Monday, December 16, 2013

Day hike along bluff top creek that rambles into St. Croix River

Brown's Creek Park and Nature Preserve Trail
Most people go to Stillwater, Minn., for its trendy shops and great restaurants in an historical urban setting. And while there's not much in town for backpackers, there are some good day hikes for families before they stop downtown for a classy meal.

The Brown's Creek Park and Nature Preserve Ski Trail offers the best day hiking option in the Stillwater area. Close to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, it gives you a good sense of what a blufftop woodlands area is like.

Located in the Brown's Creek Park and Nature Preserve, the trail actually is a number of short connecting paths constructed for cross country skiing and is run by the City of Stillwater and the Stillwater Cross Country Ski Association. It remains open when snow is not on the ground, however; a 0.9-mile segment that forms a loop is described here.

To reach the trail, from Minn. Hwy. 36, go north on County Road 15/Manning Avenue, then turn right/east onto County Road 64/McKusick Road North. Past Maryland Avenue North, beyond where the railroad tracks veer away from the road, is a parking lot on the right. From the lot's southwest corner, walk the stem trail into the woods.

Take the second junction for a trail going left. Pass through the next junction. The trail here is largely shaded by a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees and crosses Brown's Creek, for which the park and nature preserve is named.

Brown's Creek marks one of the few waterways in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area that sports a fishable trout population. It runs for nearly 10 miles, starting a good five miles north of Stillwater before flowing into the St. Croix River just north of town. Since 1955, the state has stocked the creek with brown trout.

Soon the trail runs easterly along the south side of a wetlands formed by Brown's Creek. Upon reaching the first trail junction that allows you to go left/northwest, take it. You'll double back across a wet area, so late summer and autumn, and usually a few days after a rain, mark the best time to hike the nature area.

As the trail veers north, it borders Brown's Creek and a wooded area before reaching the stem trail leading to the parking lot.

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