Friday, October 3, 2014

New trail crosses state park’s northern side

Nelson Farm (Silver) Trail's West Segment
Nelson Farm (Silver) Trail map

Route crosses river, passes vista of lake, leads to waterfall

A new trail in Wisconsin’s Willow River State Park recently opened a large swatch of previously inaccessible green space to the public.

The Nelson Farm (Silver) Trail, unveiled in summer 2012, runs 5.7-miles one way. It nicely links the park’s developed southwest side to its northeast corner, where a popular trail heads to Willow Falls, the park’s centerpiece.

Given the length and access points, for day hiking, Nelson Farm (Silver) Trail is best broken into three segments.

Trailheads for the three segments described below all are located along 115th Avenue, aka River Road. To reach them, take Exit 4 on Interstate 94, and head north on U.S. Hwy. 12 for about 1.6 miles. Go County Road U for about 0.3 miles to County Road A, where you’ll continue past the park’s main entrance. After passing through the tiny village of Burkhardt, turn left/northwest onto County Road I then left/west onto 115th Avenue/River Road.

West Segment
The trail’s western segment leads to a bridge overlooking the Willow River.

You can reach the trailhead from 115th Avenue/River Road by turning left/south onto Nelson Farm Road. In about a half-mile is the Nelson Farm Parking Lot on the right/west side. The trail leaves from the lot’s southeast corner; go right/southwest onto it for a 3.6-miles round trip.

The wide jeep trail curves up a knoll into a woods. Little more than a third of a way to the turnaround point, the trail crosses an open field with a steep hill.

The last third of the hike to the destination heads again through a woods as approaching the river.

In just under two miles from the parking lot, the trail ends at a bridge that crosses the Willow River, offering scenic views. On the bridge’s south side is the Trout Brook (Purple) Trail.

Center Segment
The central portion of the trail leads to a scenic overview of Little Falls Lake.

Reach the trailhead by parking in Nelson Farm Parking Lot, as with the West Segment, except go left/northeast on the trail. The segment runs about 3.6-miles round trip.

Upon leaving the parking lot, the trail briefly passes through open prairie, but most of the route is lined with mixed hardwoods.

About halfway to the turnaround point, after climbing a steep hill, the trail reaches a scenic overlook of Little Falls Lake. Formed by backing up the Willow River at Little Falls Dam, the lake covers 140 acres and reaches a maximum depth of 18 feet. Largemouth bass is abundant in the lake, but northern pike, panfish and smallmouth bass also thrive more.

From the overlook, the trail makes a steep descent. The next trail intersection is a stem leading to River Road Hunter’s parking lot; turn around at the intersection and retrace your steps back to the Nelson Farm lot.

East Segment
Impressive Willow Falls awaits day hikers on the trail’s eastern section.

To reach the trailhead, take 115th Avenue/River Road to the River Road Hunter’s parking lot. The 4.2-miles round trip trail leaves from the lot’s south side, heading into the woods.

This is the stem leading to the main trail, which is reached at the first intersection. From there, go left/south.

Initially, the trail is a steep hill. The good news is the entire trail is forested, providing much appreciated shade on sunny days.

The trail heads to the Willow River’s north shore, upstream from Little Falls Lake.

Next, the path intersects and ends at the Burkhardt (Pink) Trail. Walk a few hundred feet south and down a stairs on the Burkhardt, though, and at the footbridge you’ll come to Willow Falls, a set of cascades that drops 45 feet with gorge walls rising 200 feet above the water.

The route on the south side of the bridge is the Willows Falls Hill (Gray) Trail.

Learn more about nearby day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of St. Croix County guidebook.