Friday, September 21, 2007

WCHA Roadtrip Town No. 1 – Duluth

About two months ago, the WCHA Blog kicked off its list of which WCHA towns make for the best roadtrips. For my list, I’m basing this off five criteria (Access, Bars, City Experience, Hotels, and Ticket Cost / Availability). For a detailed list of what these five items mean to me, click here.

Here is a list of the cities the preview has previously covered up until today:

10. Houghton
9. Grand Forks
8. Mankato
7. St. Cloud
6. Madison
5. Anchorage
4. Minneapolis
3. Colorado Springs
2. Denver

This week, its city No. 1: Duluth, which is home to the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.


This is the only criteria of the five where the city of Duluth struggles a bit, although in reality, it’s not too tough to get to for most fans. Duluth isn’t really far from any of the non-Colorado or Alaska-based WCHA teams. It’s about five hours or so away from Madison, and it’s less than four hours from cities such as Houghton, Grand Forks, St. Cloud, Minneapolis, and Mankato.

If you’re coming from the Twin Cities, 99 percent of your trip will be on Interstate 35, which makes for an easy commute. Those coming from places like Madison or Houghton will find that most of their travel will come on two-lane highways, which aren’t bad, but obviously don’t give you the chance to go at higher speeds like an interstate does.

Folks that need to fly to get to Duluth will likely need to fly into Minneapolis and rent a car, but it’s only 170 miles or so to Duluth from the Twin Cities International Airport, which isn’t too bad.


Canal Park – which is the area of downtown Duluth that the DECC is located – is full of bars and restaurants for fans to flock to before and after the games.

Before and after the games though, Grandma’s Sports Garden is the place to be. Located just out the backdoor of the DECC, it’s a spacious facility that serves decent food before the games, but really excels afterward. As frequent message board contributor and noted Duluth fan “Fire Helmet Guy” likes to point out, while other cities may have lots of bars to go to after the games are done, Duluth has just one, and it’s where almost everyone goes. And because of that, it does make for quite the post-game atmosphere. The Garden is noted for their pitchers of kamikazes and good drink specials.

Another arm of the Grandma’s chain – The Saloon – is another solid bar that’s located in Canal Park. It’s just upstairs from the main Grandma’s restaurant that many people are aware of, and it offers more of a laid back and traditional bar atmosphere.

Places such as Red Lobster, Timberlodge Steak House, Green Mill, Old Chicago, and Famous Dave’s offer everything you’d come to expect from those chain restaurants.

There are a few places outside of the Canal Park area that are worth your time if you head to Duluth. The Reef, which is located a bit closer to campus, is also a more traditional bar, but it attracts quite a few visitors at night and is a good place to maybe start your night, if you plan on finishing things up in Canal Park.

Just across the border (in Wisconsin, about five minutes from Canal Park) you’ll find the Anchor Bar, which to be honest is a complete dump. But, as many people know, bars like that can be hidden gems, and the Anchor is no exception. It’s very small on the inside, and only holds about two dozen people comfortably, but they offer one of the best burgers you’ll ever have. Those who are counting calories should probably not venture into the Anchor, since grease is about as prevalent as the meat on these burgers, but they are worth it.

City Experience

Duluth is one of the most family-friendly cities in the WCHA. Canal Park offers much more than just bars and restaurants for people to enjoy. Half of the famous Aerial Lift Bridge is based in Canal Park, and makes for some good photo opportunities, and the same can be said of the scenic views of Lake Superior. The lighthouse at the end of the pier is also a popular spot for tourists. Other highlights of Canal Park include the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, the Great Lakes Aquarium, and the William A Irvin floating ship museum.

If you venture out of Canal Park and head up the hill into downtown, there are several small shops to hit, as well as the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, which is great for kids.

If you visit the area in the winter, you can take advantage of the skiing options that the area provides, including the Lutsen Resort.

Click here for to visit the city of Duluth's official tourism website.


Another great feature of Canal Park is that there are several hotel options to choose from. My personal favorite is the Comfort Suites, which features rooms for about $100 a night. But it’s worth it, since the hotel is nice and they offer, among other things, a free continental breakfast which features several different things to eat and drink.

Click here to see other hotels in Canal Park, and click here to hotels in the downtown Duluth area.

Ticket Cost / Availability

Tickets to Bulldog games are generally very easy to get. The only concern one should have is that if they are going to see either Minnesota or North Dakota play UMD, tickets to tend to go quick, especially if the Bulldogs are having or are expected to have an “up” year.

The price of tickets is about on par with the rest of the league. Single game tickets are $18 for most games, while the price rises to $25 for games against the Gophers and the Sioux.

UMD uses TicketMaster, which adds about $5/ticket to your cost, but most people are, unfortunately, accustomed to this type of fee these days.


Duluth is one of my favorite roadtrip towns because it blends the amenities of some of the bigger WCHA towns with the quaintness of some of the smaller towns. There are plenty of things to do in the area, and there are tons of restaurants and hotels to choose from; but at the same time, everything you need is right in Canal Park, and if you choose to stay there, you don’t need to move your car all weekend to have a great time.

Overall Grade: A