Though the wilderness north of Duluth  beckons, don’t overlook the 11,000 acres of green space right in the city’s backyard. Twenty-three rivers and creeks rush down the hills of Duluth in a long series of waterfalls and rapids before emptying into Lake Superior. The rivers are truly wild in the spring, while later in the year they can slow to not much more than a trickle, but the settings are gorgeous anytime.
These wild waterways form the core of some of the city’s best parks, and the hiking trails following them offer a near-wilderness experience. The trails are often steep, of course, but generally easy to follow.
From east to west, some of the best hikes are the Lester Park Trail (Superior St. & Lester River Rd.), Congdon Park Trail (Superior St. & 32nd Ave. E.), Chester Park Trail (4th St. & 14th Ave. E.), Lincoln Park Trail (3rd St. & 25th Ave. W.), and Kingsbury Creek Trail (behind the zoo).
For a scenic hike of a different nature, follow the wooded four-mile Park Point Trail at the end of Minnesota Avenue past sand dunes and a ruined lighthouse. Bird-watchers will have a field day out here during the spring and fall migrations.
Hartley Nature Center (3001 Woodland Ave., 218/724-6735, www.hartleynature.org , visitor center 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat., closed Sun.) has 10 miles of hiking trails, most of which are also open to mountain bikers and skiers. The forested paths are particularly popular with birders. The visitor center is a great place to visit with small children.
Duluth ’s 4.2-mile Lakewalk is a remarkable urban trail. Separate walking and biking lanes hug the shore from the Great Lakes Aquarium to beyond Leif Erikson Park. It not only connects many of the city’s most popular attractions, but with such fantastic scenery, it’s a top attraction itself.
Wheel Fun Rentals (436 Canal Park. Dr., 218/260-7140, www.wheelfunrentals.com , 9 a.m.–7 p.m. daily summer, 10 a.m.–sunset Sat.–Sun. Sept.–Oct., $7 hourly, $20 half-day, $30 day) near Canal Park Lodge rents mountain and touring bikes, as well as multi-passenger surreys.
After the Lakewalk, the city’s most popular bike routes are the Western Waterfront Trail, a five-mile gravel and grass path along the St. Louis River, and the 14-mile segment of the Willard Munger State Trail (www.munger-trail.com ) leading to Jay Cooke State Park . The Munger trail continues all the way to Hinckley  and will eventually connect the Twin Ports with the Twin Cities . Both trails are best accessed at a parking area just south of Grand Avenue on 75th Avenue West.
The nearby Willard Munger Inn (7408 Grand Ave., 218/624-4814 or 800/982-2453, www.mungerinn.com ) rents bikes and offers shuttle service.
Skyline Drive  also makes for a great bike ride.
Duluth ’s charter fishing docks are located alongside the William A. Irvin, while a few captains are also docked out on Park Point. Check with Visit Duluth (800/438-5884, www.visitduluth.com ) for referrals or other information.
UMD Recreational Sports Outdoor Program (199 Sports and Health Center, UMD campus, 218/726-7128 or 218/726-6134, www.umdrsop.org ) leads sea-kayaking and rock climbing trips around Duluth and beyond; no experience is necessary.
Because the water is shallow, and thus warm, the most popular place for a swim is the Park Point Recreation Area (45th St. & Minnesota Ave.), which has lifeguards and changing rooms. There is another public beach on Park Point just five blocks south of the bridge at South 12th Street. You can also take a quick dip at the rocky beaches in Canal Park  and Brighton Beach in Kitchi Gammi Park at the far east end of town along Highway 61, though locals warn of a tricky undertow.
Spirit Mountain (9500 Spirit Mountain Pl., exit 249 off I-35, 218/628-2891 or 800/642-6377, www.spiritmt.com ) has 22 runs (the biggest drops 700 feet) for skiers and snowboarders, who can also shred the half-pipe and massive terrain park. A one-day lift ticket is $40. Cross-country skiers enjoy 14 miles of groomed, double-tracked trails with an eight-foot skating lane through beautiful woods; a half-day trail pass is just $7.
The city grooms another 27 miles of cross-country trail (call 218/723-3678 for trail conditions) in local parks, including the intermediate-level nine-mile Magney-Snively Ski Trail starting just off Spirit Mountain along the Skyline Parkway.
One third of the nine miles of the Lester-Amity Trail, with beginner to advanced loops in Lester Park, are lighted during early mornings and late into the evening.
The Chester Bowl Trail is just 2.5 miles long, but it’s the most challenging route in the city. The park also has a 175-foot-tall downhill run with a chairlift ($5) and an ice-skating oval.
The private Snowflake Nordic Center (4348 Rice Lake Rd., 218/726-1550, www.skiduluth.com , $7 adult day pass) has nine miles of trails groomed for classic and skating—a third are lighted at night—plus a biathlon range. Snowflake has rentals, instruction, a chalet, and even a sauna for after the trails. And the lake effect causes snow to come earlier and stay longer here than even some other areas around Duluth .
Ski Hut (1032 4th St. E., 218/724-8525, and 5607 Grand Ave., 218/624-5889, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun., www.theskihut.com ) rents cross-country skis and snowshoes.
Positive Energy Outdoor (Ed)Ventures (218/391-0147 or 218/428-5990, www.outdooredventures.org ) leads dogsled trips, as well as sleigh and wagon rides and summertime fun like kayaking and rock-climbing.
Epic Sleddog Adventures (218/721-3692, www.dogmusher.com ) will take you mushing. Two-hour trips costs $90 and you’ll get to drive at the end.
Carnival Thrillz (329 Lake Ave. S., 218/720-5868, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun.) has video games, laser tag, mini golf, a trampoline jump, climbing wall, and indoor amusement park rides. A little dingy, it’s recommended mostly for getting in out of the rain or cold.
Enger Park (1801 Skyline Blvd. W., 218/723-3451, www.engerpark.golfinduluth.com ) and Lester Park (1860 Lester River Rd., 218/525-0828, www.lesterpark.golfinduluth.com ) each have public golf courses overlooking Lake Superior and 18-hole games starting at $29.
Downtown’s Fond-du-Luth Casino (129 Superior St. E., 218/722-0280 or 800/873-0280, www.fondduluthcasino.com ) is run by the Fond du Lac Ojibwe.