Wild River State Park
Stretching 18 miles along a remote and beautiful stretch of the St. Croix River, the 6,803-acre Wild River State Park was created in conjunction with the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.
A remarkable abundance of wildflowers, including trillium and wild geranium, paint the forest floor each spring. The best spots for enjoying them are the Trillium Trail, which conveniently skirts the campground, and the River Terrace Loop. You can learn about the flowers and more at the McElroy Visitor Center (651/583-2925, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Thurs.–Mon.), overlooking a wildflower garden and the St. Croix Valley.
The main park entrance is 10 miles north of Taylors Falls along Highway 95 and County Highway 12, though for a more scenic drive come via County Highway 16. The McElroy Visitor Center is about one mile from the park entrance; follow signs.
The Sunrise River boat launch, along with its quiet picnic area, is in the west end along County Highway 9.
Canoeing is obviously a top draw, and a pair of put-ins are spaced at a leisurely day-trip distance. Rentals and a shuttle service are available for the calm and easy 10-mile trip along the park or for longer journeys.
The canoeing is great, but Wild River is more than just the St. Croix. The 35-mile trail system stretches across most of the length of the park and has only the occasional steep hill. One of the most popular trails, and rightly so, is the River Terrace Loop, which circles the bottomland forest for 1.5 miles.
Joining it at the Nevers Dam overlook (the dam was removed in 1955) is the River Trail, which follows the St. Croix south for the same distance. If you head up the hills you can make a loop out of it by following the Old Logging Trail, part of a three-mile paved route connecting the campgrounds and interpretive center. It is the only trail allowing bikes. Also in the southern section of the park is the three-mile Amador Prairie Loops, a pair of rings circling Wild River’s prairie restoration.
Two seldom-used trails, the five-mile Sunrise Loop and three-mile Goose Creek Loop, branch out through the bottomland forest in the north end of the park from the Sunrise River area. Both trails, particularly the latter, can be very wet but are also excellent places to encounter wildlife, as is the rolling Sunrise Trail, which continues along the river all the way back to the southern end of the park.
A pair of easy mile-long self-guided nature trails, Windfall and Amik’s Pond, begin at the visitors center and discuss forest and wetland ecology respectively; the latter passes a beaver pond and is a good bird-watching area.
Come winter, 30 miles of trail are groomed for cross-country skiing—the Aspen Knob Loop, a two-mile trail through the hilly southwest corner of the park, offers the biggest challenge—and the River Terrace Trail is packed down for winter hiking. Both skis and snowshoes are available to rent.
The campground has 96 (17 electric) mostly wooded campsites, each well screened from the others. Also in the camp area are two rustic camper cabins and a guesthouse with all the comforts of home, including air-conditioning, TV, VCR, and a fireplace. Horseback riders have their own rustic campground. The eight reservable backpacking sites are as little as a quarter mile, and no more than two miles, from park roads; only Buck Hill lets you camp in sight of the river.
Wild River State Park has another eight canoe-in campsites, and there are other National Scenic Riverway sites available. All canoe sites are first-come, first-served. Call 651/583-2125 for information, or visit www.stayatmnparks.com for reservations.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition