Minnesota to me is like having a best friend from kindergarten; you think you know that person very well.
And then, you get into your twenties and they're like, "I'm the rightful heir to the English throne, and I've been making monthly visits to England since we were little."
You can't believe it! You thought you knew everything about this person.
That's Minnesota to me at this point in my life. It had these gems all along, but they were hidden for some reason. Even though I thought I knew Minnesota, I clearly did not.
Since I'm living back in this great state, I decided to do some research on its royal heritage.
And this weekend, the first weekend in May of 2020, I decided to visit a few gems.
I visited Interstate State Park (Minnesota and Wisconsin side), Wild River State Park, and hiked 2 sections of the Ice Age Trail.
Along with this best friend hiding their royal heritage from me, they also revealed that they have a twin. A twin!
That's the St. Croix River. I found a Lion's Park on the Minnesota side and a Lion's Park on the Wisconsin side. Interstate Park has a Minnesota and a Wisconsin side. They mirror one another across the St.Croix river on the southeastern border.
Here's what I found:
1. The Ice Age Trail
I hiked starting at Lion's Park along the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. It follows the river, crossing streams where hikers must balance on driftwood to get across. The 1.1-mile section is very well manicured. Some elevation gain. I believe this section is called the "St.Croix River" section.
With my bulging backpack, I hiked the St. Croix River section and then it just ended at a paved road.
I hiked the paved road for a while (River Rd.) and realized it was not going to take me to the next section of the Ice Age Trail, so I turned around and hiked the section again.
On my way back, I stopped at a picnic table and an older man holding a camera came walking by. We started chatting and I told him I couldn't find the next section of the Ice Age Trail.
"Yeah, it's a weird trail. The next section is across the highway," he said pointing east.
I hiked out, hopped in my truck, and drove to that next trailhead called "Trail of Myths."
Trail of Myths was not nearly as dreamy as the St.Croix River section. It had a mucky forest floor and deciduous trees with nothing to show for themselves. I still hiked about two miles in and then turned around and hiked back out.
It would have been a great idea to buy the guidebook before starting any part of the Ice Age Trail. But, I didn't. I thought I could just figure it out... nope.
2. Interstate State Park (MN and WI)
While doing some research, I was confused about why some sources said the Interstate State Park was in Wisconsin, and others said it was in Minnesota.
Turns out it's in both. It straddles the St. Croix River and mirrors itself.
The Minnesota side, in Taylor's Falls, is like the compact version of the Wisconsin side. The hikes are shorter and the rocks are more stout. The cliffs are higher and jutt up against the river. Beautiful white steamboats wait for passengers right along the water's edge.
The Wisconsin side, in St. Croix Falls, has longer hikes with more recreational opportunities. I walked up to Lake O' the Dalles and sat by the water watching fishermen teach their fishercubs how to cast wide into the water. There were hikes that went all around this lake and other ones in the park.
My suggestion? If you have thirty minutes, visit the MN side. If you have an hour or more, visit the WI side. Also, if you have a big crew you're traveling with - defs the WI side.
3. Wild River State Park, MN
Wild River State Park is away from all the hustle and bustle of the Taylor's Falls area. The MN DNR says that it's a wildlife park and that's no joke. I saw the most animals in this park. It's more spread out and has nice paved trails (hello, bikers!) and rumor has it there is great camping. I couldn't go to the campsites because they were blocked off due to COVID-19 restrictions.
If this were a pageant, Wild River State Park comes in third. Interstate WI would get the crown. Interstate MN would be runner-up. And Wild River, while it had great qualities, just wasn't as well-rounded as the others.
5 Lessons I learned this trip:
1. Don't pack a thriller/murder mystery novel for nights you'll be camping solo.
2. Water tablets work just fine.
3. Buy the freaking guide book.
4. Bring electrolyte mix for water.
5. Camp away from the trail, and away from the lapping water's edge (where you won't hear footsteps, should there be any, outside of your tent).
Are you planning a trip this summer? If you've got a spot in Minnesota you want to share, let me know! Or, just tell me about your experience exploring the Great Outdoors---> firstname.lastname@example.org
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