Friday, April 24, 2015

Best hikes to find spot spring wildflowers in Minnesota/Wisconsin's St. Croix River Valley

The pasqueflower usually is the first
wildflower to bloom in the St. Croix
River Valley. Photo courtesy of
Wisconsin DNR.
The St. Croix River Valley that forms part of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border marks a great spot to go on wildflower hikes during spring and early summer. In addition, as almost all of the river valley sits in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and various state parks and forests, there’s plenty of public access to where wildflowers grow.

In broad terms, the river valley can be divided into two ecosystems. One is the prairie blufftop that overlook the river while the other is the hillside and river bottoms that typically are forested.

The prairie blufftops usually are the first place to see wildflowers each spring. The St. Croix Savanna SNA, south of Bayport, Minn., offers an easy to reach gravel prairie high above the river.

In early April to early May, you’ll know spring has finally arrived when the pasqueflower blossoms there. “Pasque” is French for “Easter,” hence the flower’s name – it usually blooms around Easter.

Skunk cabbage comes next on the blufftops. That usually is followed by pussytoes and then violets.

Wildflowers growing beneath the forest canopy usually blossom in mid-spring. Wood anemones typically are the first to arrive, as they bloom before the trees grow their leaves. These wildflowers are common and typically can be seen in any wooded area throughout the river valley.

Wisconsin Interstate State Park trails are good places to see the next wave of wildflowers that arrive in May. Columbines, May apples, large-flowered trilliums, and wild geraniums are common in the park.

Wetter areas, especially those in the river bottoms, usually offer a different set of wildflowers to see during May. The Indianhead Flowage Trail, north of St. Croix Falls and in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, offers a good opportunity to see those flowers, which include whip-or-will trilliums, marsh marigolds, the blue flag iris, and wild geraniums.

The St. Croix River’s tributaries often have the same makeup of forested wildflowers as the St. Croix River Valley. The Apple River at Apple River County Park near Somerset, for example, offers excellent displays of trilliums in spring.

The river valley also is home to some rare flowers, at least for Wisconsin. For example, the Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area’s Ridgeview Trail is one of the few places in the Badger State to host the prairie flame flower. Though common across much of the Great Plains, it isn’t typically found east of the Mississippi River.

A good place to learn about local wildflowers is Willow River State Park, particularly its Hidden Ponds Nature (Black) Trail. The garden at the nature center near the trailhead has 20 common species – including the black-eyed Susan, blazing star, and New England aster – blooming from spring to autumn.

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