Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trails wind thru Ice Age geological features

Lily Pond Pothole,
Minnesota Interstate State Park
The northern section of Minnesota Interstate State Park – also known as the Pothole Area – offers day hikers a number of trails to explore the area’s geology and to enjoy its scenic beauty.

To reach the northern section, take U.S. Hwy. 8 into downtown Taylors Falls. At the Bench Street intersection, turn southeast toward the river into the park. The road enters the parking lot.

Four major trails head from the parking lot into the park.

At the lot’s north end, the 1.5-mile Railroad Trail passes a historic building and bathrooms, goes under Hwy. 8 into downtown Taylors Falls, then curves to the southwest. It passes a historic train depot, and paralleling the highway ends at the Sandstone Trail for a 3-mile round trip.

The trail can be extended by taking the 1-mile Sandstone Bluff Trail. The loop is spectacular in autumn with a mix of colors from the orange maples, red sumac and brilliant yellow oaks. The Sandstone Bluffs and Railroad trails combined make for a four-mile round trip.

A second trail from the Pothole Area parking lot is the 1.25-mile River Trail. At the park’s southern end, pass the drinking fountain and the interpretive kiosk, heading to the right/southwest. In short order, the trail hugs the St. Croix River shoreline, with three overlooks. Where Folsom Island sits in the river, it swerves away from the shoreline around a campground; be careful not to take the connector trail (which is the left trail at the Y junction) to the campsites. You’ll walk 2.5 miles round trip.

A third trail is a set of paths collectively known as the Shadow and Angle Rocks Lookout Trails. This pair of interconnecting short trails also begin at the parking lot’s southern end; at the drinking fountain go left toward the river.

The path to Shadow Rock Lookout follows the route to the Lower Boat Tour Landing. A side trail leads to a glacial pothole called the Cauldron. The potholes were formed about 10,000 years ago when swirling glacial meltwater sweeping down the river drilled holes into the ancient basalt bedrock.

Back on the main trail, you’ll pass through The Squeeze, an exceedingly tight, L-shaped break between two ultra large chunks of basalt (Warning: Young children may be frightened in the dark, narrows quarters.). From there, climb to the Shadow Rock Lookout, which offers a great vista of the St. Croix River and gorge rock formations on the Wisconsin side.

Taking the path that veers away from the Lower Boat Tour Landing leads to the Angle Rock Lookout. You’ll first pass a few potholes on your right. At the Lily Pond Pothole, turn right where you’ll pass more of the geological oddities, including the famous Bottomless Pit and Bake Oven. The trail then briefly joins the Shadow Rock path; go left then at the next junction take a right. When the trail reaches the intersection after that, head right and clamber to the top of Angle Rock.

Technically, these paths are part of the Lost Pothole Trail. For a shorter version of that trail, pick up its trailhead on the parking lot’s west side. At the first junction, go right so that you take the trail counterclockwise. You’ll pass a few baby potholes.

Upon reaching the River Trail junction, go left to the interpretive kiosk then to the drinking fountain. At the parking lot, veer right to the visitor center. To extend the trail, follow the loop around the visitor center, and for even more walking, add the loop stacked to the north of it.

To make a full day of it, at the drinking fountain instead go right and incorporate the previously described Shadow and Angle rocks lookouts trails into your walk.


Read more about day hiking Interstate State Park in my Hittin' the Trail guidebook.