I'm going out on a limb here. Or out on a peak. The Bardon Peak trail is the best intermediate cross country ski loop in Duluth. There are some close seconds, including the 5K at Spirit Mountain and the 5K at Snowflake. But this one is the best. It's got the rolling terrain, the occasional scary downhill, and the grandest view of any trail around. Best of all...and this is important...it has wolf poop.
The Bardon Peak trail is part of the great wilderness Magney Ski Trail, the westernmost of Duluth's five city ski trails. It's on Skyline Drive off of I-35, past Spirit Mountain For a lot more details about how to get there and what to expect, check out pages 35-37 of Skiing the North Shore. The trail has 13 km of rolling and challenging terrain.
You enter the Magney system on a feeder trail that climbs from the parking lot on Skyline Drive. It's a half kilometer climb that will make for a great downhill run at the end of your ski.
One more short climb up the main trail gets you to the start of the Bardon Peak trail. For those eagle-eye proofreaders out there, yes the sign reads "Bardons" with an S, but the actual peak is known as Bardon Peak (no S).
What I really like about this 3.1K loop is that while it rolls up and down, it's actually on a level plateau. It's not climb-climb-climb followed by a long downhill. Conservative sign makers have labeled the bulk of this loop "most difficult." The signs are wrong. One bomber downhill midway through does not a black diamond make.
Sally and I skied this loop over the weekend. We used our no-wax skis, since the temperature was hovering around the freezing mark. It was great to be out, even in the marginal conditions.
One special part of this loop is that it's the same great old-growth forest that the Superior Hiking Trail passes through on its way from Spirit Mountain to Elys Peak. The SHT crosses the ski trail twice, and we could tell the SHT has been well-used by snowshoers this winter. The forest is part of Duluth's first city natural area, set aside from development to preserve its ecological integrity.
The local wildlife seems to have picked up this wildness:
Thanks to the anonymous naturalist who found and labeled this wolf scat and tracks right next to the ski trail. Look carefully in the snow to the right of the scat for the "label."
If you liked the loop the first time around, do it again. Once, I did the loop three times, it was so enjoyable.
Then, after going around in circles all day, you ski back down the entrance trail to the trailhead.
Sure, the Snowflake 5K is immaculately groomed. Yes the Spirit Mountain 5k is wide enough for skaters and striders to share. But this intermediate loop has style, misspellings and wolf scat. What else could you want?