Friday, July 25, 2014

Short day hike in River Falls, Wis., crosses swinging bridge over gorge

Glen Park swinging bridge
A swinging bridge and a cascades that cuts through 500-million-year-old rock await day hikers on the Glen Park Trail in west-central Wisconsin.

The 0.25-mile round trip set of trails – christened here after the park they run through – sits close to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus. Because of that, parking can be difficult to find, so a visit is best done during summer when the student population shrinks.

Tropical sea
To reach the trailhead, head south from downtown River Falls on South Main Street. At West Cascade Street, turn right/west. Street parking is available between Main Street and Winter/State Street. The trailhead is west of Winter/State Street and heads southwest into a wooded area.

You’ll immediately come to the Glen Park Swinging Bridge, a River Falls icon. A swinging bridge was constructed in 1925 and though a replica now stands there, parts of the original stonework marking the entrance remains.

As reaching the bridge’s center, look over the side at the gorge below. You’ll be able to hear and see part of the rapids. The South Fork of the Kinnickinnic River rumbles through sandstone that settled there some 500 million years ago when that part of the world was covered by a shallow, tropical sea.

The world looked much different then. With life limited to the sea, the coastline about 60 miles to the north would have been barren and hot with daytime temperatures often hitting 100 degrees F. Days were shorter, too, lasting only about 20 hours.

Trout steam
Upon crossing the swinging bridge, you’ve entered Glen Park, a favorite spot for local residents to picnic since the 1860s, and the city’s oldest park. Take the trail right/northwest through a shaded area then downhill to the gorge’s bottom. Once there, walk southeast toward the rapids.

The South Fork rushes north into the Kinnickinnic River, a major trout stream in the region. Fishermen casting rods often can be spotted in the gorge, which at one time was considered a glen (hence the park’s name).

When done looking about, return the way you came. You can extend the hike slightly by staying on the trail rather than turning back onto the swinging bridge. The park also contains a playground.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.