Saint Croix State Park is one of those places that isn’t really that far away, but isn’t right along the way to anywhere either. The fact that it is in a rather out-of-the-way location (and located at the end of a dead-end road) probably explains why I’ve never stopped before.
A brief tour of Saint Croix State Park’s fall color
Located near Hinckley, Minnesota, Saint Croix State Park sits at the confluence of the Kettle and Saint Croix Rivers. Before the lumberjacks came through, this area was home to red and white pines. Today it features a mix of pine, black spruce, sugar maple, and basswood forest, along with a few patches of oak savanna, jackpine barrens, and wetlands. I expected the park to be ablaze with color.
But when I entered the park last weekend, I was quickly reminded that it was severely damaged in a rather freakish windstorm five years ago.
In 2011 most of this area was thickly covered with trees . . . until the evening of July 1 when winds of up to 100 miles per hour took down thousands of trees across more than a third of this large park. While the damage was heartbreaking (besides the loss of trees, 75 of the park’s 200 historic buildings were also damaged), the storm’s timing was incredibly lucky: The state legislature’s inability to agree on a budget had shut down the state government beginning on that day. With the state parks and their campgrounds closed, there were few people around when the wind hit and the trees began falling.
While the first part of the park is still a bit bleak, most of the park is still heavily wooded. (Some of the blowdown area will remain open, as it will be managed to support the oak savanna and jackpine barrens that existed before the second-growth forest took over.)
As I had hoped, I was soon driving through a colorful forest.
Saint Croix State Park can be divided into two sections based on the road system: What I’ll call the northeast section, where the visitor center and campgrounds are located (and where much of the storm damage occurred), and the southwestern section, where many of the park’s featured attractions can be found. For this short tour, I decided to drive most of the 12 miles of unpaved road that runs through the southwestern part of the park.
This was largely a driving tour (this is a park that really warrants an overnight stay and plenty of time to explore on foot or on the water), but I made a couple of stops along the way to check out a wetland, take a short hike through the woods, and view the river from a couple of overlooks.
It wasn’t enough time, but it was a start.
And, now that I’ve been here, I know I’ll return.
Saint Croix State Park is located on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border near Hinckley, Minnesota. The park is open year-round, with 127 miles of hiking trails, 75 miles of horse trails, 80 miles of snowmobile trails, and more. The park has a lot of lodging options, including seasonal cabins built in the early 1940s by the Veterans’ Conservation Corps. Although not a problem when I visited, the park is also infamous for its mosquitoes, so be prepared. A Minnesota state park permit (available at the park) is required.
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