Louisville Swamp Loop (Minnesota Valley NWR) 17-Aug-2022

Let’s just acknowledge that having the word “swamp” in a hike’s description substantially lowers its popularity – particularly for The LovedOne. So this route around the Louisville Swamp – which is Hike #24 in 60 Hikes and also on the Hiking Project – languished for months. But it was worth the wait.

Because, by now, in late summer, two important things have happened down along the Minnesota River: (1) many of the flying, biting insects often found in a swamp have died (sooo sad 😈) and (2) the waters have receded, and the ground dried enough, so that the swamp no longer really qualifies as a swamp – at least not in any watery, fetid, bug-infested sense. For the moment, it’s just a big, happy marsh surrounded by a nice, dry trail. πŸ˜‰

So I pitched this hike again and The LovedOne said “Sure, why not?” And so we were off to the 145th Street W trailhead for the Louisville Swamp Unit of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) – “the swamp” for short. Thunderstorms were possible later in the afternoon but the morning offered darn good hiking weather: sunny, clear, a few artsy clouds, not too warm or too humid. Flying insects were around but not in any great numbers. Clearly our lives of unblemished purity were being rewarded! πŸ™„πŸ˜’πŸ€’

We got started by going south on the Mazomani Trail toward Middle Road. It wasn’t obvious to us that the parking lot sits on a bluff until we came to an overlook and then descended toward one arm of the swamp. A great deal of this portion of the Mazomani Trail is under a sweeping canopy of oaks and other trees – a glorious natural cathedral of greenery. The guidebook said we’d pass the historic Ehmiller Farmstead not far from the parking lot but, despite some searching, we couldn’t find it. πŸ˜₯

At the trailhead
And under the oaks
The view from the overlook – we’re going down to the bright green spot
Under the entwined arms of the oaks
Obedient Plant
The clouds looked threatening, but nothing happened
Continuing under the green canopy

None of the maps we had showed the two massive, 15-ton capacity, steel bridges on the Mazomani Trail, one spanning Sand Creek and the other a seasonally flooded arm of the swamp. They are certainly more than we needed but were most welcome nonetheless. πŸ™‚

The bridge over Sand Creek
Sand Creek
On through the greenery
Arrowhead Plant

After we crossed a second stout bridge, the Mazomani Trail brought us to Middle Road, where we turned west past a huge glacial erratic boulder sitting in a field. Judging from the chalk-smeared holds on its west face, it’s popular with the bouldering community. We made our way west on Middle Road (which doubles as a utility corridor) to its junction with Flood’s Road.

On Middle Road
A pond at Middle Road
The boulder
The boulder – white splotches are chalked holds
West on Middle Road with the power lines
Marsh from Middle Road
Along Flood’s Road
A mushroom glows in the forest

After a short distance on Flood’s Road, we turned west on to the State Corridor Trail, which took us through a long green tunnel of over-arching trees, past a picnic shelter, Johnson Slough, and a campsite, to a good view of the Minnesota River – now brown and quiet in these last days of summer.

On the State Corridor Trail
Johnson Slough
Through the green tunnel of the Corridor Trail
Minnesota River – looking upstream
The far shore
Looking downstream
Continuing on the Corridor Trail
The forest floor was a seemingly solid expanse of greenery
One last brush with the river

Most of the trails we were on today were either old roads or had been mowed at some point. But enough vegetation had grown back to shelter various small critters. Earlier in the day it had been waves of grasshoppers, who jumped out as we passed like the wake behind a boat. On the Corridor Trail it was Leopard Frogs of various sizes who made amazing multi-feet jumps to escape us.

A Leopard Frog hides in the veg

After a long run north, the State Corridor Trail turned sharply east, became slightly choked with tall veg and small fallen trees, and took us, across yet another sturdy bridge, back up on to the bluff to a T-junction. We turned south here, went a short ways – got passed by a person on a fat tire bike – and connected with the State Trail Access Trail, which we followed eastward back to the parking lot.

Eastward on the Corridor Trail
Sand Creek downstream from the third bridge
Upstream from the bridge
Back up to the bluff
On the State Trail Access Trail

Our loop came to 7.6 miles (12.2 km) with little gain other than getting back on to the bluff. It was an excellent journey! We passed through towering stands of oaks, birch, and, cottonwoods, and sugar maples, skirted large areas of marsh teeming with bird life (and other critters), and had a brush with the Minnesota River.

A fair number of wildflowers were still out, which added a splash of color to the area’s otherwise green, green, green palette. We even got to sample some of the tasty wild plums growing alongside the trail in places (note: the not-so-ripe ones are not tasty 😝).

Louisville proved to be so much more than a “swamp” – and by being so gave us yet another delightful day outdoors. 😁

Our loop today, showing the three bridges, the picnic shelter, the campsite, and the boulder (B)
What this area looks like when the marshlands are flooded – probably not the best time to visit the swamp
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