Saturday, June 16, 2012

Day trail heads to impressive Willow Falls

Falls on the Willow River at Willow River State Park.

Water tumbles over
600 million-year-old rock
at Willow River State Park

Walking alongside a scenic river, a waterfall, and some impressive overlooks await hikers on the Burkhardt Trail in Willow River State Park near Hudson, Wis.

The trail actually is three miles of connecting paths. It’s also known as the Pink Trail because of its color on state park maps.

To reach Willow River State Park, take Exit 4 from Interstate 94, heading north on Hwy. 12 for about 1.6 miles. Take Hwy. U for about 0.3 miles to Hwy. A, where you’ll continue for another 1.5 miles. Pass the park’s entrance on the road’s left side and turn left onto on Hwy. I. Take a left onto River Road (aka 115th Avenue) and then make a quick left into the River Road parking lot (You’ll need to pay an entrance fee or sport an annual state park pass.). The trailhead is on the parking lot’s south side.

Butterflies, dragonflies
The path begins by heading southwest along the Willow River bottoms. The marsh-like region boasts tall grasses and during summer a number of wildflowers. Watch for whitetail deer in the brush, eagles soaring overhead, and during summer butterflies and dragonflies flitting about. Frogs and a variety of birds also are abundant along the riverfront.

Upon coming to the first fork, go left into a wooded area. The trail then crosses a large meadow. Aspen, oak, maple and of course willow trees abound. At the next fork, again go left. You’ll head onto a bluff to an impressive overlook of the waterway and the gorge it has cut.

The trail then heads downward. At the next fork, veer left for the multi-level Willow River Falls. The rock on the gorge walls’ lowest levels is about 600 million years old.

You can take a stairwell about 100-feet down to the falls. Sometimes you’ll catch people wading through the falls; this is not advised for small children.

Wood footbridge
You can treat the trail to the falls as a spur and simply head back the way you came, or you can continue onward. If doing the latter, cross the wood footbridge over the river, but then turn back or you’ll find yourself on another trail on the wrong side of the waterway!

Upon turning back, the trail meanders northward but ultimately forms a loop.

At the next trail intersection, go left. You’ll then be heading back to the parking lot. At the next fork, turn left again, and you’ll find yourself on the trail winding along the river bottoms, which is where you started.

Depending on whether or not you turned around at the falls, the hike ranges from 2-4 miles in length. The park is open every day of the year from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Read more about day hiking the scenic riverway in my guidebook Hittin’ the Trail: Day Hiking the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.