Midwestern winters can feel cold and never ending. But not in Duluth, a former steel-making and lumber town of 86,000 people on the edge of Lake Superior, where locals are known to cross-country ski to work and a small ski area, Spirit Mountain, rises from downtown.
“The world assumes Minnesota is flat, but the reality is we have plenty of vertical to go around in this region due to Lake Superior and its basin,” says Hansi Johnson, the director of recreational lands for Minnesota Land Trust, a non-profit that aims to conserve the state’s wild spaces.
Duluth has 11,000 acres of open green space and much of it is being used to build trail networks that keep the city’s many endurance athletes well occupied. In the winter those purpose-built mountain-bike trails get coated with snow and packed down for the rising sport of fat biking—mountain bikes with huge, knobby tires built to ride through snow and mud. Book a two- or three-hour guided fat bike tour with Day Tripper of Duluth or head to Spirit Mountain, which now allows fat bikes aboard the chairlift to access sections of the resort’s groomed terrain.
“Fat biking on groomed trails on a grade that allows good traction is an experience that is truly out of body,” says Johnson.
Stay at the South Pier Inn (from $225) on the town’s Canal Park, where you can watch the sun set over the lake from own your private balcony. Or check out the lakefront Beacon Pointe Resort (from $153), where free cruiser bikes come with your suite and you’re a 10-minute stroll to Canal Park.
An Italian institution in Duluth, Va Bene Caffe dishes up views of the lake alongside house-made gnocchi and pizzas with a rosemary crust. And you can’t beat the burgers and beer-battered fries at Fitger’s Brewhouse.
STAY OUT LATE
Duluth has a growing number of quality breweries, but Bent Paddle Brewing’s Venture pilsner, brewed with Lake Superior water, is among the best. Or try them all: A flight of six beers is only $9. If you prefer something stronger, sip a gin and tonic made with locally foraged wild botanicals at the Vikre Distillery, founded by a Duluth native who ditched a career in Boston to come home and start a distillery in 2014