Today we ventured a little farther east – almost to Wisconsin 🧀 – to a state park along the west bank of the St. Croix River. It apparently won’t last, but today’s weather was almost summer-like: clear, sunny, warm, and gently breezy. None better for hiking. We were glad to be outside and wore shorts to celebrate. 😎
Afton’s main trails are obvious and exceedingly well signed – key trail junctions are lettered and there is usually a map posted at each junction too. It would be hard to get lost here without putting considerable effort (or way too much beer) into doing so. 🙄 Hiking in Southwest Oregon was almost the polar opposite, as there trail signage was a rare commodity. This rarity forced our navigation skills to improve in direct proportion to our desire to return to the correct trailhead before dark. 😳
Today we again cobbled together a double loop from the Hiking Club route and the 60 Hikes guide (Hike #28). The Hiking Project suggested a longer single loop but we decided to save that one for when the trees leaf-out.
From the northernmost parking lot (the others were closed for a prescribed burn), we went down to the North River Trail and then up the Campground Trail to the Oliver Charley Trail, which took us through some pines and prairie and back down to the North River Trail (which is the alignment of the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific railroad). I was also interested to find that the first USGS map for this area wasn’t available until 1951.
The North River Trail brought us back to the beach. From there we followed a hiker/equestrian trail over Trout Brook and past the ski area. Then it was a short climb up to the parking lot across from the visitor center (also closed today). We then did the prairie interpretive loop (because it’s part of the Hiking Club route) before heading back to our car. There were a fair number of cars in the lot when we got back, with more arriving as we were driving out. Seems that when warmth and sunshine reach Minnesota, they are too precious to miss. 🤗
These loops came to 5.1 miles (8.2 km) with 485 feet (148 m) of elevation gain. Even though leaves have yet to appear (But soon! Soon!), we enjoyed walking across the plots of open prairie and under the canopy of upland hardwoods, oaks, and pine trees. Moving up and down the park’s rolling terrain gave us a decent aerobic boost – a nice change from hefting moving boxes about! We’ll plan on returning for a longer hike here once the forest greens-up and some wildflowers appear in the prairies. 😁👍