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Winter in Duluth Means Ice Climbing, Nordic Skiing, Fat Biking & Breweries

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Duluth has one of Minnesota's most extensive systems of groomed winter fat biking trails / Hansi Johnson

Winter in Duluth Means Ice Climbing, Nordic Skiing, Fat Biking & Breweries

By Hansi Johnson

My idea of a perfect winter day is to complete the “snowfecta” of ice climbing, cross-country skiing and fat biking before sunset—and up on the North Shore of Lake Superior, Duluth is the one of the country's best places to experience all three.

Mixed climbing in Duluth

Mixed climbing in Duluth / Sarah Wiesner

Ice Climbing at Quarry Park

I start the day with a hearty breakfast at the perky Sunshine Cafe, a small diner in West Duluth that produces great home-style meals. Fortified for action, I then head over to nearby Quarry Park for some breathtaking ice climbing. This former industrial site has been re-imagined and is now one of Duluth’s most amazing winter sports hubs.

The ice tools make a satisfying “thump” as I swing them at the imposing 80’ wall of verglas. My heart hammers, while my adrenaline propels me up the climb. Topping out, I swing lazily back down on my rope, much to my belayers adulation, against a backdrop of waterfalls and, below, the city of Duluth.

Stoked, I hop in my truck and roll down to the blossoming Lincoln Park Craft District and the Dovetail Café for a warm-up and a bump of espresso.

A family cross-country skiing in winter in Northeast Minnesota

A family cross-country skiing in Northeast Minnesota

Cross-Country Skiing at Grand Avenue Nordic Center

Time for a fast-paced Nordic ski at the Grand Avenue Nordic Center (GANC)! Guaranteed snow and daily grooming make GANC the top choice for an exhilarating skate ski. I push off and glide across the
pristine snow, loving the fresh corduroy under my feet. My front teeth tingle as the cold kisses my extra wide smile, my breath streaming behind me as I fly up the trail.

Famished, I’m glad Northern Waters Smokehaus is just a short jaunt away. I savor a masterpiece of a sandwich while staring out the window of the deli and watch snowflakes filter down through the sunlight and people bustle through Canal Park. 

Winter fat biking over a trail hump

Winter fat biking on the groomed trails in Duluth / Hansi Johnson

Fat Biking at Mission Creek

I can see my fat bike dangling off the back of my truck in the parking lot, begging me for a fast ride at Mission Creek, one of Duluth's renowned mountain bike trails

As the sun sets, a glowing spray of powder spins off the front wheel of my bike. Silently, I float on Mission Creek’s hard-packed singletrack trails through mature stands of white pine and birch trees, a great grey owl swooping away as I pass.

I load my bike on my truck and daydream of a tasty pint and warm bar at Bent Paddle Brewing Co., where I’ll sip and plan another snowfecta day in Duluth.

More to Do in Duluth

If snowboarding or downhill skiing is more your game, head to Spirit Mountain to hit one of Minnesota’s best lift-served snow sliding experiences. Spirit Mountain has a high-speed quad to help you quickly access its 22 runs, and a super-fast tow rope for hitting its high-quality terrain park if you go for lapping rails and sliding boxes.

Want to extend your Duluth winter sports day into the night? Recharge with a woodfired pizza and well-crafted beer at the Ursa Minor Brewery on West Superior Street. Then get your ice skates on and hit the flawless ice at Bayfront Park rink for some pirouettes and triple axles under the crystal-clear night sky.

Wind the long day down with a cocktail from Vikre Distillery and some bistro food at the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe downtown, then cross the street to check out what play is showing at the historic, newly renovated NorShor Theatre. If you’d rather listen to live music, The Ripple Bar on Canal Park is the perfect place.

Hansi Johnson is a life-long winter sports enthusiast and works for the Minnesota Land Trust. When not Nordic skiing, fat bike riding or ice fishing, Hansi can be found, camera in hand, documenting and advocating for outdoor recreation in Minnesota’s amazing natural spaces. Follow him on Instagram: @hansski43.