St. Croix State Park (Minnesota) 06-Jul-2022

After more work than expected, we reached a temporary truce with our house repairs. A three-way switch issue still needed to be resolved (again), but that could wait. So it seemed the perfect time to escape some of the heat and humidity in the Minneapolis area with an overnight trip to Duluth, visiting some state parks there and back. Our state park quest was back on! πŸ˜ƒ

First up was St. Croix State Park west of Hinckley. We’ve had pretty good luck with the weather on our previous park quests – usually sunny and not too hot. But today that luck sputtered out – we got not sunny and not hot due to a solid cloud cover. But at least it didn’t rain! 😏

This park is huge (34,000 acres / 13,760 ha) with 127 miles (203 km) of trails. We settled for doing a River Bluff Trail, River’s Edge Trail, and bike path loop to the former site of the Yellow Banks CCC Camp. This seemed appropriate as it was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that had transformed these poor farm lands into group camps, roads, and campgrounds, with all the necessary buildings and structures. Much of the work they did between 1934 and 1937 is still in use today, with many of the buildings and structures listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. This route is also that of the Hiking Club, so we got a twofer here.

The brave hiker smile is barely discernible due to the clouds 😯
Descending to the river on the River’s Edge Trail
On the edge of the Saint Croix River
Looking at Wisconsin across the river
On the River’s Edge Trail
Pointed-leaf Tick-trefoil
Passing a thick bed of horsetail ferns
Climbing back to the top of the bluff
Along the River Bluff Trail
Canada Frostweed (?)
Under a giant, old oak

After about 2 miles (3.2 km), we reached the former site of the Yellow Banks (or Yellowbanks) CCC Camp. There are several informative signs scattered about the area but the only structures remaining are a flagstone pathway, a reconstruction of the camp’s flagpole, and the recreation hall’s giant fireplace and chimney.

Arriving at Yellow Banks CCC camp site
The camp once housed over 300 workers and support staff
The old fireplace and chimney (note that the brave hiker smile has returned 😊)
Fireplace detail

After reading all the information signs, we decided – for something different – to head back along the bike path. This park was probably pretty busy over the Fourth of July weekend but today we encountered fewer than a dozen hikers and bikers. Going back on the path might seem boring compared to a dirt trail but doing so allowed us to see some plants and animals we hadn’t seen on the way out.

Returning on the bike path through restored savanna
Common Milkweed
Wood Lily

We’ve often encountered snakes on our hikes – mostly non-venomous racers and garters. And there have been a few close encounters with rattlers. 😳 But the snake we found warming itself on the bike path’s asphalt was oddly different. It looked like a regular tubular snake when we first saw it. But when it saw us, it flattened and spread its head until it almost looked like a miniature cobra. It didn’t hiss or try to strike. It just slithered off into the brush, returning its head to the usual shape as it did so. Later we figured out it was an Eastern Hognose snake.

Eastern Hognose with its head flattened
And with its head back to normal

We saw the snake shortly before returning to the parking lot and the end of our 4 mile (6.4 km) loop hike. Seeing the snake sorta made up for not having any sunshine – sorta. On our way to the next state park and then Duluth, we had lunch in Hinckley (site of the Great Fire of 1894) at the Whistle Stop Cafe – straightforward but very good food. They also feature homemade pie (we shared a slice of banana 🍌πŸ₯§πŸ˜‹) which made us think wistfully 😞 of all the pie we’d enjoyed at Beckie’s Cafe in Union Creek, Oregon. Good memories… 😁

Our loop to and from the Yellow Banks CCC Camp (Y)

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