Back in 2017 (oh, those golden days of yore 🤨), we organized a week-long family vacation on Minnesota’s North Shore. Much fun. On the way home, we stopped by Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis to see what they had. A lot of neat items, with – predictably – a solid inventory of water-related items. But also a wall of rock climbing gear. Rock climbing? Minnesota? Not two words we’d thought to put together before.
On a more recent return visit, we got to talking with one of Midwest’s super helpful staff – she’s planning to backpack the Washington section of the PCT this summer 👍 – about rock climbing in Minnesota. Seems there’s quite a bit, including Tettegouche, Red Wing, Blue Mounds, Sandstone, and Interstate. So us old dogs actually learned something new. 🙄
Thus when we set out today (before the weather turns foul again) for the Minnesota side of Interstate State Park, it was to hike along the Saint Croix River and check out the rock climbing in the potholes area. Our rock climbing days are behind us, but it doesn’t hurt (too much) to reminisce.
We parked near Taylors Falls and walked around the potholes area. When the ice dam holding back Glacial Lake Duluth broke in ancient times, it sent a volume of water equal to today’s Mississippi River roaring down the Saint Croix River, scouring away a thick layer of sandstone overlying a basalt layer and carving out today’s river valley. The water used the resulting sandy grit (and lots of rocks and boulders) to drill huge, deep potholes in the basalt. This is today’s rock climbing area and you’re climbing on basalt (just like in Oregon).
After the potholes, we hiked southwest on the Walter F. Mondale River Trail (which is also the Hiking Club route) that runs between Taylors Falls and the campground at the park’s south end. It’s a good trail, with a few views of the river, that suffers somewhat from running parallel to busy Highway 8. There was substantial compensation, however, in the various wildflowers that had recently come into bloom. 😊
After stopping at the park office, we started back on the Sandstone Bluffs Trail. While I had visualized some sweeping switchbacks to lift us gently to the top of the bluffs, the trail had other plans. Mostly lots of stairs. Lots. Certainly aerobic. Gasp… Gasp… But it was a good way to see close-up the sandstone layers that the post-glacial flood had not washed away.
The Sandstone Bluffs Trail deposited us at the bottom of a gulch that had once been spanned (judging by the huge footings that remain) by a substantial railroad trestle. That’s gone now – replaced by, yes, more stairs! Oh aerobic joy! Oh burning calves!
The Railroad Trail follows the abandoned grade of the Taylors Falls branch line of the long gone Saint Paul & Duluth Railroad. This branch line ended at Taylors Falls and the little depot there is still in use as a community center.
This was a short loop (3.6 miles / 5.8 km) with about 500 feet (152 m) of gain – thank you stairs! 😏 But rhetorical griping aside, the Sandstone Bluffs Trail was a lot of fun. And that, along with the potholes, wildflowers, views of the river, and a bit of railroad history, made for a morning well spent. 😁
On the drive back to Minneapolis, we stopped at the Northern Lake Tavern in Chisago for sustenance – which I felt we really deserved because of all those stairs. 🍺🍔😋 Well, maybe not, but it sounded like a solid rationalization at the time. 🤔 And one we’ll likely use again… 😉