Sure it's May 5th already. But when I told Sally I wanted to go for a hike this Sunday afternoon, her question was obvious, "Where?" As in, "Are you crazy, everything is snowy, muddy or crowded."
Duluth's Western Waterfront Trail is a reliable destination for an early spring hike, even when early spring comes in early May like this year. The wide gravel trail dries out early. Migrating waterfowl fill both inviting stretches of open water and the various grassy mudflats around the edges.
As I recommend in my book Hiking the North Shore, we headed for the obscure eastern trailhead of the Western Waterfront Trail, on 63rd Ave. West. From there you can hike three miles along Duluth's upper St. Louis River estuary. Despite the sunny weather, we had the trail nearly to ourselves. The poodle was stuck on the leash, and had a great time sniffing up all the smells coming out of the thawing ground.
The trail did sustain some damage in last year's June flood, and things are still stabilizing. At one place, a stream had chosen its own crossing about fifty feet away from the old bridge and one hundred feet away from the new culvert. But it's still in excellent shape overall.
So while you're waiting for the Superior Hiking Trail to emerge from winter, and if you don't want to deal with the crowds on the Duluth Lakewalk or the paved paths of Gooseberry Falls, head for the Western Waterfront Trail.
Warbler Walks on the Western Waterfront Trail
If it's a Tuesday in May, head for the Western Waterfront Trail at 6:30 AM for Duluth Audubon Society's annual spring warbler walks. Bring your binoculars!