Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hike offers great view of river delta, valley

Kinnickinnic River Delta. Photo courtesy Wisconsin DNR.
Day hikers are certain to spot wildlife on the Purple Trail at the southernmost state park along the St. Croix River.

The 1.2-mile loop, which includes a segment of the Yellow Trail, takes hikers along a first-class trout stream at Kinnickinnic State Park in Pierce County, Wis. Though a compact park at a little more than 1200 acres, it contains an old-growth oak forest, restored prairies, and a river delta.

To reach the park, from Wis. Hwy. 29 northeast of Prescott, Wis., take County Road F north for about 5.5 miles. Turn left/west onto 820th Avenue then left/south into the park; follow the entry road west all of the way to its end and park in the St. Croix Picnic Area Lot.

An access trail to the main course begins in the lot’s western corner. Upon reaching the Purple Trail, turn right/north. Most of the trees in this area of Wisconsin were cut by pioneers and 19th century logging companies, but the trail here passes through one of the few woodlands to escape the ax.

Wildlife abounds as well in this area. Watch for whitetail deer, raccoon, rabbits and squirrels. Hikers have spotted weasels, gray fox, red fox and even beaver nearby.

Restored prairie
In about 600 feet from the access trail, you’ll pass a path to the swim area. Continuing on the main trail, the woods soon gives way to a restored prairie.

This region was plowed under by the area’s first white settlers but since 1972 (when the state park was established) have been among 50 acres of land at the park restored to original prairie. Watch for partridge, ringneck pheasants and other birds that prefer grasslands.

You’ll soon reach a junction with the Yellow Trail; go right/south on it through more prairie. In about 600 feet, you’ll cross the park entry road, so make sure any little ones with you watch for traffic.

Rivers below
The Yellow Trail then rejoins the Purple Trail; go right/south onto the latter. After a junction with the Orange Trail, the Kinnickinnic River should come in view to the left/south. You’re on a bluff overlooking the river; don’t get too close to the edge, though, as the limestone cliff is a straight drop down.

White pines line the river, which is popular with anglers for its brown trout. Watch for mink slinking along the banks looking for food.

Rounding the picnic area, head into the overlook on the left/west to see the Kinnickinnic River Delta with the St. Croix River. Sediment from the Kinnickinnic reduces the St. Croix’s width here by about 75 percent.

The result is a faster current, which during winter leaves the St. Croix ice-free. Because of that, bald eagles enjoy a year-round fishing area, so keep your eyes to the sky for the bird of prey.

The access trail to the parking lot is directly across from the overlook.

Good options
If time and energy allows, consider extending the hike by adding the rest of the Yellow Trail; to do that, at the first junction of the Purple/Yellow trails, go left/north onto the latter. The 1.2-mile Yellow Trail (You’ll only do about a mile of it for a 1.8-mile hike total.) loops along the forest and prairie edge. A flat trail, it offers the opportunity to spot wild turkeys. When the Yellow rejoins the Purple, go left/south onto the latter.

Alternately, enjoy a dip into the St. Croix River at its swim area that the Purple Trail passed at its start. There’s a small sand beach at the swim area, and the St. Croix is one of the Midwest’s cleanest waterways.

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