Trail Review: Guardrail at Hartley Nature Center (Winter)

I gave the Guardrail another shot on Saturday, after my first whack at it left me a bit puzzled. This time I didn’t wander off the trail onto Blue Pots, which, it turns out, dumped me off on the trail headed in the direction I’d already traversed when I ran on it before.

Guardrail is a single-track, two-way, packed and groomed, multi-use, technical trail at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth. It winds its way through the woods like the switchbacks on Berthoud Pass in Colorado. Whoever designed this path made the most of the space available in the park, which I appreciate.

Since I am a little bit lazy, I don’t even mind stepping off the trail for the occasional cyclist. All of the cyclists I’ve encountered have been friendly and don’t come whipping around corners out of nowhere, so I am more than happy to accommodate them. I was lucky that most of them were coming from the opposite direction, so I could see them coming and pick a spot to let them pass. I hope in the summer there isn’t a significant uptick in bike traffic on the trail, but if I extrapolate my experiences last fall at Hartley (on different trails), that would seem unlikely.

The trail is accessible by taking the Old Hartley Road Trail to Tunnel Trail to Fisherman or Rhamnus. I ended up getting on the trail via Fisherman and getting off again at Rhamnus, which is the clockwise version of the loop.

Let me take a moment to mention how much I love the Tunnel Trail.

I could run that forever.

I enjoyed the twists and turns of Guardrail, even though it felt at times like it was a net uphill course, which it obviously can’t be since it’s a loop. What goes up, must come down. There were exposed icy patches on some of the steeper parts of the trail, not all of which were immediately visible, and so I was as conservative on the descent as I was on the ascent. I may or may not have briefly thrown out my heart rate training restrictions to fly across a few of the more gentle declines. They were just too good.

The trail, as I took it, ended up being about 4.9 miles, which makes it a nice medium (for me) run. The other trail I’ve run at Hartley, Root Canal, is a bit shorter, so now I have a few options at the same park. I can also combine Root Canal and Guardrail for a long run, something I’m looking forward to as I gradually increase my mileage.

Overall, this trail is one of my favorites within the city limits, with lots of access points, including Howard Gnesen Rd, Marshall St., and North Road, so it’s not necessary to drive all the way to Hartley if there’s a closer trail spur. I almost ended up living out this way, as I looked at a house to rent nearby. The house ended up being small, with an incredibly weird layout, and a trompe l’oeil “basketball court” scene in the basement, and I am glad I didn’t end up there, but I suppose a small consolation would have been easy trail access.

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