• Minnesota's Mesabi Trail: Gateway to Mining, Hockey and the Boundary Waters

      96 miles - 8-12 hours

      Follow the eastern portion of the Mesabi Trail through northern Minnesota. The eastern half takes you through the Iron Range with its vast reserves of iron ore, to the Hockey Hall of Fame and to Ely, the gateway to the Boundary Waters where you can howl with the wolves! Bob Dylan grew up in Hibbing, on the western end of this stretch. Minnesota's mining history is visible in its open pit mine overlooks, museums, and a journey one-half mile underground at several points along the way. And, if you've ever yearned to visit the Boundary Waters, Ely at the eastern end of the Mesabi Trail is its gateway with plenty of outfitters and suppliers.

      If you have plenty of time, consider walking or hiking portions of the paved biking/hiking trail that closely follows this route or take at least two days to explore the many sights along the way. Both campgrounds and motels are readily available along the route. If you walk or bike, a shuttle service can provide rides if you want a ride back to your start.

      Here are some of the highlights to look out for along the way:

      Hibbing (Starting Point)
      Start your route here. If biking or walking, the trail head is near 3rd Avenue in Hibbing, just past the Greyhound Bus Museum. See the Mesabi Trail website for maps for trail heads and access points. You can purchase a season pass online or pay for your three-day or season pass at a trail head.

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      Whether following the route by car or biking or hiking, you'll want to visit the Greyhound Bus Museum on 3rd and then continue up 3rd to the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine View to see the world's largest open pit iron ore mine in operation in the world.

      In Hibbing itself, you can take a walking tour and see the boyhood home of the folksinger Bob Dylan. Born Robert Zimmerman, Bob Dylan grew up here. Walk the streets where he lived and visit favorite spots on the Bob Dylan walking tour. The tour takes you to other key buildings in Hibbing's history. Zimmy's Restaurant is the unofficial Dylan Museum with Dylan memorabilia and stories of his formative years in Hibbing.

      As you follow Highway 169 or travel the Mesabi Trail, you can't miss the 81-foot tall Iron Man statute across from the Minnesota Discovery Center. This giant statute is the third-largest freestanding statute in the nation. It honors the iron ore miners of the Mesaba, Cuyuna and Vermilion Iron Ranges of northeastern Minnesota. The Minnesota Discovery Museum focuses on mining history and the development of the "Iron Range." In Chisholm, the Mesabi Trail access point passes by the Minnesota Museum of Mining at 701 West Lake Street. You can climb aboard huge pieces of equipment. Chisholm is also where Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, the subject of the motion picture Field of Dreams, settled.

      Floating in Silver Lake during the warmer months is the world's largest floating loon. Drivers can get a good view at the parking area off 9th Avenue. The Mesabi Trail goes by Virginia Lake in Virginia, which is just north of Silver Lake. Follow the path around the lake to the south. Near the stream that connects the two lakes, you can access the street between the two and get a view of the loon.

      As you leave Virginia along Highway 53, you'll be close to the Mineview in the Sky, which overlooks the Rouchleau group of mines, one of the area's deepest mines. A 240-ton 21-foot high mining truck and other equipment are located at the observation center. (Update June 2022: This attraction was closed in 2018. Reference retained here as part of the historical road trip record.)

      A spur of the Mesabi Trail takes you to Eveleth. Drivers would take Highway 53. You'll see the Hockey Hall of Fame on a hill coming into Eveleth at 801 Hat Trick Avenue. For bikers and hikers on the trail, the Hall of Fame is a short ways north. A drive down to Grant Avenue and Monroe Street will take you to the world's largest hockey stick. At 110 feet and 10,000 pounds, it is definitely Paul Bunyan size!

      The hiking/biking paved Mesabi Trail between McKinley and Biwabik is under construction in 2011. Minnesota Highway 135 is the alternative route.

      Along Highway 135 is a giant statute of a moose in the park in town. Honk the Moose was a real moose that visited Biwabik in 1935. An award-winning children's book was written, based on this true story. Biwabik, a cute Bavarian-style town, is also home to the area's largest Calithumpian Fourth of July Parade.

      The hiking/biking Mesabi Trail five miles north of Biwabik has not been completed. Short stretches between Tower and Soudan and a three-mile stretch in Ely are paved. Follow MN Highway 135 to Tower-Soudan and from there, take MN Highway 169 to Ely.

      At the Soudan Underground Mine State Park, descend one-half mile underground in a caged elevator and explore Minnesota's first underground mine! High Energy Physic lab tours are also given underground. Here you'll see a football field-sized cavity where the MINOS experiment is housed. (This experiment is about the transformation of particles from one kind into another.) Above ground, you can see the drill shop, crusher house, dry house, and the engine house and learn about its history.

      Ely is the gateway to the Boundary Waters. More than two dozen outfitters can help you plan a trip, or take a tour by floatplane or pontoon boat. While in Ely, visit the International Wolf Center. Observe wolves up close in a natural habitat and learn more about these fascinating animals, often maligned and feared by man. The mission of the IWC is to advance the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wild lands and the human role in their future. Besides viewing wolves and exhibits, interpretive programs and films are offered daily. For the visitor with more time and a sense of adventure, consider one of the howling trips and howl with the wolves! Other fee and field trip programs are offered at various times of year.

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      Two other attractions worth visiting are the Dorothy Molter Museum, about 1/3 mile away from IWC towards downtown Ely and the North American Bear Center.

      Comments 1 Comment
      1. Mark Sedenquist's Avatar
        Mark Sedenquist -
        That is one big bear hanging out at the North American Bear Center. Mark