Sunday, December 22, 2013

Grand lake, beautiful woods await hikers

Saint Croix Flowage
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR
Day hikers can explore the northernmost reaches of the United States’ only national scenic riverway on the Gordon Flowage Campground Trail.

The roughly 2-mile round trip is a jeep trail running through the woods bordering the river. The trail actually is unnamed, but for convenience’s sake, I’ve christened it here after the campground where it begins in Wisconsin's Gordon Dam County Park.

To reach the trailhead, from U.S. Hwy. 53 in Gordon, Wis., go west on County Road Y. Within a half-mile, you'll see a lake on your right/north. That's the Saint Croix Flowage. After about seven miles, the road dead ends. This is the northern end of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Park in the Gordon Flowage Campground lot at the end of the county road.

Begin the hike by walking to the dam that creates the flowage about 300 feet northeast of the lot. The river is left/west of the dam with the 2247-acre flowage to the right/east.

The flowage – a man-made lake to prevent river flooding – reaches 28 feet deep and is popular among fishermen. Largemouth bass, northern pike, and panfish are fairly abundant in the moderately clear water. Sometimes referred to as the Gordon-Saint Croix Flowage, it boasts 29 miles of meandering shoreline.

The flowage isn’t the St. Croix River’s headwaters. The river rushes into the lake’s east end near Gordon after roughly paralleling Hwy. 53 from Upper St. Croix Lake near Solon Springs, Wis.Centuries ago, European explorers and fur traders portaged from Upper St. Croix Lake to the Brule River, which flows into Lake Superior, using this route to reach the Mississippi River.

From the dam, head back to the parking lot and pick up the jeep trail at the end of County Road Y. The trail heads west, with a brief jog south, through a mixed hardwood and pine forest. It’s a lovely walk during autumn with the leaves alight in reds, oranges, yellows and dark greens. You won’t see the river from the trail, but you’ll likely hear it flowing over the dam.

In about 0.95 miles, the trail junctions with the asphalt Mail Road (Some maps label it as “West Mail Road” and others as “South Mail Road.”). This marks a good spot to turn around.

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