Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hike to river shore, through apple orchard

Day hikers can enjoy a walk down a bluff to the St. Croix River and then through an apple orchard at the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center in the southeast Twin Cities.

A nonprofit aimed at preserving wildlife habitat and providing educational opportunities about nature, Carpenter St. Croix Valley is free and offers a number of quality programs through the year. The facility is open every day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The South River Bluff Trail and a paved trail connecting it to the visitor center runs about 0.95-miles round trip to the shores of the St. Croix. This trail heads through the heart of the center’s 425-acre main property in Minnesota; a separate 300-acre restored prairie and wooded bluffs are on a nature preserve in Wisconsin.

To reach the nature center, from U.S. Hwy. 10 take Minn. Hwy. 21 (aka as St. Croix Trail) north and watch for the signs; the center is on the right/east in about two miles. Once on the center entry road, park in the northern lot.

Check out the interpretive center northeast of the parking lot for several exhibits and displays about the Lower St. Croix Valley. A paved trail departs from the center's north side.

River shore
Follow the trail east, avoiding the turnoffs onto other trails (Save them for a later visit!). Most of this area is open, so be sure to don suntan lotion or wear a sunhat during summer.

The trail soon curves south; at each of the next three trail junctions, continue heading south. A wetlands is to the east/left with a tree line in the distance that turns an array of reds, yellows and browns each autumn.

Soon the pathway makes a hairpin turn north and reaches the unpaved South River Bluff Trail. Take this down the ridge to the river’s edge, which is on the other side of the Railroad Bed Trail. Upon reaching the river, you’re about halfway through the hike. The far shoreline is Wisconsin.

The St. Croix River there is close to its widest before flowing into the Mississippi River just a couple of miles south in Prescott, Wis. For the next 123 miles to the north, the river forms the Wisconsin-Minnesota border before meandering into the Badger State for its last 44 miles.

Apple orchard
Upon taking in the great views, turn back, going the way you came. However, if it's autumn, at the next junction after making the hairpin turn north, go left/west. The trail passes through a small wooded area, then heads south into the apple orchard.

The orchard was started by the center's namesakes, Thomas and Edna Carpenter, in the 1940s. Thirteen types of apples grow at the center; you'll be able to purchase most of them in mid-September.

Staying on the orchard's west side, the trail exits into the Apple Shack, which sells apples and honey grown at the center, as well as food ranging from pumpkins and squash to jams and syrups.

Leave through the Apple Shack’s other side into the southern parking lot. Follow this back to the northern parking lot where your vehicle is.

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