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Traversing the incredibly scenic Iron Range region of northern Minnesota, the Mesabi Trail is well on its way to becoming one of the longest rail-trails in the United States. When completed, the pathway will run "from the Mississippi River to the Boundary Waters" on a route between Grand Rapids and Ely. Presently, 135 miles are open for use and fully paved except for a short stretch of less than a mile that is gravel surfaced through the Darwin S. Myers Wildlife Management Area near the town of Embarrass. An additional 10 miles of new trail are anticipated to open in 2021 and another 10 miles in 2022.
The Mesabi Trail provides the opportunity to connect with nature as the trail winds through woods, stream areas, ponds, and lakes. Animal sightings on the trail are common, with deer, raccoons, beavers, eagles, hawks, and even black bears making relatively regular appearances. For history buffs, the trail provides an open window to the past and present mining of the Iron Range as it takes users past constructed mine-pit lakes, old iron ore pits, and still-working iron ore mines.
Because the trail connects with so many towns and tourist attractions, such as the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Museum in Eveleth, Hill Annex Mine State Park near Calumet, and the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, the Mesabi Trail is also viewed as a way to get from place to place without using a car. All the trail routing through communities is along city streets.
The western trailhead for the paved section beginning in Grand Rapids is at the Itasca County Fairgrounds (N.W. 14th St. and Crystal Lake Blvd.). Take I-35 to Exit 214, and head west on MN 73. In 2.5 miles turn left onto MN 27/MN 73, and in 4.8 miles, continue straight on MN 73. Go another 35.4 miles, and turn left onto US 2. Travel 36.8 miles, and turn left onto N.E. Fourth St. In 0.2 mile turn right onto N.E. Third Ave., and go 0.7 mile. Turn left onto N.E. 12th St., and then turn right onto Crystal Lake Blvd. In 0.2 mile turn left onto N.E. 14th St., and immediately turn right onto a dirt road. The parking is at the end of the road next to the trail.
In McKinley the paved trailhead and parking lot is on the southwest corner of the intersection of MN 135 and County Road 20. Take I-35 to Exit 237. Continue north 18.9 miles on MN 33. Exit onto US 53, and go 35.9 miles north. Take the MN 37 exit, and turn right onto MN 37. In 2.8 miles turn right onto CR 20/Heritage Trail, where the parking is located.
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