Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dozen-plus hiking trails show off natural wonders of Wisconsin's Interstate State Park

St. Croix River from Summit Rock Trail.
Fantastic rock formations, a swimming beach, and waterfalls await day hikers at Wisconsin Interstate State Park.

More than a dozen trails crosscross the popular park near St. Croix Falls, Wis. The park entance is located on Wis. Hwy. 35 just south of U.S. Hwy. 8.

Among the trails that can be day hiked at the state park are:
g Eagle Canyon Trail – The path links the Summit Rock and the Lake O’ the Dalles trails in a 0.7-mile loop. If the day is hot, you’ll instantly cool down on the trail as the nearly sheer, talus canyon walls moderate the temperature.
g Eagle Peak Trail – Though short at 0.8 miles, it climbs 120 feet in elevation, including up stone stairs, to the park’s highest point, Eagle Peak. The trailhead begins at the Pines Group Camp. A short side trail passes a traprock quarry built by the CCC during the 1930s.
g Horizon Rock Trail – The westernmost steps of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail end with this 0.5-mile route, which runs northwest between the Ice Age Visitor Center and the Pothole Trail. The trail descends the forested bluff to a creek bed where you’ll instantly cool off on humid days.
g Ladder Tank Trail – The short trail can be reached without having to enter the park; instead, park in downtown St. Croix Falls along Washington Road between U.S. Hwy. 8 and Kentucky Street with the trailhead on the road’s west side. The trail runs atop a tall ridge offering fantastic views of the St. Croix River with visibility of up to eight miles on clear days.
g Lake O’ the Dalles Trail – A 1-mile loop circles the 23-acre Lake O’ the Dalles. The trail offers exceptional opportunities to view wildlife and a swimming beach.
g Pothole Trail – When floods from melting glaciers swept through at the end of the last Ice Age, swirling water literally drilled holes into the basalt rock underlying this region. The 0.4-mile loop takes you past a number of these interesting geological features.
g Ravine Trail – The 0.5-mile trail drops 260 feet from the valley rim to a shelter, the amphitheater, and a picnic area at the beach parking lot. It is a spur off the Skyline Trail.
g River Bluff Trail – This 0.7-mile trail takes hikers between the St. Croix River gorge and the Lake of the Dalles. The rocks and sparse vegetation gives it a Rocky Mountain feel.
g Skyline Trail – The route runs for 1.6 miles (3.2-miles round trip) northeast from the valley’s forested rim through rock-covered ravines. It passes the Ravine Trail and then the Skyline Nature Trail junctions. Wooden benches are along the way.
g Skyline Nature Trail – The 0.75-mile trail loops though several plant communities. Interpretive signs describe how those communities differ as the landscape changes. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail runs east from the loop behind the visitor center toward the park entrance.
g Silverbook Trail – To get away from the park crowds, hike this 1.2-mile trail (2.4-miles round trip) to the park’s remote, forested southern end. It passes an abandoned copper mine, the Silverbrook Mansion grounds, then reaches the trail’s highlight: 18-foot Silverbrook Falls.
g Summit Rock Trail – The trail takes hikers to the park's best vista. It runs atop billion-year-old lava flows, the sands of a 500-million-year-old sea, and at the edge of a massive glacial flood from 10,000 years ago.
g Talus Slope Trail-Meadow Valley Trail – A steep switchback, the Talus Slope Trail links the Horizon Rock Trail to the 0.3-mile Meadow Valley Trail. Meadow Valley crosses through ferns, mosses and various wildflowers on what is now an extinct riverbed carved by glacial meltwaters during the last ice age.

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