Guardrail Loop (4.25 Miles)
It looks a bit more like winter than autumn in Hartley Park right now, but that certainly doesn’t stop us from getting outside. This week I decided to hang up my hiking boots (temporarily) and bring out the fat tire bike for a “bike of the Week”. After all, it’s not often we get decent riding this time of year, plus it allows me to get to the furthest reaches of Hartley Park quicker than by foot. The entire route I describe here is multi-use, so whether you want to hike, run, snowshoe, or bike is up to you. No matter your mode of transportation, please be courteous to all other trail users. Also make sure to check trail conditions (Coggs), as the freeze thaw cycle this time of year can result in trail closures. As of Tuesday 10/27, the trail was a mix of frozen dirt, ice, and snow. While some sections were perfect for biking, others were a bit scary without studs. Traction could be helpful, but conditions are likely to change by weeks end. The Guardrail Loop is one of the longer trails in Hartley and it takes you to some of the most remote places in the Park. Sure, Hartley lies in the middle of the city, but there are long stretches of this hike that can feel like you are in a forest in the middle of nowhere. This loop also takes you through some of the highest quality forest communities in Duluth. It all adds up to a perfect morning in the woods.
Route Details: Map
The Guardrail trail is one of the furthest trails from the nature center, and there are several routes that will take you to where it begins. The route described here is one of the most direct while also offering a great loop that keeps you from having to do any trail twice. My ride begins at the yellow gates in the Hartley Nature Center parking lot. Shortly after passing through the gate, this route takes the Duluth Traverse Trail. This trail is the third on the left, and is immediately to the right of the Hartley Ski Trail. Here the DT is a smooth singletrack trail with lots of small bumps and dips. It travels through a heavy blowdown area for about .25 miles before once again coming out on Old Hartley Road. Cross OHR and take the first left onto the Rock Knob multi-use Trail (across from the canoes). This trail will split almost immediately. Stay to the right at the split. The other trail is a foot only spur of the Superior Hiking Trail which takes you to the top of Rock Knob. The Multi-use trail is a fun trail with several sections of exposed bedrock that takes users to the area often referred to as “The Pines”. Just before you reach this area, the Rock Knob trail and The Pines Trail intersect. The Rock Knob Trail splits to the left and immediately becomes an advanced (black diamond) trail. Stay to the right at this intersection, continuing on what will become the Pines Trail. The next intersection allows you to take the Pines Trail to the right or left (straight). Take the trail left, and stay on the Pines Trail as it loops past the Wet Meadow Trail, and onto the intersection with the Fisherman and Rhamnus Trails. Both trails will take you to the Guardrail Trail, but I find it more enjoyable to take Rhamnus to Guardrail, and Fisherman on the return. From here, it’s just under a half mile to the intersection with the Guardrail Loop. In the spring and summer this trail is lined with numerous vernal pools and can be a fun place to stop and listen to the chorus of frogs that use these pools to lay their eggs. As a Loop, Guardrail can be done in either direction, but for this route take the Guardrail Trail to the right. The Guardrail Loop is 1.6 miles long but can be made longer by adding the new Blowdown Trail extension, a trail I highly recommend. To get there you’ll need to stay on the Guardrail Loop as it passes the Marshall Street Connector, Blue Pots, and Blackened Blue Pots Trails. Shortly after the Blackened Blue Pots Trail you’ll come to an unsigned intersection. Stay right at this intersection to add the Blowdown extension to your loop. This area is often referred to as the Northwest Hills and the trail travels .6 miles through rolling hills and forest. This area was hit hard by the blowdown in 2016. While some evidence remains, significant work has been done to restore the area, and this is one of the highest quality plant communities in all of Hartley Park. The Blowdown Trail is also the furthest trail from Hartley Nature Center, giving it a “remote” feel that’s hard to get on other trails in the park. It’s a beautiful area of Hartley, and certainly one of my favorite places to visit in the Park. The Blowdown extension meets up with the Guardrail Loop at another unsigned intersection, about .6 miles after starting the Blowdown Trail. Stay to the right at the unsinged intersection and continue on the Guardrail Loop. The trail through this section has several steep climbs and fun, fast, descents. Once again you’ll pass the Blackened Blue Pots and Blue Pots Trails, staying on Guardrail at each intersection. The trail continues to wind its way through the forested landscape, eventually passing the North Road Connector Trail just before reaching the intersection with Fisherman and Rhamnus. Take a right onto the Fisherman Trail. Most of the year this trail can be quite bumpy with lots of rocks and roots. With the snow cover, the trail is smooth and fast. In a short .5 miles the trail meets back up with the Pines Trail. Take a left and continue through the pines and onto Tunnel Trail. Tunnel Trail is a wide gravel path that parallels the pond for the next .3 miles. The trail meets Old Hartley Road on the east side of the pond. Take OHR back to the yellow gates, and the start of our loop.