Sunday, March 2, 2014

Trail leads to waterfall on ancient river gorge

Cascade Falls
A 25-foot waterfall awaits hikers on a very short trail in the village of Osceola, Wis.

The Cascade Falls Trail runs less than a couple of hundred feet – and most of that is up and down a stairs from the street to the glen where the falls sits.

To reach the trailhead, take Wis. Hwy. 35 into Osceola. As entering downtown, the highway becomes North Cascade Street. Park anywhere downtown along the street.

Signs mark the trailhead, located on the street’s east side across from First Avenue. To reach the trail, a steep staircase that looks like it was extracted from a fire tower heads from the sidewalk to Willkie Glen.

Majestic trees shade the staircase and glen in green. You’ll be able to hear the waterfall’s roar from the sidewalk – and easily spot it once you reach the glen.

Osceola Creek drops over the natural falls as it flows westward on its way to the St. Croix River. Between the village and the river, the creek descends 100 feet in altitude, but this waterfalls is the only large drop.

The falls wouldn’t exist if not for the river. At the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago, floodwaters from melting glaciers carved out a large gorge. The waterfall is a one of the vertical wall cuts in that gorge. It measures 30 feet across.

The village itself might not exist if not for the falls. Osceola was settled because the falls could support industry; in the late 1800s, it powered a mill.

The smaller and narrower Geiger Falls is upstream on Osceola Creek, but there’s no hiking path between it and Cascade Falls.

The best time to hike the trail is in spring when snow melt increases the amount of water flowing over the falls. Another good time to visit: at night when the village lights up the falls using LED lighting to mimic the glow of the full moon upon the water; coloring is changed for the seasons.

A dirt footpath does lead from Cascade Falls to the St. Croix. The village has plans to improve the walkway into a more accessible trail.

In the centuries ahead, the waterfalls actually will be its own undoing – the splash of water at its base has created a kickpoint in the vertical wall that is slowly eroding and undercutting the drop, which one day will causing it to collapse. The waterfalls then will become a cascades, or series of rock steps, that the creek flows over.

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