Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gandy Dancer Trail heads thru Northwoods

Old railroad line converted

to 98-mile hiking route

The Gandy Dancer State Trail runs roughly north-south for 98 miles with a number of accessible points in Wisconsin cabin country, making it ideal for a day hike. Built atop an old Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie railroad grade, the trail is named for the Gandy Tool Company workers who built the route back in the 1880s.

Paralleling Wis. Hwy. 35, one of the easiest places to get on the trail is in St. Croix Falls at the Polk County Information Center, located at the junction of U.S. Hwy. 8 and Hwy. 35. Plenty of parking is available at the info center.

The trail begins as paved asphalt then turns to packed crushed limestone, which makes for easy walking. As trains once needed to make their way where you’ll walk, grade changes always are gradual.

A variety of trees often form a long canopy over the trail, offering plenty of shade and a real escape back to nature experience. This is especially so in autumn, when leaves change to form red, orange and golden roofs over hikers. In grassy areas, lupines, phlox and columbine flower during June.

When passing waterways, dragonflies frequently can be spotted during summer. Songbirds light most of the route with their melodies while squirrels scamper along the ground and up trees. Watch for white tail deer springing back into the woods when rounding curves.

The first segment of the trail runs 4.5 miles from the information center to the village of Centuria. If you have young children, you certainly don’t have to walk the entire trial; mile posts signs along the way tell how far you’ve walked so you know when to turn around.

If your cabin is a little farther north, no worries. Running through nine villages and connecting with city parks, you can find a trailhead at several locations, including: Centuria, Milltown, Luck, Frederic, Lewis, Siren, Webster and Danbury. Those trail sections pass farmland, lakes and forests. Bicyclists also are allowed to use the trial; be sure to keep an eye on children so they don’t get in the way.

Read more about family friendly day hiking trails in my Headin' to the Cabin guidebooks.