March 22, 2017
Urban dog walking and backcountry dog walking can both be enjoyed by dog lovers and each have their advantages. If you are staying at pet-friendly Caribou Highlands you can enjoy both together or separately. By “urban” we don’t mean to say that Lutsen is in a big city. On the contrary, tall mountains full of trees look down on you the whole time. We just mean you get the experience of walking past shops and restaurants with dog in tow. By “backcountry” we really mean “backcountry,” where civilization vanishes and your dog gets close to the habitat of his undomesticated ancestors.
In a way, dogs are half wild and half civilized. For a dog walk, you might want a half wild and half civilized experience. Right by Caribou Highlands the sidewalk begins. You can take this sidewalk up the hill, .7 miles to the end of Ski Hill Road. Here you can keep going on a spur of the Superior Hiking Trail. Or, you can skip the civilized side all together and drive straight to the trail parking lot, at the end of the road.
If you choose to not drive you can start up the sidewalk, on the side of the road the resort is on. The road is steep, but you sort of make an investment of energy on the way up that pays dividends of easy walking on the way back.
After you pass the bridge the “urban” part of the walk begins. You pass other resorts and shops and chair lifts passing overhead. Depending on the season, skiers may complement your pooch or pat him on the head.
You can enjoy the experience of being in these hills with your dog while still being on an easy path. If the steep walk is getting you tired, there are places you can stand for a while, hold on to the leash, and look down into the valley. In this valley runs the Poplar River, which will become important later.
In honor of Shel Silverstein you finally reach a point “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Around the same place the road becomes dirt. Your dog may start looking more jumpy and excited as the buildings are replaced by ever surrounding trees. You then reach the trail parking lot.
You then begin by walking uphill on the Superior Hiking Trail Spur. Soon after reaching the trail, you can hear the Poplar River to the left, crashing through a valley you can’t see yet. You have been walking parallel to it the whole time, and now it is getting closer.
This section of forest is almost entirely composed of evergreen trees, whose branches form a sort of canopy over the trail. After a little while you are walking downhill. You are now getting closer and closer to the river.
You then reach a fork in the road. Here, can turn around—but if you do, you might be disappointed later. Thirty or so feet to the left is the bridge over the Poplar River.
The Poplar is now right below you. To the right, the water is coming toward you after appearing from behind a curve of trees. On the left, the river cascades down a series of falls and is squeezed into a narrow valley, which sinks below a few ski-related buildings perched on the crest of the hills above.
Upstream of the bridge a little, the river becomes calm and flows wide and gently through the landscape. There are flat areas by the river that you can reach by taking that path at the fork, which goes closest to the east side of the river.
Your dog will enjoy getting to run on this flat land and will maybe splash some in the river. You can relax here for a while and play catch by the gentle river, below the hills. You can take your time, knowing the walk back to the resort from here is mostly downhill.