Sunday, January 12, 2014

Diverse array of trails await at Willow River

Willow Falls, Willow Rivers State Park
Photo courtesy Wisconsin DNR.
Day hikers will find several excellent trails – including several to a scenic waterfall – at Willow River State Park outside of Hudson, Wis.

To reach Willow River State Park, take Exit 4 from Interstate 94, and head north on U.S. Hwy. 12 for about 1.6 miles. Go County Road U for about 0.3 miles to County Road A, where you’ll continue for another 1.5 miles. The park’s entrance is on the road’s left side. Some trails listed here are best reached from other park entry points, however.

The state park’s trails include:
g Burkhardt (Pink) Trail A walk alongside a scenic river, Willow Falls, and some impressive overlooks await hikers on this trail, which actually is three miles of connecting paths. It’s also known as the Pink Path because of its color on state park maps.
g Hidden Ponds Nature (Black) Trail The half-mile interpretive loop is paved, level and out of the wind, ideal for young children. The walking path is right next to the park’s nature center and a short stroll to the park’s swimming beach.
g Knapweed (Orange) Trail The trail runs for 0.9 miles one-way alongside an effort to restore prairie as it existed in Wisconsin before pioneers arrived during the 1800s. Among the plants you may notice – especially in late June to early July when it blossoms – is the purple knapweed, the trail’s namesake but unfortunately an invasive species that actually threatens the prairie and other ecosystems.
g Little Falls (Green) Trail – The 0.7-mile paved trail rambles alongside a Little Falls Lake between Little Falls Dam and the campground. A variety of waterfowl can be spotted from it.
g Mound (White) Trail – Located in an often overlooked section of the state park, the 1.1-mile Mound Trail offers views of the Willow River and a glacial mound (a hill that resisted erosion during the last Ice Age) on the opposite shore.
g Nelson Farm (Silver) Trail – The state park’s newest trail opened in summer 2012. The 3.7-mile trail heads from a bridge on the Trout Brook (Purple) Trail through several ecosystems to the lake’s north side.
g Oak Ridge (Brown) Trail – Hikers can learn about geological features created during the last ice age on this 1.1-mile trail. It heads from the beach through hardwood forests.
g Pioneer (Yellow) Trail – Among the best views of Willow Falls can be seen from an overlook on the 1.2-mile trail. It also passes the gravesites of the area’s first white settlers.
g Trout Brook (Purple) Trail – This 1.4-mile loop takes hikers through red pine stands and open prairie. You’ll be able to spot great blue heron, ducks and snapping turtles along the way.
g Whitetail (Red) Trail – Expect to spot at least the tracks of whitetail if not the graceful deer itself on this 0.7-mile trail. The path cuts across open fields and along a forest’s edge.
g Willow Falls Hill (Gray) Trail – The quickest way to reach beautiful Willow Falls is this 0.4 trail. The downside is the hill is quite steep, which may not be ideal for very young children.
g Willow Falls (Blue) Trail – An easier but longer trail for reaching the waterfalls is this 1-mile route. It follows the Little Falls Lake and Willow River shoreline to the falls.

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