DULUTH -- Now that the leaves are mostly on the ground, and the days are cooler, maybe you're looking for some new trails to walk with your bird dog or hunting buddy?
Most Minnesota hunters know about state Wildlife Management Areas and the access they offer for hunters — 1,440 different areas with nearly 1.3 million acres of public land. But the trail system maintained by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources includes more than just wildlife management areas. The DNR maintains 253 hunter walking trails across the northern tier of counties that offer more than 850 miles of trails open to public hunting.
It’s walking only, offering some quality chances at seeing ruffed grouse, woodcock, turkey and deer.
The trails offer some top-notch hunting opportunities, local wildlife managers say, but also open up areas just off the trails to roam for deer or other game. Outside of hunting seasons the trails make great spots for nature hikes to watch birds and other wildlife.
Most of the trails have parking areas, although some require parking on a roadside. Motorized vehicles are not allowed past the yellow gates on any state hunter walking trails.
Some of the trails feature clover planted along the trail, others have forest openings that tend to attract wildlife and many are mowed annually for easier walking. Many of the trails follow the courses of old logging roads.
The system includes trails open on state, county and federal lands, including lands in the Chippewa and Superior national forests and several state forests, not just wildlife management areas.
“We have 85 miles of hunter walking trails in our area and only 20 of them are on state wildlife management areas,” said Tom Rusch, retiring DNR wildlife manager in the sprawling Tower area. “There’s a pretty good mix of ownership and forest types.”
Rusch said maintaining the trails is a major task for local wildlife staff to keep up on. The DNR usually contracts with private parties to mow and the eventual cost to keep the trails clear comes to about $175 per mile.
There are 42 hunter walking trails across St. Louis County, including 15.3 miles in two units of the Canosia Wildlife Management Area just outside Duluth. Carlton County has 11 hunter walking tails, Itasca County has 13.
Click on the Peloquin Hunter Walking Trails in Itasca county, north of Nashwauk, and you can pull up a PDF map that shows not just the parking area and 14.3 miles of trail, but also areas where recent logging has occurred, the general age of the forest and marked areas that are specifically managed for ruffed grouse habitat.
The trails start at the Peloquin Wildlife Management Area but wind through other public ownerships as well. Private land is clearly marked and easily avoided.
All 253 trails are listed in an interactive map on the DNR’s website at dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/hwt. You can look them up by name or by county, home in on the area of your choice and click on a trail to find out exactly where it is and how to get there.
If you have questions about a specific trail or area, or the wildlife likely to be found there, feel free to contact a local DNR area wildlife office. You can look them up at dnr.state.mn.us/areas/wildlife.
Since hunter walking trails fall on multiple public land ownerships, hunters need to be aware that the rules and regulations may vary for the specific trail locations and even trail segments they are visiting. For example, camping at a trailhead located on a state wildlife management area is not allowed, but it may be allowed if the trailhead is on state, county or national forest land.
Hunters should be mindful not to block access to hunter walking trails for other hunters while camping or parking.