Hiking the Trout Brook Loop (Hastings, MN) 10-May-2023

Things have warmed up around here, and look to stay that way. But our potpourri of showers and thunderstorms and clouds and sun continues.

Back when work ate almost all of our waking hours, and any free time unhappily coincided with rain, we sometimes had to hike swathed in steamy rain gear. Now we have options, and sweating in the rain isn’t one of them. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hence when today was forecast as a warm, sunny, ๐Ÿ˜Ž dry patch before more rain arrived, we returned to popular Afton State Park just east of St. Paul, to explore some new (to us) trails.

Previous visits had taken us through the backpack campground and, with the Rovers, from one end of the park to the other. Today we went northwest to wander the Bobolink, Prairie, and Trout Brook Loops.

Like most state parks we visited, there are maps at each major trail intersection and each intersection is numbered or (as here) lettered. We realize this attention to detail may be weakening our navigation skills – but we still like it. ๐Ÿ˜Š

From the parking lot, we went down and then north along the North River Trail. We knew from the park’s website that a short section of trail here was still flooded but were still shocking to see how high the water was (and this after it has been receding for several days).

Between the bird watching and the wildflowers, we made a slow, but stately, progress along Afton’s trails.

Leaving the parking lot
The St. Croix is still running pretty high
The lower trail (arrow) between Intersections O and Q was definitely flooded
Not everyone has a problem with a little extra water

The river trail (the grade of the old Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad) was built high enough to escape flooding but had nonetheless been eroded in a few places by the high water. ๐Ÿ˜Ÿ

North River Trail
Lyre-leaved Rock Cress

From the end of the North River Trail, we went up through Intersections U, V, W, and Y and out to Intersection Z at the junction between the Bobolink and Prairie Loops.

Up near Intersection U
Downy Yellow Violet
Rue Anemone
Approaching the shelter at Intersection W
Through the old farm gate
On to Intersection Y
North on the Bobolink Loop from Intersection Z
At Intersection AA
Toward Intersection AB

We went counter-clockwise around the Bobolink Loop and then veered off toward the Trout Brook Loop at Intersection AB. Descending into the Trout Brook drainage from the open prairie was going into another world – which it is, habitat-wise. It was certainly different – and more enveloping – than any other area of the park we’ve visited thus far.

Descending to Trout Brook
Trout Brook
Ground Ivy
Mica Cap mushrooms
Upstream crossing of Trout Brook
On the upland half of the Trout Brook Loop
A cathedral of trees
Back down by the brook
Common Blue Violet

From Trout Brook, we climbed back to the Prairie Loop and followed it around to Intersection AH. Clouds had been building since morning but were still just large, puffy, white ornaments against a blue sky.

Arriving at Intersection AE on the Prairie Loop
On the Prairie Loop
Trees bordering an old farm road
Clouds and sky
On the Prairie Loop toward Intersection AH
And then down (and up a bit) to the parking lot
New growth above the flood

Our collection of loops today came to 7.5 miles (12.1 km) with 1,050 feet (320 m) of cumulative gain. Warm, sunny, and dry. No bugs and no humidity (yet). This is definitely the golden moment (along with the colors of Fall) in a hiker’s year.

We’ve enjoyed all our hikes in this park but the Trout Brook Loop stood out as something just a little extra special. That may have had something to do with the transition from expansive prairie vistas to the cozy confines of a riparian forest. Regardless, we’re certainly glad we put in the effort to go see it. ๐Ÿ˜


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