Carlton Trail

Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Saturday, March 28th, 2015
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 27th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 3 miles roundtrip
Time 1.5 hours
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No


Hike Summary

Jay Cooke State Park is close enough to the interstate that it's easy to get to while being far enough away that you don't have to hear the road noise. Here you can witness the spectacular geology created by glaciers in a forested riverfront setting. The river offers plenty of opportunity for some off-trail exploration, hopping from boulder to boulder across the tea-colored waters. With no specific destination, you are free to wander and turn around when you wish.

Dogs are allowed on leash. This is a fun trail for families with children comfortable around water because there are many access points to play by the river and hop around on the giant rocks. This trail is open for hiking all year. Given the proximity to Duluth, this is a popular park. Expect to see others on the trail.

From the parking lot, follow the trail south to the swinging bridge, a 200 foot bridge that is one of only two suspension bridges found in Minnesota State Parks. The views of the St. Louis River are pretty sweet from this bridge -- see the picture at the top of the page for just one angle. After you cross the bridge, stay right at all the intersections to remain on the Carlton Trail hugging the St. Louis River (if you can't see the river on your right, you made a wrong turn). The scenery is wonderful, with mixed pine and hardwood forest lining the rushing water, much like the landscape pictured below.

Water rushes over the many river rocks

Water rushes over the many river rocks
View full size

The main purpose of this hike is to have some fun hopping around on river rocks. Look for well traveled access points to prevent further erosion, and explore the river. If you're lucky, you'll find some rapids or small waterfalls like the one I found pictured below.
You too can find this waterfall with some off-trail exploration

You too can find this waterfall with some off-trail exploration
View full size

The distance of 3 miles is approximate and you can choose to turn around at any point since there is no real end destination. For those looking for a more challenging loop hike of about 5 miles, continue on the Carlton Trail and turn right onto the Willard Munger State Trail. After crossing the river, turn right to follow the trail on the opposite side of the river. You can take either the Thomson or CCC Trail back to the parking lot. Happy exploring, and let me know what you think in the comments section below! Be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!


From the Twin Cities, take Interstate 35 north to Minnesota Highway 210. Drive through the towns of Carlton and Thomson, then the park entrance will be signed and on the right side. Pay the fee at the office on the right, then park in the lot straight ahead.

From Duluth, take Interstate 35 south to Thomson Road. Turn left, then turn left on Minnesota Highway 210 when you reach the town of Thomson. The park entrance will be signed and on the right side. Pay the fee at the office on the right, then park in the lot straight ahead.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Like all Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas, you must pay a vehicle entry fee of $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). There are bathrooms, picnic areas, and a gift shop near the parking lot.

Nearby Hikes

You can see Duluth in the distance while along the shore of the point
Park Point
Park Point Recreation Area, Minnesota
The waterfall as viewed from the edge of the Lester River
Lester River Falls
Lester Park, Minnesota
This is the perfect hike to watch the sunset over Lake Shumway
Bog Boardwalk and Lake Shumway Loop Trail
Savanna Portage State Park, Minnesota
A pine covered island in the middle of Wolf Lake
Wolf Lake Trail
Savanna Portage State Park, Minnesota

External Links