Snowshoeing at Wild River State Park

By the time I hit the road and headed for Wild River State Park, equipped with winterwear and snowshoes, the temperature had already reached 35° – warm for January in Minnesota. It was not yet noon. I wondered if there was enough snow to use my snowshoes; I hadn’t bothered to check snow depth at the park. I figured if there wasn’t enough snow I’d simply hike in my boots. I was after wintertime enjoyment in the woods, snowshoes or not.

I left behind a pile of laundry, a stack of unopened mail, and a heap of other work that needed my attention. Still, I decided to set aside the urgent for the Important. While menial tasks sometimes give me a feeling of urgency, I stifled it. What became a priority for me that day was exercise, nature, peace. An outdoor adventure on a beautiful day. Everything else would keep.

Wild River State Park is just over an hour north of the Twin Cities. It is located along 18 miles of the St. Croix River and spans almost 7,000 acres with 35 miles of trails for hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and horseback riding.

The park also offers camping, wildlife viewing, water activities, and education about its history. When I decided to go to the park, I had one thing in mind: A woodland walk. As my nature adventures usually go, I ended up receiving much more than expected. Nature is forever offering me more than I anticipate.

When I entered Wild River State Park, I stopped at the ranger center and grabbed a map. Then, I drove to the Visitor Center to check if there was any other information what would help along my hike. I found there was not, but it worked out well since I was able to park near the trailhead for one of the snowshoeing trails.

Some of the trails during wintertime prohibit foot and snowshoe traffic because they are groomed for cross country skiing. I respect the ski trails. While I’m not a cross country skier myself, I have friends who are and have learned the groomed trails are easily marred by foot traffic, causing them to be damaged and harder to ski. Not cool!

I scouted the trails nearby and came across a few that said, “classical skiing only.” Finally, I found a small blue sign with an image of a snowshoeing figure. That was what I wanted. Amik‘s Pond Trail. My plan was to take the trail, then cut through the woods for a jaunt to hook up with another trail, River Terrace Loop. My first destination was Old Nevers Dam Site.

The hardwoods were abundant. The songbirds were as well. I listened to the familiar song of a Black-capped Chickadee. Chicka-dee-dee-dee. A typical inhabitant of a deciduous forest. I stood at the trail entrance and watched a Downy Woodpecker. Tap, tap, tap – tap, tap, tap – tap, tap, tap.

The first part of my journey was downhill. I walked along, crunch, clack, crunch, clack, went my snowshoes on the crusty surface of snow. As I walked, I noticed the birds quieted. I figured they sensed a stranger in the woods. Prior to setting out, I had run into two hikers who decided to drive to another loop, so I was the only one in the area.

I came to my first resting spot, a bench overlooking he St. Croix River. I carefully crossed the ski trail so I wouldn’t disturb it. The river was frozen over with a little bit open on the opposite side. No signs of life. When I ventured on and crossed over Spring Creek, I saw a huge eagle nest. There wasn’t a vacancy sign hanging near it, but I knew it was empty. Eagles tend to return to the same nest annually. I made a mental note to return during late winter or early springtime to check for any action on the nest.

I stopped at the boat landing. Melted snow drift off the roof of a shelter. It was quiet, calming. I was alone in the woods. Some of the oaks held their dry, brown leaves. A condition called “marcescence.” A scientific phenomenon. Near the creek, I paused to watch the water. It was partially open and flowing beneath the snow. Along the edges of open water were amazing ice formations.

There was some graffiti on the retaining wall: A peace sign. Not to condone graffiti, but the symbol seemed appropriate. The area was certainly peaceful.

It was over an hour into my expedition and I found myself thirsty. I had been in hyper hydration mode all morning; I don’t like to have to carry water with me during daytime hikes, especially in a public place where there are usually people around. No danger there. Although, there were no people around, but I had considered there would be snow. I stopped to fill my hand with fresh snow from the side of a tree. I scraped the top layer off and took out a powdery white handful. I let it melt in my mouth and swallowed it. Very refreshing!

I envisioned the area during other seasons. Spring when the river would run wild and life would be bursting all around, summer when everything would become lush and in bloom – with birds and woodland critters raising young – and fall when the remarkable hardwoods had changed into their autumn wardrobes.

As I wondered how close I was to the dam, I saw a flash of blue in the woods and spotted a Blue jay flying through the trees. Nice splash of color in a relatively uncover for landscape. Then, another flash of color. This time red. It was a pair of Cardinals. I peered into the woods to watch them, but they flew away and out of sight. When I looked up, I saw an oriole nest high in a tree, followed by a hornets’ nest in another tree, down low. Nature was giving me gifts and I gratefully accepted them.

After I reached Old Nevers Dam Site I took off my snowshoes and walked the path. I was finished venturing into the woods and decided to give my legs a break. Snowshoeing can be hard work and I had been tramping for a couple miles. The trail I followed led up a steep hill to a picnic area. I stopped for a rest before taking a trail that led back to where I had begun.

On my way back, I walked through nice I stand of Norway Pines. I also admired the birch trees. One had a black fungus on it. While I wasn’t happy the tree was diseased, it presented an interesting black and white contrast. By the time I got back to my car the sun still well above the horizon. Peering through the woods it was just in the treetops. I was satisfied with the adventure, about two and a half hours in the woods.

A beautiful winter day. A fantastic park. Peace. Quiet. Trees. Birds. Running water. Ahh… nature. I’ll certainly back to Wild River State Park.