Hiking the Blue Hill Trail (Sherburne NWR, MN) 18-Feb-2023

The LovedOne was not feeling her usual perky self this morning. ๐Ÿ˜” A hike usually helps with that – at least it’s never made things worse. But a new hike (one we haven’t done before) works best. Full strength relief as they say.

Today was sunny ๐Ÿ˜Ž and clear and not too windy. Fool’s Spring! Because winter isn’t done with us yet. The days ahead are forecast to be some disheartening combination of snowy, cloudy, breezy, and gloomy. ๐Ÿ˜Ÿ

With very likely another moderately big snow dump included for extra excitement. So best to go out now while conditions are emotionally uplifting.

Unfortunately, we’ve already tromped our way around most of the hikes in the vicinity of the Twin Cities. Our battered copy of the 60 Hikes guide is partially to blame for that. Yet I turned to it again for inspiration.

Among the remaining undone hikes was one (#50) in the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). But that one looked like we’d be walking on a road. Then the refuge’s website offered up the Blue Hill Trail.

The refuge is, at 30,700 acres (12,423 ha), the largest public land holding in Sherburne County (named, in 1856, for a prominent attorney). The refuge itself is a wild remnant of where western prairies meet northern woods, and contains oak savanna, prairie, forest, wetland, and riverine habitats. Although limited hunting is allowed, the refuge’s primary purpose is as a sanctuary for migratory birds.

We started from the parking lot (12-15 vehicle spaces plus pit toilets) and went clockwise around the loop. We added a short climb to the top of the trail’s namesake – Blue Hill – for a partial view out over the snow covered refuge.

Blue Hill Trail, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
At the trailhead
Blue Hill Trail, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
Starting out – Blue Hill is the low rise to the left
Blue Hill Trail, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
Circling to the north side of Blue Hill
Blue Hill summit, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
On top of Blue Hill
Blue Hill Trail, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
Into a patch of pine forest
And out past an expanse of prairie
Blue Hill Trail, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
And back into the forest

Thanks ๐Ÿ˜’ to the many wildfires that ravaged Oregon while we lived there, we became intimately (but unwillingly) familiar with the burnt snags, patches of wrinkled charcoal, and regrowth from seared stumps that marked a wildfire’s passage. There was much such evidence as we walked this loop. What we couldn’t discern was whether this fire was intentional (a controlled burn) or human-caused or natural (lightning?).

Blue Hill Trail, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
A burnt snag at the refuge
Buck Lake in winter
Continuing on between trees and prairie
Where the ditch leaves Buck Lake

There are two stout metal bridges along this trail. Their sole purpose is to cross County Ditch Number Three, which drains Buck Lake and some adjacent areas into the nearby St. Francis River. To us, this ditch looked pretty chocked with brush and fallen trees, so it’s hard to guess how much draining it does these days.

Continuing on…
Past yet another lost glove ๐Ÿ˜ฅ
The LovedOne takes a break by the lake
Then we push on, now on the return loop
Past some oak trees that seem to have dodged any wildfires
Back across Ditch Number Three
More sunshine and shadow
And up over a low rise to the parking lot

The Blue Hill Trail proved to be an easy 4.7 mile (7.6 km) loop past Buck Lake, around snow-covered prairie, and through stands of oak and pine. It was a good day to be out hiking and The LovedOne was considerably perkier when we got back. ๐Ÿ˜

Wildlife sightings were limited to a few Trumpeter Swans and a White-tailed Deer. So we’re adding this one to our list of hikes to do later this year when greenery reappears and more critters start scurrying about. In the meantime, we’re sharpening our snow shovel in anticipation of winter’s (hopefully brief) return. ๐Ÿฅถ

The Blue Hill Trail

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