Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ice Age Trail: St. Croix Falls Segment (Part 1)

Charlie is looking forward to hiking the trail!

Last weekend Charlie and I road-tripped over to St. Croix Falls from Wausau via scenic Hwy 8 to hike the St. Croix Falls segment of the Ice Age Trail while camping at Interstate State Park - Wisconsin's OLDEST state park! If you are hiking this segment and have time to make it a weekend trip, I highly recommend camping at the state park since the Ice Age Trail's western terminus and Interpretive Center reside within the park anyway. Having a campsite there gives you a good "home-base" with which to explore the multitude of trails to be seen in the St. Croix Falls area and I can tell you from personal experience that a weekend will not be enough time to see it all!

We started at the River Rd. entrance where the trail follows along the St. Croix River shoreline. The sound of trickling water surrounded us as we made our way over several creek crossings through this part of the trail. Charlie was very exuberant on this section since she was able to stop constantly and play in the water!

There were plenty of challenges on this trail, but it was fun to see what would be around the next bend or over the next hill. We ran up steep inclines and picked our way carefully across the stepping stones of creeks.

I let Charlie go swimming when we reached the primitive shoreline campsite before arriving at Lions Park.

The remaining trail leading to Lions Park was a little more groomed than I'm used to seeing on the Ice Age Trail, which was confusing because I wasn't sure I was on the "right" trail. Instead of overgrown, natural paths with steps made of tree roots and rocks, we encountered wide, gravel walkways with wooden bridges spanning the creeks.

After emerging from the trail into Lions Park and crossing Hwy 87, we were greeted with a sign for the Mindy Creek Segment.

We proceeded up the trail to a metal gate and followed the side trail around it. Further up the path there was a City of St. Croix side trail called, Trail of Myths. I was very tempted to explore this trail (who wouldn't want to explore a Trail of MYTHS?) but I wanted to keep to the schedule so we continued on the Ice Age Trail.

The trail slowly wound its way up a steep slope until we reached the "Overlook" and then continued upwards past Mindy Creek for another quarter-mile or so until we came out on Day Rd. The woods are open and airy with rays of sunshine filtering through the leaves and bird-calls echo all around. The trail is narrow and strewn with rocks and tree roots but is a nice, quiet walk through the woods.

Stepping stones above site of an old Homestead Dam.

At the Overlook, there's a weathered but quaint bench to take in the views of St. Croix Falls below... although all we could see were trees mixed with the sound of traffic from a road below. Autumn views are probably spectacular from this spot though!

After the Overlook, a short section of trail through the woods is followed by an open, sunny area featuring a flat rock outcropping surrounded by meadow. There is another bench amongst the wildflowers offering an additional view of the St. Croix Falls valley.

The trail re-enters the woods and begins its descent toward Mindy Creek. In my opinion, this was the most spectacular part of the trail. Except for the echo of birds reverberating between the ravine walls, it is quiet. Mindy Creek was dry during this hike, but I'm sure during times of melt water or heavy rains, the sound of the water flowing through these boulders would be mesmerizing.

Looking down the ravine to dry Mindy Creek below.
Looking upstream while crossing dry Mindy Creek.

I'm in love with these rocks. If that makes me weird, I'm okay with that. I could sit on these rocks all day while thinking about the slow, quiet force of the glacier that brought them here. They are blanketed in ancient history, along with moss and lichens. They tell a story and I am there to listen.

After a few moments of quiet contemplation, interrupted by Charlie's impatience to keep hiking, we began the ascent on the opposite side of the ravine towards Day Rd. I couldn't help but to keep looking back at the creek bed.

There is a sturdy wooden bridge at the exit of the trail onto Day Rd. and a short walk across the street takes you to the parking lot of Ray Zillmer Park, where my ride was waiting to pick me up.

After reaching the car and reviewing my Companion Guide, I remembered it mentioned two 6-inch nautilus fossils in the stone slab near the bridge; I had to run back to check them out. Sure enough, there are two fossils on the top of the slab of stone as you step off the bridge; I almost missed them because I thought it was just a step!

I had fully intended to hike the half-mile loop trail off Ray Zillmer Park that boasted "fine views of St. Croix River valley from its highest point," but it was time for lunch and Charlie needed a break. Instead, I headed back to Interstate State Park, where we had set up camp for the weekend, and rested before continuing onto the trails in the park. The western terminus of the Ice Age Trail is on the Pothole Trail, and that was my next destination!

To be continued...

I'm experimenting with some video editing software so you can view ALL my photos from these hikes! Check out my crappy video: