Sunday, January 19, 2014

Day hike down bluff to scenic St. Croix River

St. Croix River alongside Louise Park.

Louise, Schoen parks offer
remote hike through forest

Day hikers can ramble down a jeep trail heading from the blufftops to the St. Croix River south of its headwaters in Douglas County, Wis.

During the river’s first twenty or so miles downstream from the Saint Croix Flowage, there are few access points, though all of it is located in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Two exceptions are Louise Park and Schoen Park, located roughly east of Cloverton, Minn., and west of Gordon, Wis.

Into the wilds
Schoen and Louise parks both offer a boat landing and spots to camp but not much in the way of hiking trails. However, between the two parks is a jeep trail that largely is in the scenic riverway. It’s a 0.6-mile out-and-back trail (1.2-miles round trip) that heads into the wilds of northern Wisconsin.

To reach the trailhead, from Cloverton head east on County Road 32; upon crossing the Wisconsin border, it becomes County Road T. From Gordon, take U.S. Hwy 53 south and turn right/west onto County Road T. Regardless of the direction you come, turn south onto Rocky Branch Road. After the turn off for Louise Park, take the next left/south onto an unnamed road (If you’ve passed the access road to Schoen Park, you’ve gone too far south.).

Park off of the jeep trail near the intersection. The elevation is about 1045 feet above sea level.

From there, the trail gradually descends through a hardwood forest. In autumn, it offers an array of fall leaf colors, including brilliant reds and oranges to bright yellow and pine greens.

Rocky river bed
After 0.3 miles, though, the trail becomes steeper as it crosses an intermittent stream and then nears the river bottoms at about 940 feet elevation. Notice how the trees species change, with more pines and silver maples the lower you go.

As the trail reaches the river bottom, you’ll hear the rush of water over its rocky stream bed. Boulders stick out of the shallow river in several spots along this stretch, especially about 400 feet upstream where they form a series of small rapids.

Return to the trailhead the way you came. There are no facilities on the trail.

Read more about Douglas County day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of Douglas County guidebook.