Friday, October 11, 2013

Enjoy nature walk at Willow Falls state park

Hidden Ponds (Black) Nature Trail
Hidden Ponds (Black) Nature Trail map

Loop circles nature center near swimming beach

Families can enjoy a fun day of discovering nature with a hike on the Hidden Ponds Nature Trail at Willow River State Park in Hudson, Wis.

The half-mile interpretive loop is paved, level and out of the wind, ideal for young children. Also known as the Black Trail (because of its color on park maps), the walking path is right next to the park’s nature center and a short stroll to the park’s swimming beach.

Trailside blackberries
To reach the trail, from Interstate 94’s Exit 4 take U.S. Hwy. 12 north. Go straight/north at the County Road U intersection. In about two miles, County Road U ends at County Road A; go right/northeast at this junction. The park entrance road is another two miles on the left/west. Follow the park road to the nature center parking lot. It’s about a half-hour drive from downtown St. Paul, Minn.

The trailhead is next to the nature center at the parking lot’s southeast corner. A small stem takes you to the main loop.

Be sure to pick up a guide at the trailhead. Numbered posts run all along the trail, providing great opportunities to teach children to learn about the oak forest and wetlands they’re passing through.

If quiet, you’ll probably spot whitetail deer along the trail, especially at dusk. Songbirds also are plentiful. In mid-September, blackberries can be found trailside.

Wildflower garden
After completing the loop, stop in the nature center. Various displays and exhibits focus on west-central Wisconsin’s natural and cultural history. A wildflower garden just outside the center offers 20 common species – such as black-eyed Susan, blazing star, and New England aster – and some of them almost always are in bloom from spring through autumn.

If heading to the park during summer, check online to see what programs are planned at the nature center. The center is open year around. Also, be forewarned: the nature center has a gift shop.

After the nature center, make a full day of it with a walk over to the Little Falls Lake swimming beach, just a few dozen feet northeast of the parking lot. Be sure to pack bathing suits, towels, and sand toys.

A final note: Leashed pets are not allowed on the Hidden Ponds Nature Trail, though they may be taken on other park trails.

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