The previous two days here were rainy and cold. Rain, high winds, hail, and small tornadoes 🥺 swept across the state north of us. So we stayed in the metro area. Got some insurance issues sorted. Visited a few indie bookstores. Joined a local pub’s loyalty club. 🍺 Not a bad way to get further acquainted with our new home. But the trails beckoned. So, when today appeared as a calm one between storms, we were on our way outside…
William O’Brien State Park is written-up in both the 60 Hikes guide (Hike #59) and Hiking Minnesota. It’s also on the Hiking Project. They all describe essentially the same route – a tour around the park west of Highway 95. This is also the Hiking Club Route. All this convergence indicated it would be a good hike for us too.
This route includes beaver ponds, wetlands, upland prairie, oak savanna, and hardwood forests. Three days ago, we were walking through forests of brown and gray sticks. Today, the forest was tinted green. Leaves were coming out all over! Spring was (finally) upon us!
From the Interpretive Center parking lot, we went south then west over the ridge to a pond with a beaver lodge in it. Lots of beaver sign but no beavers. But Canada geese with fuzzy little goslings were cruising the pond.
After passing the beaver pond and the wetlands, we crossed the RR tracks and climbed into the uplands. Here we followed the Prairie Overlook Trail around a bigger pond and up for a view over the prairie.
Here the beavers had created much of this pond by damning its outlet with sticks. They also built a long packed mud retaining wall on both sides of the dam. And gnawed down a considerable number of trees and shrubs in the vicinity. Industrious rodents, no doubt about it.
We added the Hardwood Hills Trail loop for variety and to prolong our trail time.
Our loop came to 6 miles (9.6 km) with a cumulative 520 feet (158 m) of elevation gain. It was another great hike through varied terrain on a very nice day. 😁
We heard a lot of birds but rarely saw any. Or at least not long enough to identify many. The Canada geese and cardinals were easy. The one surprise was the adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeak – its distinctive red breast made it easier to spot through the foliage.
We drove back along the St. Croix River and through the little town of Stillwater. It’s numerous shops and restaurants are apparently a local destination. The overflow parking at both ends of town suggested that we best revisit on a weekday. 😉