Monday, February 24, 2014

Minn.'s Afton State Park day hiking trails ramble through variety of ecosystems

The North and South River Trails follows almost three
miles of old railroad bed. Photo courtesy of Minn. DNR.
A number of unnamed trails crisscross Minnesota’s Afton State Park, located alongside the St. Croix River east of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The state park sits on a glacial moraine and despite its compactness still provides hikers with a variety of ecosystems to enjoy, including a crystal blue river, a forested stream, and a small meadow.

To reach the park, from Interstate 94 take Minn. Hwy. 21 about 4.5 miles south of Afton, Minn. Turn east into the park at the Minn. Hwy. 20 intersection. Follow the entry road to a set of seven parking lots in front of the visitor center. Pick up a park map, as you’ll have to take connecting trails to reach the ones listed here.

Among the park’s best (and named) trails are:
• Deer Valley Loop – For a solid workout and great vistas, try this 2.2-mile trail, which heads up and down the bluff overlooking the St. Croix. You’ll need to first hike 1.3 miles of connecting trails to reach the trailhead for a 4.8-mile round trip.
• Prairie Loop – The 2.1-mile trail circles a blufftop prairie and can be extended by taking loops off the main route. A mile of connecting trails are needed to reach the trailhead for a 4.1-mile round trip.
• North River TrailA tranquil dirt trail runs next to the St. Croix River’s widest section. The 2.2-miles round trip also offers the opportunity for a swim to cool off when the walk is all over.
• South River Trail – The 3.2-mile round-trip trail rambles alongside the St. Croix River through a woods. It offers great views of the scenic Wisconsin shoreline.
• Trout Brook Loop – The trail heads alongside and over Trout Brook, a St. Croix tributary, then behind a small border that borders the stream. Though only 1.5-miles long, you’ll need to hike 2.3 miles of connecting trails to its trailhead, resulting in a 6.1-mile round trip.

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