Saturday, February 20, 2016

Trail runs alongside remote section of river

Topo map of Sunrise Loop in Wild River State Park.
Sunrise Landing, courtesy of MN DNR.

Sunrise Loop cuts across nearly 5 miles of woods

Day hikers can enjoy a walk through a bottomlands forest along the St. Croix River in Minnesota's Wild River State Park.

The 4.6-mile Sunrise Loop at the park’s north is little used and so offers lots of solitude. Late summer and early fall mark the best time to hike the loop. During wet years, spring floods and mosquitoes can make the hike difficult.

To reach the trailhead, from Amelund, take Minn. Hwy. 95 north. Turn right/north on County Road 9, taking it into the hamlet of Sunrise; from there, turn right/north on Ferry Road into the park. When the road runs out, use the parking lot on the left/west. Hike Ferry Road south to the trailhead and cross Ferry Road (which leads to the boat landing) then over the Sunrise River footbridge. On the other side of the bridge, the loop begins. Go right/south onto.

Bottomland hardwood forest
The entire trail heads through a bottomland hardwood forest, sometimes referred to as a floodplain forest. For most of the year, these forests just above the river channel remain dry, but the silver maple – as well as some ash, black willow and cottonwood – can support tolerate seasonal flooding. Wild grape, Virginia creeper and other woody climbers also are common here, but there is a distinct lack of shrubs and other understory plants, which usually can’t survive the flooding.

Along the south side of the loop, the route passes an interpretive exhibit for the Arrow Line Railway. In 1907-08, a straight railroad line, which led it to be called The Arrow, was planned for the Twin Cities to Duluth. Part of the rail grade remains here. Work in the project stopped at this spot as the bridge over the St. Croix never was constructed.

The route reaches a junction with the Sunrise Trail at 2.2 miles from the trailhead. A shelter can be found at the intersection. To stay on loop, go left/north.

In short order, the trail comes alongside the St. Croix River. Northern pike, walleye, and smallmouth bass are common in the river. Wisconsin's Governor Knowles State Forest is on opposite shoreline and two islands sit in the river.

Wildlife sightings
A secluded area, the loop is a good place to spot wildlife. You’ll likely see white-tailed deer and paw prints for coyote, red fox, gray fox, and river otters. The trail also crosses a large beaver dam area. Trumpeter swans sometimes can be heard honking overhead. During the spring and autumn migrations, songbirds descend upon the forest.

You’ll know when you’re nearing the end of hike as the Sunrise Landing, where boats can be placed on the river, comes into sight.

Upon arriving back at the footbridge, go right/west, and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Final note: Originally called St. Croix Wild River State Park, this park still appears on various maps that way. It’s now just Wild River State Park, though.

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