Alex Laveau trail (see description elsewhere). Turn left and go .2 miles on the highway shoulder to the trailhead where there’s a toilet (but no water). Some riders can meet a shuttle here and call it a day, or you can continue on the trail all the way to Duluth, about 15 miles, mostly downhill (see description elsewhere). 

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Willard Munger Trail Log North
The northern segment of the Willard Munger Trail takes a 15-mile decent from Carlton to West Duluth downhill through trees, rocks with a powerful scenic views all the way.

Bikers can stop on a high railroad trestle to enjoy a breathtaking look over the St. Louis River estuary, cut through a mountain of rock, relax through fields of wildflowers and northern pines, view the wonders of a hydroelectric power plant, peddle through the largest stand of hemlocks and relax on a hillside rest stop overlooking western Duluth and acres of water.

Highlights along the trail into Duluth: M1 After starting with iron ore-looking rocks on the left and the rapids of the river on the right, the trail’s most spectacular view is at the first mile point on an old railroad trestle high above the St. Louis River. Enjoy the North Shore feel as you look out over rock formations, or hike down to the base of the look-out area. Be careful of loose rock as well as slippery shorelines.

Save this treat for the return trip if you like desert at the end of the ride.

M2 and 3 The map may throw you off, but at man-made Forebay Lake you’re looking at part of the hydroelectric power system that produces more hydroelectric power than any other in the state.

M4 Note the info kiosk and then a bit down the trail a bench; on these ravine slopes is the largest native stand of hemlocks in the state.

M6 Stenman Crossing has a toilet, if needed.

M10 The trail passes on a trestle over a river and then takes bikers into the first of rock “gorges” carved for railroad tracks. Their look is awesome and rugged; some rocks are flat enough for seating. But don’t get too wrapped up in the view while biking, because you’ll pop out of the rocks close to the edge of a cliff.

M11 Enjoy a rest stop (no toilets or water, just a place to park a bike and a picnic table) that is also an overlook of western Duluth. From this Bardon Peak the ride is all downhill from here.

M13 Residential areas begin, and with it, traffic noise.

The trail ends; to the right is Indian Point Park for camping.

Other Points of interest Along The Way

Alex Laveau Bike Trail

An eight-mile segment from Carlton through Wrenshall to Hwy. 23 south of Duluth offers cyclists another opportunity to expand their ride in the Duluth-Carlton area.

The ride from Carlton to Wrenshall has some of the scenery of the ride from Carlton to Duluth. From Wrenshall to Hwy. 23 the ride goes through lush, hilly farm land and is often draped by trees.

This ride is best at dawn or dusk, especially from Wrenshall to Hwy. 23, when the trail is most quiet, yet washed in rich colors rather than lit up by a harsh sun.

From the Carlton trailhead, go about a tenth of a mile south on Cty. Hwy. 1 to pick up the new trail on your left.

The trail follows an old railroad bed with Wrenshall the mid-point.

The first 1.5 miles lead cyclists through rock that had to be cut for the railroad. Alongside the trail are numerous ponds, popple and some open area.

Then the trail hugs follows a more open area with a highway on
the right. When the paved trail ends at about 2.9 miles, follow the highway (on a paved bike lane) about 1.1 miles to the outskirts of Wrenshall.

When you see the fire department and city hall, turn left on Parkwood Dr. (Don’t turn right on Alcohol Dr.; Alcohol, as you know, is the road to ruin.)

Go about .1 mile on Parkwood and watch for the trail popping up on your right.

The trail after Wrenshall is quieter, since there’s little highway noise; the scenery is mostly beautiful farmland that was refreshing on a delightful ride on a 6:30 a.m. early July ride.

The ride from Wrenshall to Hwy. 23 is 2.8 miles. Then turn around and enjoy the ride, again, back to Carlton.

Some cyclists follow 23 north into Duluth where access can be gained to the Munger Trail’s northern end. But it’s quite a trek and not the easiest route.

Willard Munger Trail Towns
Carlton, Hinkley, Finlayson, Rutledge, Willow River, Sturgeon Lake

Carlton has all kinds of lodging options, a half-dozen restaurants, unique gift shops, old buildings, new buildings, hiking trails and other recreational opportunities.

And no where else in the state can you enjoy the thrills of whitewater during the day and casino gambling at night.

While there is no tourist information center, nearly every business in the area will be happy to give you the latest information on what’s going on and directions on how to get there. That’s the friendliness of a small town.

•Jay Cooke State Park is about three miles from Carlton and can be accessed by bike from the trail near M12.

The park features hardwoods and spectacular views of the St. Louis River, which thunders over rocks when the water level is high. Don’t miss walking the swinging bridge that crosses the river.

An interpretive center offers programs and hands-on learning experiences.

There are 50 miles of hiking trails and 12 miles of off-road mountain biking to add to the touring experience. Tent camping is available.

•Carlton Daze at the end of July includes a 5K run/walk and ultra marathon, softball and golf tournaments, games, crafts, food and a parade.

•Carlton hosts the National Whitewater championships usually at the end of August. But you need not be just a spectator. If you’d like to give the sport of whitewater rafting a try, check with local businesses on how to find an outfitter.

•Duluth is well-known for its tourist attractions, including: the maritime museum next to the signature-attraction, the lift bridge; the railroad museum downtown next to the art gallery; the warehouse district with all the touristy spot; Skyline Drive that offers a panoramic view over Duluth, as well as one of the best places to watch the annual migrations of many raptors, in season; and the fascinating shipping ports on Lake Superior that gives the whole area an ocean-like feel.

•The North Shore and several state parks that feature hiking trails, waterfalls and gorges are just up Hwy. 61 from Duluth. Fall weekends when the trees are in their most picturesque splendor are popular times, even if things get a bit congested.

Hinckley is well-known by many travelers who’ve driven I-35 between the Twin Cities and Duluth-North Shore, but there are many things to see and do in Hinckley besides take a rest stop, including enjoying the Willard Munger Trail.

Not only does the Willard Munger Trail begin in Hinckley (and go all the way to Duluth), but other attractions make a multi-day, multi-activity trip worth exploring.

Hinckley is home to a nearby state park, a museum that describes the devastating Hinckley fire, a casino that draws people day and night and a variety of lodging and eating establishments.

And all along the trail are little towns that have established their own identity.

Here’s a sampling of some of the major points of interest:

•The Hinckley Fire Museum
just south of the trail’s beginning offers a glimpse into the old logging days and the life of a depot agent, as well as the infamous fire. A caboose and covered picnic area are also on the grounds.

•The Hinckley Fire Monument , a sobering reminder of the death toll from the infamous fire, is east of Hinckley and 1-35 in the Lutheran Memorial Cemetery, just south of four long trenches where 248 bodies are buried en masse.

•Hinckley is the gateway to St. Croix State Park
, 16 miles to the east on Hwy. 48. It’s the largest state park with 33,000 acres of forests, meadows, marshes and streams. Both the Kettle and St. Croix rivers are accessible from the park.

The park hosts a daily schedule of demonstrations, talks, films and slide shows, most with an interpretive naturalist.

And, if you’d like more biking, the park has six miles of surfaced trails, besides the 127 miles of foot trails.

•Hinckley hosts the “Corn and Clover Carnival” the first weekend after the 4th of July with a full schedule of activities for those looking for a small-town celebration.

Grand Casino Hinckley If gambling is a part of your recreational calendar, the Grand Casino Hinckley is open non-stop.

Sandstone is accessible from the Munger Trail via a short spur; another nice town worth exploring.

•The Kettle River , the first to be designated a Wild and Scenic River, runs through the town.

•Robinson Park
is located on the river; it’s the site of an old sandstone quarry operated around the turn of the century. The remnants of an old wagon bridge can easily be seen.

•Banning State Park is also accessible east of Sandstone, complete with falls, cave, campsites, hiking trails and the usual state park amenities.

•The Banning Quarry self -guided trail
in Banning State Park includes unique rock formations that are in contrast to the trail’s landscape, and also offers an informative look at the old days of quarrying.

•The Kettle River has a statewide reputation for whitewater canoeing and kayaking due to its “kettles” and large holes that cause turbulent currents.

There is a series of five rapids, the toughest being Hell’s Gate, that’ll challenge the most experienced.

•Outhouse races during Quarry Days at Sandstone
usually the 2nd weekend of August, or bed races the 4th of July weekend in Finlayson.

Finlayson most popular in the state and has produced record walleyes.

•Finlayson is a quiet little town with just enough shops and restaurants to make a stay worthwhile. Besides, you’ll probably get off your bike to use the rest stop along the trail that includes an old depot, a few feet of old railroad track to walk across and and outside toilet. A walk around town will be a welcome respite.

•Finlayson hosts a 4th of July celebration
that includes a volleyball tournament, old-fashioned barn dance and bed races.

•Rutledge is the half-way point between Finlayson and Willow River.

Willow River Days held the last weekend in July.


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