Western Terminus of the Ice Age Trail
The Ice Age Trail is a Wisconsin treasure. Some hikers have traversed the 1,100+ miles of trail. Most of us simply enjoy the short segments closer to home. The trail follows the geologic remains of the last glacial lobe that dipped down into the Great Lakes Region. Its eastern terminus is in Sturgeon Bay on the southern shore of Green Bay. The western terminus is in the St. Croix River region that divides Wisconsin and Minnesota. I have hiked all of the segments of Waukesha county and several in Walworth and Washington counties. Each summer we take a day trip or a weekend getaway to explore some of the segments beyond Southeastern Wisconsin.
St. Croix River Region
This summer we headed up to the St. Croix River region and the western terminus of the Ice Age Trail. It was a four hour drive to the far northwest corner of Wisconsin. The towns are small and remote but only 90 from the Twin Cities. St Croix Falls, WI and Taylor Falls, MN straddle the St Croix River and share the Interstate State Park. St. Croix Falls is the larger of the two towns with a population of 2100, Taylor Falls 900. Taylor Falls had a few small shops and pubs looking down on the river, St. Croix Falls has the power dam on the north side of town and more lodging and eating options.
The Interstate State Park was a wonderful surprise for us. On the map it looked like it would be a small city park but the reality was a large area along both sides of the river with numerous hiking trails, camping sites, boat launch, visitor centers and spectacular river bluff vistas. As the name indicates it is an Interstate park and therefore each side is a different state’s park.
Interstate State Park
FYI it is necessary to purchase a state park permit in each state. The Wisconsin side was $8 for a day pass and Minnesota was $7. For more specifics visit each state DNR website: WI DNR and MN DNR. Both parks run right along the bluffs of the St. Croix River with hiking trails that highlight many of the geological formations of the region. The Minnesota side is smaller and more narrow with its main trail running between the river and the highway. The Wisconsin side is much larger and has more circuitous trails and more remote areas. There are canoe/kayak outfitters on both sides of the river. We happened to meet Eric of Eric’s Canoe Rental as he was launching a couple of kayaks. He was a great guy and explained that they offered rental/shuttle services and shuttle service if you went for byob (bring your own boat). The launch for each park was slightly downriver from the dam in St. Croix Falls and the pickup was down river in Oceola. I had kayaking on my agenda but my travel companion lobbied for drone flying instead. It was a perfect spot for both activities.
Another FYI, bring bug spray!!! In the summers, Wisconsin and Minnesota have bumper mosquito crops. It had been raining quite a lot the week before our arrival and the woods were abuzzin’.
Each state park had a trail that highlighted the geologic phenomenon of potholes. These were areas of rock that had formed perfectly smooth holes as a rock,or a “grinder” powered by rushing water, had ground out the softer stone. This was a really interesting formation.
Because we left our planning too late we were unable to find lodging in St. Croix Falls, so we stayed in Oceola, WI a slightly larger town about 8 miles south of the two “Falls” towns. We stayed at the River Valley Inn and Suites on the northern outskirts of town. It was clean and sufficient and shared a parking lot with Tippy Canoes, a very convenient and sporty pub.
It was great to only walk 50 ft after hiking all day and even better for stumbling back after a couple of beers and burgers. Oceola was a typical “up north” town with a main street sporting ice cream, fudge and t-shirt shops.
Wilkie Glen and Cascade Falls
The town sits on the St. Croix River and the Oceola Creek but neither of these waterways are really visible from downtown. The river banks are mostly undeveloped along this stretch. As a matter of fact we found a quite adventurous trail hidden on the main street. Wilkie Glen and Cascade Falls were down a very long flight of rickety stairs. We would never of even found this spot if we hadn’t been looking for a waterfall to photograph.
This was a nice short trail but had some steep spots as you got closer to the river. For some reason the drone was locked out in this area but I managed to take some fun regular shots. Cascade Falls:
What to do when your feet are tired
Barns always call to me. This one looked like a gold mine. Online it advertises having an art gallery within. However, I think this venue is more for performances and theater. It was a beautiful spot in Schillberg Park but not open as we explored it.
Another spot of interest to art lovers might be this interesting
field we found in Taylor Falls, MN. Tom opted to wait in the car but I have to admit this was quite fun.
Of course we found a craft brewery
Oliphant Brewing in Somerset, WI. There were not many craft breweries to be found in this region. We drove about 20 miles west to Somerset and found this brewery. Their brand has great art work. The beer was not really our style. I am willing to be pretty adventurous in my beer but this spot had too many odd additives for me. It felt like they were trying a little to hard to be weird. But all beer spots are fun whether I love the beer or not.
So much more in the St. Croix River region
This trip to the St. Croix River region was a very short getaway and we didn’t scratch the surface of the outdoor experiences available. I felt like everywhere we drove I saw signs pointing to more hiking, biking and kayaking trails. One thing I haven’t included at all are the snowmobile and ATV trails that crisscrossed the region. These are sports we don’t take note of but I know that many do. There were several times that I found myself thinking the views would be so different and amazing when the leaves are down or when there is snow and ice. Anyone looking for a Midwest outdoor destination look to the St. Croix River region. I think both Minnesotans and Wisconsinites would declare this “God’s Country”.