Two Paths in Two Harbors

Two Harbors is famous for its Two Harbors. Now that’s deep. During the winter there are also two paths you can take. There are more than two, but let’s just discuss two of the best. The first is made for cross-country skiing and the second for good old-fashioned walking. The first involves a vigorous workout and the other a light stroll. So, check out either one, but just remember what Led Zeppelin said about there being two paths and time to switch between them.

Two Harbor’s Erkki Harju Ski Trail is actually a series of trails that weave around a golf course. That doesn’t sound so good at first. But just wait till you get there.

As soon as you drive into the trailhead parking lot, off highway 2, you will know what I mean. Immediately, you can hardly tell you are near any road. The parking lot is well-ringed with trees. A small wooden structure shows a map of the trail’s three main interlocking loops. There are the 3k, the 5k, and the 8k loops as well as the two expert spurs.

The start of a volunteer-groomed trail descends to the right and rises to the left, being swallowed by trees in either direction. Across the trail, is a long expanse of flat whiteness sandwiched between thick evergreens. During the non-frozen season, this is an area to drive dimpled golf balls as far as you can.

The trails weave around these open golfing areas. Most of the time you are in woods and might think you were 100 miles from civilization if you didn’t keep getting Facebook alerts.

“Cross-country skiing is about the best exercise you can do,” said Joe Trela at the Ski Hut in Duluth. “It gets you outside and one with nature.”

But you are still close to the benefits of modern technology. Once you get back to your car you can be back at Grand Superior Lodge in 14 minutes or to one of Two Harbor’s cafés in even less time. After you rest and warm up you might be ready for a lower impact trail.

The area surrounding Two Harbor’s Agate Bay isn’t really a trail but is a great walk in the winter. I walked this area in the middle of January this year. Even with the above average temperatures and below average snowfall, it was still a wonder of ice and snow.

The parking lot by the old lighthouse was a bleak whiteness with a handful of cars scattered across it. Straight across the harbor, the American Integrity was parked at the ore docks for the winter. To the left, the two breakwaters blocked off the water of Lake Superior with the fog allowing a shallow gaze into the open lake.

Two Harbors Breakwater in Winter
Two Harbors Breakwater in Winter

I started my walk to the right. The ore dock towered above the part of the city of Two Harbors that stood high enough to see. I walked off the road across snow that just covered my feet a little. I carefully descended a staircase covered with snow.

I reached a wide circular area, used for launching small craft when it’s warmer. I walked down the wooden dock used for launching boats. On either side were sheets of ice, each one about ten feet long, cut with straight edges. Beyond the sheets were many smaller pieces of ice looking like densely packed frozen lily pads. The ice sheets moved back and forth colliding with each other in the light waves.

I turned around and headed up the stairs. It is worth noting that the concrete pit bathroom was still open this time of year. So many places outside have their bathrooms shut down this time of year, assuming people only need to go during summer.
Then, I walked out on the breakwater. Up the shore, from the beginning of the breakwater, the shore looked like a fortress of ice. All along the concrete path, were boulders encased in ice.

Eventually, I left the rocks behind and was higher above the water. I could now see the American Integrity straight on. I reached the end of the breakwater and turned around. The concrete pathway stretched back toward the parking lot almost out of site. The harbor was clear but a thin layer of fog rose out of the lake on the right. I walked back to the car and warmed up, thinking of other paths I could take.