Thursday, September 5, 2013

Great parks, trails await Polk County hikers

An outdoor recreational paradise, Polk County is full of trails to hike or ski, lakes to fish or boat, geological sites to marvel at or explore. For day hikers, a number of major parks and standalone trails can be found in the county.

The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway runs the length of Polk County’s western side. Its visitor center in downtown St. Croix Falls boasts a 500-gallon freshwater aquarium.

The county also is home to two state parks – Wisconsin Interstate State Park and Straight Lake State Park. Interstate Park sits in the famous Dalles of the St. Croix gorge while Straight Lake, near Luck and Frederic, is deliberately undeveloped to serve those seeking a truly back to nature experience.

Another great state-owned land to hike is the Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area. It sports a rare plant ecosystem that resides on and around 1.1-billion-year-old volcanic rock.

Ice Age National Scenic Trail finds its western terminus in St. Croix Falls. The trail largely parallels the southernmost advance of the glacier that last covered Wisconsin some 10,000 years ago.

Several old railroad beds have been converted into trails as well. They’re very popular among backpackers and day hikers alike. The four railroad trails are:
g Gandy Dancer Trail Starting in St. Croix Falls, the trail connects several communities on its 98-mile course north to Superior.
g Stower Seven Lakes State Trail The 14-mile trail runs past lakes and farmland west of Amery.
g Cattail State Trail The 18-mile trail also leaves from Amery but heads east to Turtle Lake and Almena in neighboring Barron County.
g Clear Lake-Clayton State Trail Linking its namesake communities, the trail runs for 11 miles. Note that the railroad beds have a strict carry-in, carry-out policy.

Read more about day hiking this and nearby trails in my Hittin’ the Trail: Day Polk County, Wisconsin guidebook.