Heading into the Bull Run, I was reminded of the Tour de France cycling race, where the first set of stages feature flat fast routes that tend to cater to the sprinters. It’s interesting, but the rubber really meets the road as those skinny wheelers head into the Pyrenees, and the men are separated from the boys. Likewise, after a couple weeks of gentle topography in the early NMTC series races, the Bull Run steps into the breach as the first real hill-raiser.
The route takes in some really nice miles out on the far reaches of Jay Cooke State Park, providing a workout over less-traveled trail sections well away from the swinging bridge area. Not many lap dogs on leashes out here. As the NMTC runs it, the course forms a lollipop utilizing the Spruce, Upper Lake and Lower Lake trails.
Where the run got its name is perhaps a story some of the NMTC old-timers can tell. Though I suspect the hyperbolic yarn they drift off into may give you a clue as to where the name really comes from... Some also like to call this the Tick Run, a fair title given the population of those little critters that just might wish to tag along.
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Perhaps the trickiest part of using this route is simply getting to the starting point - it can be a little obscure if you're not familiar with the area. But, stick with me. I'll get you there.
How to get there: From Duluth take Hwy 23 (Grand Ave.) west off I-35. You’ll stay on Hwy 23 the whole way, continuing past the zoo, Morgan Park, Gary-New Duluth and on toward Fond du Lac. As you pass through Fond du Lac, stop gabbing on your iPhone and pay attention, you're getting close.
Hwy 23 veers left out of Fond du Lac and crosses the St. Louis River. Check your odometer as you cross the bridge. From there, it is almost exactly 2 miles to where you want to park. Watch on the right hand side for a small pull off, with a wood post / wire fence, where the powerlines cross the road. [Picture
] Park here, or up the road a short distance at the scenic overlook. Go through the fence and follow the trail up the hill to the powerlines. Welcome to the Bull Run. It’s time to get your money out of that heart rate monitor.
The Route: This 4.2 mile run begins by following the powerlines for about 1000 ft. Watch on the left for a well-established trail that turns into the woods. This is the (Jay Cooke SP) Spruce Trail, which crosses the powerline clearing.
Once on the Jay Cooke Trails you can use the trail junctions as points of reference, as each is labeled with a number and usually has a map. So, while the following description may sound a bit complicated, if you keep in mind you are just making a large loop out of the Upper and Lower Lake trails and returning on the Spruce Trail to the powerlines, it’s pretty straight-forward. [Jay Cooke Trail Map
The Spruce Trail offers some solid, rolling terrain to warm up the legs and get the blood pumping. About a mile into the run you'll hit trail junction 47A. Turn left, taking the Upper Lake Trail. The next mile or so is predominantly downhill, but with some ups to keep you honest. Definitely enjoy the views while you're up there, and the nice descent that follows as a reward.
Stay left at junction 48, the Lower Lake Trail, and follow this for about 0.75 miles as it loops around. (Note that at junction 45, you'll need to turn hard right to stay on the Lower Lake Trail.) Overall, this is a real cruising section. Relatively flat and meandering through hardwoods and pine, it eventually sidles up to the St. Louis River. Relax, enjoy, find a happy place. It’s almost time to pay the piper...
At junction 46 stay left, returning to the Upper Lake Trail, and shift into hill climbing gear. The trail is going to go up, then up a bit more, then... you get the picture. Remember all that descent a little bit ago? Well, you do need to get back to your car, and it's now up there. So, off you go. Don't spend all that ATP
in one place.
Toward the end of the hill climbs, go straight through junction 47A and 47B, up that last devilish grade. You're now on the Spruce Trail again, heading back along the stick of the route lollipop. Follow the winding trail back, turn right at the powerlines and soon you’re back at the start after a nice, scenic workout. Enjoy!