Hiking at Sandrock Cliffs (St. Croix Falls, WI) 01-May-2023

Today was cool and breezy but otherwise sunny, with no rain, snow, or gloom anywhere. The forecast calls for sun and warmth for many days ahead – with only a hint of a refreshing shower (maybe). So, yes, we are now willing to say that Spring – that elusive rascal – has FINALLY ARRIVED! Yeah plus! πŸ˜‚πŸŒΌπŸ˜Ž

To celebrate this blessed event, we journeyed across the wide St. Croix River to explore a hike (new to us) at the Sandrock Cliffs on the Wisconsin πŸ§€ side. The attraction here, aside from the fact we hadn’t previously visited, was a walk along the St. Croix to see the sandstone remnants of an ancient sea.

The trail guide offered 5 loops (A to E) that, if strung together correctly, would total 5 miles (8 km) – a 3 mile (4.8 km) set south of the campground on Tennessee Road and a 2 mile (3.2 km) set north of it. Seemed simple enough.

We parked at the Highway 70 Landing parking lot and went north along the St. Croix on the western side of the southern loop. We were now far enough north to be in forests with a greater number of various conifers.

Leaving the trailhead

The river was still running high (but below flood stage) and it was clear that it had risen high enough at one time to reach the trail. We had to bypass a large puddle by walking through the forest. Fortunately this was the only section of the southern loop like this.

A section the trail was still flooded
Reflections in the trail
On drier ground through a stand of pines
Jumping a spot of minor flooding
An island in the river
An island under the clouds
On through the forest
Above the sandstone cliffs

The sandstone cliffs sit below the trail along a side channel separated from the main river channel by an island. To actually see the cliffs, we had to make a short scramble down to river level. We suppose that when the river is lower, it might be possible to get a bigger view of the cliffs from below – but that wasn’t happening today.

The cliffs from today’s river level
Lots of carvings in the soft sandstone
Sandstone cliff

From the cliffs, we continued on to the campground and small dock (currently under water) at the end of Tennessee Road. The southern trail (except for a few wet spots) had been wide, clear, and easy to follow. We (foolishly as it turned out) expected it to stay that way on the loop north of the campground.

Well, the northern loop started out wide and easy to follow – up to another big flooded section. We worked our way around that, found the trail again, and followed it to an excellent campsite with a commanding view of the St. Croix.

The northern loop started well…
And then went underwater…
Before taking us to a great campsite on the bank of the St. Croix

From the campsite, the northern loop trail follows the river for a while, then swings inland and doubles back to Tennessee Road. The trail along the river started out reasonably well but then got fainter and fainter before dropping us in a big meadow.

Going north started well…
But left us in a big meadow
We start to chart our own course back

The meadow was crossed by game trails but none that looked like a people trail. We eventually settled on a trail (that may have been a road long ago) that looked a tiny bit more obvious than the others and went in the right direction. Later, we would discover that we’d found a trail marked on the USGS topo – a map that is now 30+ years old.

We actually followed a trail shown only on the old USGS map

Following this “trail” wasn’t too hard – doing so just involved frequent, painful contact with spine-laden plants. 😒 Blood was drawn. We worried about ticks (which are out and active now) but less so than about significant blood loss. After a physically short, but psychologically long, march, we got back to the road and the campground.

From there, we returned on the good, wide, spine-free trail on the eastern side of the southern loop. The journey was uneventful except for wildflowers, a snake, and a huge nest.

Going back on the east side of the southern loop
Round-lobed Hepatica – another early Spring wildflower
Continuing on…
Eastern garter snake
Complete with forked tongue
Doing its best to look fierce
On through the conifers
One of two massive (eagle ?) nests we saw today
Almost done…

We managed to do 4.4 miles (7 km) between the two loops. We might have been able to reach the reported 5 miles (8 km) if we’d doubled-back on some of the smaller loops – something we were absolutely not going to do on the northern loop (even if we had found the “right” trail).

But flooding and trail finding and spines aside, this was a fun walk on a truly glorious Spring day! We were happy to let this day help us forget about the overly enthusiastic Winter we just got finished with. More than happy…

With a 1.5 hour drive home ahead, we weren’t planning on stopping for lunch. But who could resist a restaurant called the Grumpy Minnow? We couldn’t and went to their original location on Rush Lake to help us recover from the travail of hiking through the spiny woods. πŸ₯€πŸ” And it was good. πŸ˜‹ And we were restored. 😁

Our two loops starting from the Highway 70 parking lot

4 thoughts on “Hiking at Sandrock Cliffs (St. Croix Falls, WI) 01-May-2023

Add yours

  1. Other than the snake (which you got way too close to for me), I very much enjoyed hiking with you in Wisconsin. I’m thankful, too, that spring has sort of, maybe, finally, arrived. But this is Minnesota and we’ve had s**w in May.


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