Sunday, December 23, 2012

Twin loops offer great views of St. Croix

Scarlet tanager
Photo courtesy NPS.
Fantastic river views atop beneath a lush forest canopy await visitors to the Ridge View Trail near Osceola, Wis.

Not to be confused with Ridgeview Trail at the adjacent Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area, this pair of trails actually is two loops that only locals really know about. The loops run through the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and the Osceola State Fish Hatchery on a bluff overlooking the St. Croix River’s back channel.

To reach the trail, take Wis. Hwy. 35 north of Osceola and turn north onto County Road S. Two trailheads are on the road’s west (or driver’s) side. Both trailheads have their own parking areas off of the road. Just beyond 93rd Avenue is the southern-most parking area, which actually is an excellent trailhead for either loop.

Chisago Loop
From that trailhead, head west. At the first fork, continue straight to hike the Chisago Loop. Slightly more than one mile long, it’s the northern trail. Alternatively, at the fork you can head left, or south, for the Osceola Loop, which is about twice as long as its counterpart. Either loop ranges from easy to moderate in difficulty, so the distance you can handle, especially if you have children along, really determines which one to take.

If heading onto the Chisago Loop, you’ll hike clockwise around the trail. It’s mostly level and sometimes covered in a bed of pine needles or ancient, billion-year-old trap rock. You’ll see a number of these basalt outcroppings along the way. Some neat spurs off the trail offer great views of the river below.

About two-thirds of way around, be careful of taking a fork to the right, or north, lest you end up at the second of two parking lots (which is the one where you didn’t park your vehicle).

Osceola Loop
If opting for the Osceola Loop, upon reaching the main trail, go left, or south, so you take it clockwise. This saves the best views for the last half of the hike.

You’ll begin by heading through a pine and deciduous forest in which the canopy arches over the trail. About half-way through as you turn north, through the trees you can see river’s back channel and hear the rush of a rapids-filled stream in the canyon below the bluffs. Watch for pits off of the trail; they are believed to have been made many decades ago by Native Americans.

Either trail is excellent for viewing birds – scarlet tanagers, eagles, turkeys, grouse – and other forest-loving wildlife. Woodland plants you’re likely to spot include include marsh marigolds and large maple trees.

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