Saturday, February 14, 2015

Eight Romantic Hikes in the Midwest’s St. Croix River Valley

A romantic day hike often involves experiencing something special with the
your beloved. Photo courtesy of Photoree. 
What are the most romantic places in the world? Paris? Hawaii? Italy?

If a day hiker, try the St. Croix River Valley, a stretch of beautiful riverway on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.

If you reside nearby, such as in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, the river valley offers a number of great trails that all are an easy drive away. Among them are waterfalls picnics, gorgeous sunsets, and sweet walks through apple orchards.

Apple picking
Day hikers can enjoy a walk down a bluff to the St. Croix River and then through an apple orchard at the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center in the southeast Twin Cities. The South River Bluff Trail and a paved trail connecting it to the visitor center runs about 0.95-miles round trip to the shores of the St. Croix. The orchard was started by the center’s namesakes, Thomas and Edna Carpenter, in the 1940s. Thirteen types of apples grow at the center; you’ll be able to purchase most of them in mid-September.

Breathtaking vista
On the scenic Summit Rock Trail at Wisconsin Interstate State Park, couples can hike to one of the highest points in the area for an impressive view of the St Croix River, the Old Man of the Dalles rock formation, and the lushly wooded shoreline. In summer, enjoy the cooling breezes as bald eagles ride the currents over the river, sometimes flying within only a few feet of you.

Fairy forest
Couples can walk among giant trees on the Cedar Interpretive Trail in Governor Knowles State Forest near Grantsburg, Wis. The stately eastern white cedars that the trail passes through are a foot in diameter and were mere saplings during the War of 1812. Ferns grow beneath the cedars that soar more than seven stories into the sky.

Moonbow over waterfalls
At night during a full moon, moonbows often can be seen over waterfalls as the silvery light from the nearest heavenly body refracts off the mist. Because for the foreseeable future the full moon rises in the east and you must stand between the moon and the falls to spot it, about the only location in the St. Croix River Valley to see a moonbow is Fairy Falls just north of Stillwater, Minn., in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Check online for the day and time when the full moon will rise and do the hike in spring or early summer when the waterfalls sees its highest flows.

Natural maze
The northern section of Minnesota Interstate State Park – also known as the Pothole Area – offers day hikers a number of trails for exploring the area’s geology and enjoying its scenic beauty. Among the sites are the Lily Pond Pothole, the famous Bottomless Pit pothole that you can climb into, passing through The Squeeze – an exceedingly tight, L-shaped break between two ultra-large chunks of basalt – and the Shadow Rock Lookout, which offers a great vista of the St. Croix River and gorge rock formations on the Wisconsin side.

Picnic at waterfalls
A number of broad rock layers allow you to spread a tablecloth and enjoy a picnic before wide Willow Falls as it flows through gorge walls of 600 million-year-old rock at Willow River State Park near Hudson, Wis. The quickest way to reach the waterfalls is the Willow Falls Hill (Gray) Trail. Late spring and June mark a great time to hike the trail, as the falls will be in full flow, especially within a day or two of a rainfall.

Sunset to cuddle by
The sun cats a gorgeous orange glow across the wide St. Croix River on an old railroad bridge at the forested Wisconsin-Minnesota border. The Gandy Dancer Trail can be taken from Danbury, Wis., north to the railroad bridge. At dusk, expect to spot bald eagles, osprey, northern harriers, hawks and during spring and fall even sandhill cranes, gliding above the river looking for their dinner. The trail is wide and easy to follow back to the parking lot in the dark.

Wildlife encounters
Day hikers are certain to spot wildlife on the Purple Trail at Kinnickinnic State Park north of Prescott, Wis. The loop takes hikers along a first-class trout stream, and hikers have spotted whitetail deer, raccoons, rabbits, weasels, gray fox, red fox, squirrels and even beaver along the way. A restored prairie that the trail briefly passes is home to partridge and ringneck pheasants while a vista of the Kinnickinnic and St. Croix rivers offers a chance to see bald eagles.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.