Duluth is known
for its beautiful parks, majestic shoreline, delicious foods, quality handmade goods, access to Lake Superior’s North and South Shores, the Arrowhead Region, the Iron Range, and the Boundary Waters, its vibrant arts scene and mountain biking trails. The city bustles on the edge of Lake Superior and the St. Louis River, and with some 820 feet of elevation change between the lake and high country like Hawk’s Ridge and the airport, Duluth is aptly known as “the San Francisco of the Midwest.” All that elevation change, and the steep undulation of exposed bedrock, brings with it great opportunities for rock and mixed climbing and now Duluth is becoming a destination for climbing too.
Through the work of volunteers like folks on the Duluth Climbers Coalition (DCC), MN Land Trust, the leaders, city council and people of Duluth and generous donors, there has been a lot of development and refinement of climbing opportunities in just the last few years, with even more in the works.
Within Duluth and in nearby parks, are opportunities for great sport climbs, ice climbs, mixed climbs in both trad top-serviced routes. The DCC, a nonprofit 501(c)3 advocacy organization, works to “secure and preserve access to climbing crags located within the city of Duluth, and to promote quality climbing opportunities for participants of all ages and abilities and across all climbing disciplines.”
“A lot of people think of Duluth as the gateway to the climbing on the North Shore,” said David Pagel, a board member with the DCC, “we’ve got this well-known climbing with Tettegouche State Park and up in The Domes and areas like that. There’s great climbing up there, but in the last couple years, climbing in Duluth itself has really taken off, and to the point where now… Duluth is a destination in its own right, especially when you put it in combination with some of the other outdoor recreational opportunities that are being developed here: the mountain biking, the skiing… you name it! Climbing is just another brick in the wall when it comes to the amazing and, really, destination-worthy opportunities that Duluth has for outdoor recreation.”
This weekend, the DCC will be hosting their summer climbing rendezvous “Flock to the Rock!” at Ely’s Peak. The event is open to families, and climbers of all ages, skill levels and disciplines. DCC will provide equipment and free certified instruction. It’s a great way to get out on the local crag with professionals who know it well.
One of the biggest changes in Duluth’s climbing scene in the past few years is the recent approval of Quarry Park. It’s Duluth’s newest city park and has a major climbing component, while also being home to hiking trails, and other proposed amenities such as disc golf and picnic areas.
“In a year and a half,” said Pagel, “the fact that we’ve gone from an abandoned industrial site that was half private land and half county forfeit property, and now it’s a brand new city park is pretty incredible.”
“It’s always been a destination for really interesting and difficult ice and mixed climbing,” said Pagel, “but now with the [ice]
farming system that will be employed there within the next couple years, it will also be a premiere destination for beginners and feature a lot more moderate terrain The ice season will also last a lot longer because we’ll be able to create ice on these shadowed walls that are in there. So you put all that together, the incredible ice and mixed climbing lines that already exist and the stuff people have been doing for decades in there, … and the fact that it’s all in a city park so there’s no longer an access issue… this is really going to be the crown jewel in
Duluth… for winter climbing.”
Most of the climbing sites in Duluth have good access, with walk-ins as short as ten feet to roughly a quarter-mile at Ely’s Peak. For hauling gear to the crag, consider some reliable waxed canvas built just down the street at Frost River. “The Arrowhead ECO works pretty well,” said Alex Cole from Frost River Trading Co., “You don’t really want a lot of pockets with climbing, you kind of just want to throw gear in. The ECO has the pockets for a water bottle… and then with the straps over the top, you can actually strap your rope down to the top of the pack.”
The next time you’ve got the itch to climb a pitch, hang out and boulder, (sea kayak, mountain bike, run, hike, camp, canoe… etc.) think of Duluth, MN, USA. When you come by, be sure to stop and visit us at Frost River: the coffee’s always on and we offer free workshop tours whenever we’re open.
Our top picks for climbing in Duluth:
- Outdoor in Summer: Ely’s Peak has great cliffs made up of the same type of rock that is found at Taylor’s Falls Minnesota in a beautiful secluded location south of Duluth on the Superior Hiking Trail and overlooking the St Louis River Valley.
- Bouldering: Whopee Wall just a few blocks from Frost River at First Street and Piedmont. “It’s a big boulder in the middle of the city…” said Cole, “and it’s actually got some harder routes on it. There’s two sides to it, there’s the first ave side and the piedmont side, and the piedmont side is a little bit taller and actually gets up to about a 5.11 in difficulty. The other side is only about 25 feet long and it’s a little bit easier.”
- Ice and Mixed: Quarry Park. Located just west of Frost River, below Skyline Parkway near Brewer Park and between 46th Ave West and 59th Ave West.
- Indoor: Vertical Endeavors, located in Adventure Zone in historic Canal Park, is open year-round and features lots of top rope climbs, Auto Belays, bouldering, hand-carved cracks and sport lead climbing. Students at College of St. Scholastica and UMD have access to great climbing walls on campus. More information through the links above.