An hour from downtown Minneapolis, Wild River State Park is well worth the drive to explore its almost 7,000-acres of hardwood forest, oak savanna, and pine forest. It is a perfect weekend destination for hikers, backpackers, and campers.
With 6,803-acres to play in and over 30 miles of hiking trails to explore, Wild River State Park is the perfect weekend escape from civilization. Hikers and backpackers come to this park to enjoy the quiet trails, wildlife opportunities, and scenic views of the St. Croix River Valley.
What Makes It Great
While hiking in Wild River State Park, you will notice that the landscape changes drastically. The park features flat prairies to hilly bluffs to dense hardwood forest. The landscape is so diverse due to the fact that ancient lava flows, drifting glaciers, and glacial flooding occurred here during the most recent ice age. The lava flows exposed basalt bedrock that now forms the towering St. Croix River bluffs; the glacial drift etched the lakebeds and river valleys throughout the region; and the glacial flooding began the flow of many modern rivers, one being the St. Croix River. As you hike along the 18-mile stretch that lies beside the St. Croix River Valley, look to the exposed grey basalt found in the bluffs.
Though famous for its rewarding views of the St. Croix River, Wild River State Park has great hiking trails through dense stands of hardwood forest. From the parking lot, there are a myriad of trails to choose from. You will notice some of the trails are as wide as 6 feet long, owing to the fact that they were once logging roads. Near the visitor center, there are a few short self-guided loops with interpretive posts along the trail. To the south, there is a 3.5-mile loop that follows the river and then intersects with Deer Creek Loop, which takes you through a hilly ash forest and tranquil lowland meadows.
For a loop that has everything, the Windfall Trail leads you through a thick understory of fern and ash. The trail continues on to a mature stand of oak and birch, which eventually connects with the Old Logging Road Trail. This trail offers hikers a flat, quiet walk through a thicket of upland woods. Follow the signs for Old Never’s Dam site to see the ruins of Minnesota’s once thriving logging industry and from there head south to follow the lowland River Trail. As you walk along the sandy banks, canoeists and kayakers share the trail, sometimes even eating their afternoon snack among the strewn about sandbars.
The St. Croix River Valley is renowned for its birding opportunities and Wild River State Park is no different. The entire park is alive with birds of all different species, attracting on average 180,000 birdwatchers a year. Be sure to listen for eastern peewees, Baltimore orioles, and many kinds of migrating warblers. Don’t forget your binoculars at home because it is a treat to watch flycatchers hunting in the prairie or getting close-up views of the trumpeter swans.
Who is Going to Love It
Backpackers looking for diverse landscapes and great birding opportunities will be overjoyed by what Wild River State Park has to offer.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The park office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are two parking lots. One is near the visitor center, while the other is more northwest at Sunrise Landing. There are hiking trailheads near both parking lots.
There are 8 remote backpacking sites that can be found within the park. One site is as close as ¼-mile from the visitor center parking lot while others require a more adventurous spirit, ranging from 2 miles to over 10 miles (near Sunrise Landing). Since there are a lot of interconnected trail loops, it is easy to cater your hike to exactly how long you want.