Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hike scenic lake that once was part of river

Lake O' the Dalles Trail runs
for mile in Wisconsin state park

Families can hike around and even swim in a lake that once was part of the St. Croix River at Wisconsin Interstate State Park.

The Lake O’ the Dalles Trail circles its namesake, a 23-acre lake, in a 1-mile loop. Nicely lined with hardwood trees, the trail is relatively flat with a few stairs.

To reach the state park, from St. Croix Falls, Wis., at the junction of Wis. Hwy. 35 and U.S. Hwy. 8, travel south on Hwy. 35. In half a mile, turn right to enter the park. Follow the park road down the hill to a parking lot on the left/east side. The trailhead is on the lot’s north side; head left/west onto the trail, passing the picnic area.

Where the river once ran
During the past 10,000 years, the St. Croix River has changed its course several times. The small ravines across the park indicate where it once ran. During those course changes, the river hollowed out this backwater lake; sediment then filled in the space between it and the St. Croix’s current course. No more than 12 feet deep, the Lake O’ the Dalles’ bottom is about 99 percent rock.

After the trail circles the lake’s north side, it comes to a junction with Echo Canyon Trail. Continue paralleling the lake.

Despite being cut off from the main channel, the picturesque lake recently has been invaded by the non-native curly-leaf pondweed. Originally from Eurasia, the plant lives from the shoreline to depths of up to 15 feet in lakes, where it can displace native plants. It’s a problem across the Great Lakes states.

The next two trail junctions are for the River Bluff Trail. The Lake O’Dalles Trail can be extended by hiking the River Bluff Trail, a 0.7-mile loop that takes hikers between the St. Croix River gorge and the Lake O’ the Dalles. The rocks and sparse vegetation gives it a Rocky Mountain feel. If adding that loop, the hike’s total length is about 1.6 miles.

The next highlight along the lake trail is a railed fishing pier that you can walk onto. You’ll often find anglers here catching largemouth bass, northern pike, panfish and walleye from the lake.

Wildlife viewing trail
As following the trail around the lake’s west side, the River Bottoms Picnic Area is to the west next to the St. Croix River. Along this side of the lake, about 40 yards of the trail follows the park road.

A footbridge then crosses Dalles Creek as the trail loops back around the lake’s south side.

An excellent trail for spotting wildlife, you stand a good chance of seeing white-tailed deer or fox near the lake. Eagles and osprey also are likely as they circle overhead looking for a meal. More rarely, black bear have been spotted plodding about nearby.

The trail then heads up the lake’s eastern side to the stone Beach House. The CCC and WPA constructed the rustic building during the Great Depression. A swimming beach is located here. The beach house is near the trailhead, with your parking lot in clear view.

Read more about day hiking Interstate State Park in my Hittin’ the Trail: Day Hiking Wisconsin and Minnesota Interstate State Parks guidebook.