Monday, March 3, 2014

Array of great day hiking trails await at Minnesota's William O’Brien State Park

St. Croix River shoreline at William O'Brien State Park
More than 12 miles of excellent day hiking trails crisscross Minnesota’s William O’Brien State Park, which sits on the scenic St. Croix River.

The hiking trails head past beaver ponds, around prairies, and through woodlands. Their difficulty level varies from easy to moderate, though reaching some of them will require taking a number of connecting trails.

The trails can be divided into three clusters, with three specific parking lots offering access to each trailhead in that zone.

Wedge Savanna Trail Cluster
Take Minn. Hwy. 95 to the park entrance. At the first junction, go left/southeast then turn at the next left/southwest into a parking lot. Trails that can be easily reached from this lot include:
• Wedge Hill Savanna Trail (small loop) – This 0.5-mile loop sits on a prairie atop the river bluff. From the parking lot, take the connecting trail left/west to the Savanna Trail trailhead, going left at the first junction.
• Wetland Trail – The 2.2-mile loop heads around a blufftop wetlands; with connector trails, the hike runs about 2.6-miles round trip. At the trailhead for the Wedge Hill Savanna Trail, go right/north for 0.1 miles to the Wetland Trail loop.
• Beaver Lodge Trail – The 0.7-mile loop encircles a wetlands where beavers have created a small pond; you’ll hike 1.7 miles round trip with the connecting trails. Upon reaching the Wedge Hill Savanna Trail, stay on that loop’s western side. At the next junction at the bottom of the loop, go left/west 0.2 miles, passing a junction for the Savanna Trail’s larger loop; after that, go left/south onto Beaver Lodge Trail loop.
• Hardwood Hills Trail – Though this 1.1-mile loop trail through a forested area at the park’s northern boundary heads off another cluster’s trail, the Savanna Trail parking lot is the shortest route to it; you’ll walk 4.1-miles round trip with the connecting trails. At the Wedge Hill Savanna Trail junction, go right/north, then at the Wetland Trail junction, head right/north; after passing below the railroad overpass, go right/northwest onto the Woodland Edge Trail. The next junction is the Hardwood Hills Trail.

Prairie Overlook Cluster
From Broadway Street in Marine on St. Croix, Minn., take County Road 4/Ostrum Trail north into the park. After going under the railroad overpass, turn right/north into a parking lot. Trails accessible from this lot include:
• Prairie Overlook Trail – The 1.6-mile narrow loop with a pond at its center heads through both open country and a woods. From the parking lot, take the 0.1-mile stem trail to the loop.
• Woodland Edge Trail – This 2.1-mile loop runs through a forest; you’ll hike 3.6 miles total with the connecting trails. From the parking lot, take the stem trail to the Prairie Overlook Trail and head up its west side; at the first junction, go either left or right onto the Woodland Edge Trail loop. You can add 1.1 miles to the loop by taking the adjoining Hardwood Hills Trail.
• Rolling Hills Savanna Trail – This 1.1-mile loop gently rolls through a small woods; connecting trails make for a 4.1-mile round trip. Head up the Prairie Overlook Trail’s west side. At the first junction, go left onto the Woodland Edge Trail and then take the next left/south onto the Rolling Hills Trail.

Alice Lake Cluster
Take Minn. Hwy. 95 into the park. Turn right/east onto O'Brien Trail North/County Road 33. The road curves south, dead-ending in a parking area alongside Lake Alice.
• Riverside Trail – The 1.5-mile trail loops through a floodplain and typically is open during summer and autumn when water levels have gone down. You’ll find rest areas (some with benches) about every 900 feet on the trail, as well as interpretive signs. The trail begins at the picnic grounds immediately east of the parking lot.

Read more about day hiking this park and others along the St. Croix River in my guidebook Hittin’ the Trail: Day Hiking the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.