Crow Wing State Park (Minnesota) 21-Jul-2022

We awoke in Baxter to cloudless skies, moderate temperatures, light humidity, and little wind. Thus favored by the weather, we continued with our park quest by driving the short distance to Crow Wing State Park at the confluence of the Mississippi and Crow Wing Rivers. The 2.5 mile (4.0 km) Hiking Club route here includes part of the Red River Oxcart Trail, offers some good views of the Mississippi, and passes a few historic landmarks.

Sometime in the night we concluded that our whinging about the bugs was getting more irritating than the bugs themselves. So when we arrived at Crow Wing, there was none of that – we just readied our anti-bug bandanas, slathered ourselves with DEET, and strode boldly into the forest! Arrrah! Arrrah!

We got started by walking down to the Old Crow Wing Townsite on the banks of the Mississippi. Here sits the partially restored Clement Beaulieu house, built in 1849 in the Greek Revival Style and considered to be the “…oldest standing frame house north of the Twin Cities…” It was thought a mansion in its day.

Information on the way to the old townsite
Clement Beaulieu House (1849)
The Beaulieu House overlooks the old townsite and the Mississippi

Due to its location at the confluence of two major rivers, Crow Wing had long been an important gathering place for the Ojibwe and Dakota peoples. The site’s easy access to water and water transport encouraged non-indigenous settlers to establish a trading post here in 1837; by 1870, Crow Wing had grown into a town of some substance. And then, in 1871, the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived, crossing the Mississippi River not at Crow Wing as had been hoped, but to the north, at Brainerd. Soon the little community of Crow Wing was but a ghost town. ๐Ÿ˜ฅ

This reminded us of Jacksonville, Oregon, which sprang into being in the early 1850s when gold was found nearby. The gold played-out, the prospectors moved on, but Jacksonville persisted. Then, in the early 1880s, the Southern Pacific Railroad began laying track southward toward California. Jacksonville’s hopes of blossoming as a new county seat rested on having the railroad come to town (so to speak). But the railroad would have had to curve their route to do so and they wouldn’t curve unless Jacksonville paid for it. Jacksonville didn’t have the money, so the railroad went straight down the valley, past a then siding that grew into Medford – today’s county seat. But Jacksonville dodged a ghost town fate by (eventually) reinventing itself as an upscale tourist destination. ๐Ÿ˜‰

From the Beaulieu House, we worked our way downriver and then up to the Father Pierz Chapel.

The path of the old oxcart trail
Overlooking the Mississippi ~ Crow Wing confluence
Heading toward the chapel
Colorful, fuzzy mushrooms

Back in the day, this Catholic Chapel (which was recently rebuilt out of granite) was sited across from the Lutheran Church, while the Episcopalians had a nice spot some distance away with a sweeping view of the Mississippi. Not to pick sides, but we thought the Anglicans had the better deal, real estate-wise. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Wall detail, Pierz Chapel

From the Chapel, we went to the Chippewa Lookout and then down to a dock along the river.

Toward the Chippewa Lookout, with bug bandana in place
At the river dock

Then back over the Lookout and down around the peninsula on the Red River Oxcart Trail, past the place where these carts used to cross the river – on the bottom at low water or floating at higher water. Must have been exciting either way. Then it was back to the parking lot.

The oxcarts crossed here
Back to the car

It proved a good hike – the weather was great, the bugs not too irritating, and the history of the area interesting. Too bad Crow Wing never got the chance to be a tourist destination – but it lives on as a state park well worth visiting. ๐Ÿ˜

Our Hiking Club route at Crow Wing (R = oxcart crossing, C = Chippewa Lookout, P = Pierz Chapel)

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