Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day hike remains of 500-million-year-old sea

Sandrock Cliffs

Scenic riverway loops
offer fantastic water views

Unique, imposing bluffs set above a lush river await hikers of the Sandrock Cliffs Trail in Wisconsin’s Burnett County. Up to five miles of trails run through the area in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway along the state border.

The southern-most trail – a 3-mile loop – offers more than enough scenery, but connecting trails provide an additional two miles of hiking for cabin-goers with a little more energy to burn.

To reach the Sandrock Cliffs Trail, take Wis. Hwy. 70 toward the St. Croix River. Before the bridge enters Minnesota, turn north into the Hwy. 70 Landing parking lots.

The trailhead sits on the parking lot’s north side. Go clockwise on Loop A, which heads north along the river. Paths are fairly well maintained. There are some hills along the way, but they’re nothing elementary school kids or older can’t handle.

Pine forest
The first section of the loop follows a terrace along the river through a forest of red and white pines. Peacefulness abounds as you walk across a soft and fragrant bed of pine needles.

River views also wow hikers on this trail. The St. Croix’s clear, pristine water teems with smallmouth bass and freshwater mussels. This far north, the river channel also is fairly shallow, so thin sandy islands, riffles and shoals are commonplace.

Watch overhead for patrolling eagles and ospreys. They nest nearby.

On the ground, look for a variety of woodland animals, most notably porcupines, ducks and deer. Ash, maple, jack pine and aspen as well as an understory of ferns grow amid the dominant red and white pines.

500-million-year-old cliffs
About halfway through Loop A, turn onto Loop E, continuing the walk clockwise (or paralleling the river). Along this 0.3-mile loop, you’ll spot the highlight of the trail: picturesque sandstone cliffs towering over a river side channel.

Stand on the sandstone cliffs, and you’re atop what once was the bottom of a shallow sea from 500 million years ago. After the Cambrian-era sea evaporated, the sand deposits left behind were compressed into rock. Some 11,000 years ago during the end of the last ice age, raging flood waters carved out the riverway and exposed the sandstone.

The sandstone does give way easily, so remain clear of cliff edges. Also, carving or writing you name into the cliffs is illegal.

About half-way through Loop E, join Loop B for a 0.3-mile loop. Just a little bit onto Loop B are picnic tables perfect for lunch or a rest break with snack.

Bathrooms can be found about midway along Loop B. They’re in the Tennessee Road parking lot.

Additional trail loops
Heading around the top curve of Loop B, its southern side rejoins Loop E, which in turn rejoins Loop A for a walk back to your parking lot near Highway 70.

As with any scenic riverway trail, bring bug repellent to keep off deer ticks, and stay on the path so you don’t walk into poison ivy.

This set of trails also can be accessed from its north side via Tennessee Road. Two additional trails – Loop C and Loop D, both 0.9 miles long – run north of Tennessee Road.

Dogs are allowed on all loops, so long as they remain leashed.

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