Interstate State Park

 The St. Croix River at Interstate State Park 

The St. Croix River at Interstate State Park 

The Park: Situated on top of a series of craggy bluff, Interstate State Park is a small park (281 acres) that offers amazing views of the St. Croix River gorge. The park is regionally known by rock climbers as an excellent place for beginners to test their skills on the bluffs and cliffs in and around Taylor's Falls. With a pine forest ecosystem usually only found a hundred miles north of the park, the lichen encrusted rocks and spring wildflowers offer the Northwoods experience without the long drive. As with most parks in the state, water is central to the Interstate experience. Rent a canoe and drift down the St. Croix to another nearby park or challenge yourself by taking a raft or kayak over the series of rapids that gave the town of Taylor's Falls its name. In addition to the hiking and boating and climbing at the park, visitors - including myself- are most impressed by a series of glacial potholes along the river. Many of the potholes are no bigger than a basketball, but some, like the Devil's Parlor, are much larger and include stairways, natural bridges, and pools. 

Wisconsin's Interstate State Park is right across the river and is worth checking out too (in fact, I'd say it's probably better than Minnesota's Interstate State Park if I wasn't so fiercely loyal to the North Star State). The bluffs are higher in Wisconsin and offer better views of the river and the park also offers a more extensive system of trails to explore. 

Trout Lilies at Interstate State Park 

The Hike: The 3-mile hiking club trail runs from the main park entrance, along the river and bluffs, to the pothole area and Taylor's Falls at the far side of the park. It's a fairly easy trail running through pine forest and rocky terrain. Because the entire park is a narrow stretch of land between the highway and the river, part of the trail is actually on the highway. While this kind of destroys your illusions of wilderness, the highway section does offer some of the best views of the river and the bluffs on the Wisconsin side. I had the privilege of hiking the park in the spring when the spring ephemera - wildflowers, fiddleheads, and the like - carpeted the forest floor, soaking in what sunlight they could get through the forest canopy. At the end of the hike, make sure you take time to check out the pothole area and clamber around the cliffs to find the best views of the river before turning around and tracing your steps back to your car. 

The Shelter where you'll begin the Hiking Club Trail at Interstate State Park 

The Drive: There are two routes to this park from the Twin Cities - both just over an hour drive. The first takes you up 35 to Hwy 8. This is a pleasant drive and the small towns, farms, and bison ranch along Hwy 8 are worth checking out if you never have before, but if you're looking for a scenic drive, I'd suggest taking first driving to Stillwater and then taking 95 up along the St. Croix River. Although this drive in north of true bluff country, the road is a scenic byway that winds up and down through forests, along cliffs, and by small river towns offering worthwhile views of the river along the way. And be sure to take advantage of the antiquing in Stillwater while your there (you know, if you're into that kind of thing).