David Dill/Taconite & Taconite State Trails

Taconite State Trail


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The Taconite State Trail stretches 165 miles from Grand Rapids to Ely and intersects with the David Dill/Arrowhead State Trail just west of Lake Vermillion. The David Dill/Taconite State Trail extends from the David Dill/Arrowhead State Trail to Ely. The first six miles from Grand Rapids are paved for biking and in-line skating. The remainder of the natural surface trail is used primarily for snowmobiling in the winter. The trail goes through a few areas that have standing water in the summer, however portions of the trail are suitable for horseback riding, hiking, and mountain biking. Off-highway vehicle riding is allowed on some trail portions.


The Taconite Trail winds through forests of birch and aspen intertwined with pine, leading the visitor by many isolated lakes and streams. From Grand Rapids heading north, you see the impact of the taconite and iron mining industry. In the northern portion of the trail the terrain is rolling and tree covered as it winds through state and national forest land. Trail users may see a ridge of solid white pine changing to a ravine of mixed hardwoods, then a ridge of aspen, birch and basswood blended with maples.

At the trail intersection east of the David Dill/Arrowhead State Trail, this segment is called the David Dill/Taconite State Trail.

Eight trail waysides and picnic facilities offer scenic vistas of the hills, lakes and rivers of this area. The trail links to Bear Head Lake, Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine, and McCarthy Beach state parks. The landscape in and around Bear Head Lake State Park is very rolling and rocky, with elevations ranging from 1,450 - 1,590 feet.

The landscape of the area is a result of the underlying geology. The area's bedrock formation is known as the Canadian Shield. It was formed by volcanic action approximately 2.7 billion years ago, and is some of the oldest rock on Earth. Later, ancient seas laid down the valuable iron ore that is still mined in the area today. Further volcanic activity swept away the sea and formed two mountain ranges. The advancing and receding of glaciers and millions of years of erosion have worn the mountains down, leaving behind the rugged landscape now found along much of the trail.


Native northern Minnesota wildlife is abundant along the trail. Some species to watch for are moose, timber wolf, brush wolf, white-tailed deer, black bear, lynx, porcupine, snowshoe hare, fisher, pine marten and red squirrel. 

Over 100 varieties of birds live in the area. Some birds, like the grosbeaks, nuthatches, chickadees and pileated woodpeckers, inhabit the area year-round. Birds like the snow bunting and snowy owl migrate south from the Arctic for the winter; the bald eagle, osprey, warblers, and fly catchers migrate north to this area for the summer.

A variety of game fish including walleye, northern pike, trout and smallmouth bass are found in the area's large number of lakes and rivers.


The earliest known inhabitants of the area lived thousands of years ago. They left pictographs (rock paintings) and petroglyphs (rock carvings) north of the present trail area. Many Indian tribes had settled in the area, including the Lakota, Dakota and more recently, the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, or Chippewa).

European immigration forced the Anishinaabe to move west along the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes. They entered present-day northern Minnesota in the late 1600s. The lake and forest resources provided the Anishinaabe with abundant fish and wildlife in spite of the harsh winters. However, continued immigration eventually forced them from most of their land.

Fur trade began in this area in 1679. French-Canadian voyageurs from Montreal and Quebec came west to participate in the fur trade with the American Indians. The trade was dominated first by the French, then British, and finally the Americans. The fur trade era lasted about 175 years. When it ended, many voyageurs and new immigrants turned to logging.

During the early years of logging in the area, thousands of acres of virgin red and white pine were cut down to supply the building boom in cities across the country. After the vast stands of mature growth pines were removed, aspen forests established themselves. They support a thriving wood products industry which produces paper and building products. The trail passes through a variety of public and private lands that are managed for forest products.

Timber harvesting is often done in the winter when the ground is frozen, which makes it easier to access harvesting sites that would be inaccessible in the summer due to wet conditions.

The major tree species found along the trail include aspen, white and black spruce, Norway pine and white pine. Aspen - a pioneer species - is harvested by clearcutting to allow sunlight to reach the roots of the recently cut trees, which will then sprout and produce aspen suckers in the first year after cutting. Black spruce is also harvested in this manner, but it is usually seeded to get new trees on the site. White spruce, Norway and white pine are usually thinned a number of times before the final harvest is undertaken when all remaining trees are removed and the site is replanted with seedlings.

Most tree species harvested in Minnesota are used to make paper and waferboard, but larger trees are also used to make lumber, cabinets, and furniture parts. When traveling near a harvesting site, please watch out for logging trucks and other equipment.

In addition to the natural resources provided by the forest, the discovery of iron ore dramatically changed northern Minnesota. The rich iron ore deposits contributed to the industrialization of the whole country. The development of the mining industry created a large demand for labor, which led to a wave of European immigration and to the growth of the "Iron Range" and its associated mining towns. The mining industry started to decline as the rich ore was used up. The industry was reinvigorated for a time by the development of taconite, the mining process that made mining of lower grade iron ore economically viable. The mining industry has experienced ongoing restructuring, which results in lower employment levels.

Trail uses

Primary uses of the developed trail include hiking and snowmobiling. From early May through the end of October, class 1 and class 2 all terrain vehicle (ATV) and off highway motorcycle (OHM) riding is permitted on 17 miles of trail at the U.S. Highway 53 junction and on 11 miles of trail between Ely and the Purvis Lake area. More information about off-highway vehicle use of the trail. Other trail users include mountain bikers, backpackers and horseback riders.



mountain bikingMountain biking



all-terrain vehicleAll-terrain vehicle (class 1 and class 2)

off-highway motorcycleOff-highway motorcycle

Trail events

Events calendar

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Trail shelters

From Grand Rapids, east to Ely. For winter trail users, use the Interactive Snowmobile Trails map.

  • Prairie Lake
    • North of Grand Rapids, Highway 38.
  • Clearwater Trail
    • Joint trail stretch with the Clearwater Snowmobile Trail and Taconite State Trail.
  • South from Highway 50
  • George Washington State Forest
    • West Fork of the Prairie River, Herb Branstrom Snowmobile Trail intersection, south of Highway 53.
    • North of Little Moose Trail.
    • Intersects with Bear Lake Trail.
    • Located west of West Sturgeon Forest Roard intersection.
  • McCarthy Beach State Park
    • East of Ridge Trail.
    • Located on the Ridge Trail.
  • Superior National Forest
    • Along County Road 65, west of Highway 73.
    • North of Lake Leander, near Lake Leander Road.
  • Taconite/Arrowhead Junction
    • Pike River Flowage, south of Hwy 1, west of Tower.
  • Bear Island State Forest
    • Located east of Bear Head Lake State Park.
    • Located west of Bear Island Park.
  • Bear Head Lake State Park
    • Parking and interpretive center located within the state park.

Do not leave valuables in your vehicle!

  • McCarthy Beach State Park
  • Minnesota Highway 73
  • U.S. Highway 53
  • Minnesota Highway 1
  • Minnesota Highway 169, Peyla
  • Minnesota Highway 135, Tower

All communities along the Taconite and David Dill/Arrowhead state trails have food, fuel, lodging and retail areas. 


Most communities provide public restrooms nearby with some in local parks in proximity to the trail. Organizations such as chambers of commerce or tourism agencies provide restroom facilities within some larger communities. Local businesses provide restroom facilities for customers.

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