Today is “Black Friday” here in America. This means we’re supposed to be at the Mall of America buying something. Or several somethings. But we’re at that stage in life where our desire is to get rid of “stuff” not accumulate more of it.

Our move this year was a forceful reminder that it’s much, much harder to rid yourself of stuff than get more of it. And sometimes the ridding (if done legally) costs more than the original cost of the getting. So no more stuff for the sake of having stuff (but we’re willing to make an exception for more pie 🥧😋).

So, with shopping out of the question, we decided to try hiking a loop in another area new to us – St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park. This park sits along the St. Croix River across from Wisconsin. So, if nothing else, we’d get to see the river and maybe walk along it a bit as we’d done recently at Afton State Park. Well, yes and no.

The December 2021 map on the park’s website indicated that we’d be able to hike a loop along the river and across the uplands. But the July 2022 map we got at the park office showed that three key pieces of our planned loop – the path along the river (the old CMS&P railroad alignment) and the two pieces of trail connecting it to the uplands – were closed/future trails. 😲 Was the December map wrong or just premature? 🤔

So, with our planned loop a no go, we settled for walking the South Loop (red trail on the winter map) then followed the summer trail (green trail on the summer map) down to the harbor at the river. Here a giant construction project had mostly concluded, updating the parking area, boat ramp, beach, and harbor.

Starting out from Trail Intersection 9
Going west along the entrance road
And south toward Intersection 10
An old park maintenance shed on the way to Intersection 10
Approaching Intersection 11
Oak on snow
Pressing on to Intersection 13

At Intersection 13, we came upon a “trail closed” sign for the trail that the December 2021 map said went down to the harbor. Inquiring minds wanted to know, so we poked around a bit past the sign. We found a use trail that goes to some private houses just outside the park but it didn’t follow the alignment indicated on the park’s map. So maybe there will be an official trail to the harbor here at some future time? With this question left hanging, we headed back to the parking lot, taking the slightly longer route between Intersections 11 and 10.

No path to the harbor here
Just past Intersection 11
Through a pine plantation along the park’s southern border
Toward Intersection 10
And back to the parking lot

Once back at the parking lot, we found the green trail and followed it around to where a sign pointed us toward the harbor. I followed the dirt trail down while The LovedOne descended the paved boat ramp access road. She had a smoother trip since parts of the dirt trail had been impacted by the recently completed construction project.

Toward the trail to the harbor
At the harbor (berm above the sign is the old railroad right-of-way)
A reflection on water and ice
At the mouth of the harbor
On the beach at the Saint Croix River, St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park, Minnesota
On the beach at the Saint Croix River

The beach is lumpy now but won’t be after Spring high water gets to it. The berm between today’s boat ramp and the beach is an abandoned spur line to Stillwater of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.

Afton State Park uses part of this old spur to form its North and South River Trails. Although the Elevation 698 trestle was removed to create today’s harbor, there are still 0.8 miles (1.3 km) of the spur left in St. Croix Bluffs. This section is closed at the moment but we hope it will eventually reopen so we could do the loop we’d originally planned to do today. 🙄

This section of abandoned spur is closed
So near, yet so far
We take the road back

We probably could have done more wandering around the park but decided to save that for when the “future trails” might become a reality. These would make nice single-track additions to the otherwise hugely wide trails elsewhere in the park.

So after 4.8 miles (7.2 km) of walking and 180 foot (55 m) of gain, we decamped for a quick lunch 🥪 across the river in Prescott, Wisconsin. We also bought some $2.99/gallon gas as this seemed like a near miraculous price for this special fluid. 🤑

Our meanders around the bluffs and to the harbor (barbells are seasonal road closures; bridge symbol is the former site of a railroad trestle at elevation 698.
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