Time to put the boots away and sit back in your favorite vehicle. Make sure you have your favorite music available as we set out to take a road trip on Minnesota's St. Croix Trail.
The trail begins in Northern Minnesota approximately 50 miles North of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport in a town called North Branch, MN. You can also begin on the South end of the trail which is outside of Prescott, WI. My journey begins in Stillwater, MN, a 20-30 minute drive from the Minneapolis Airport.
This is downtown Stillwater. An area that makes you feel like you have gone back in time with older brick buildings. Modern shops with old-fashioned attitude and welcomes everyone including your furry friend, keep them on a leash though!
As you can see, there are places to walk down by the St. Croix River but no place to let them off leash and the dogs are welcomed on the main streets as well. In fact, some owners will even leave treats and water out for them on the sidewalk just to let you know they appreciate your furry friends as well.
Regardless of where you start on the St. Croix Trail I recommend taking a moment to visit Downtown Stillwater. There are plenty of places to park, river tours, sitting areas along the walk as well as great restaurants that also offer outdoor seating. You couldn't ask for a better place to get out and stretch your feet before you continue.
Moving along we head South along the St. Croix trail where we come along a sign that states "Historical Marker 1/4 mile". Why not pull over and find out what used to be here back in 1843 and this is all that remains. This marker is located outside of St Marys Point, want to see more?
Let's take a stroll. These walking, running and biking trails also follow the St. Croix Trail and you are welcome to use them to see the area in more detail. A lot of residential areas is around this part of the trail and if you like viewing homes like I do, then take a drive down St Marys Point Road. Just be cautious of the wildlife. When I drove through there was a fox strolling around the neighborhood, unfortunately, moving too fast for a photo as most wildlife do. It's like they know I want to take a picture of them...
Unfortunately, you won't get many views of the river around here unless you follow the signs that will lead you to different beaches. If you choose to do so, make sure you read the parking signs! Most of the beaches are in residential areas that only allow one place to park. Pets are not allowed on the beaches or in the picnic areas during the season.
This is the St. Croix Trail as you are leaving the historic marker. The trail is full of twists and turns, be observant, as well as large trees and must be an amazing sight when the leaves are changing.
As you drive the trail you will see small city parks along the way, but most you may not even know are there until you are past them. Don't worry let me welcome you to Afton, MN, or more specifically, The Afton Alps. This area is right off of the St. Croix trail with good signage so you won't miss it. It is an easy pull off and even easier return.
The best part of Afton Alps? You have three points of interest in one location. The Afton State Park, The Afton Golf Course and The Afton Ski Slope which is accessible even now if you want to see what the hills look like.
There is a cost to tour the State Park, be sure to stop by the office near the entrance and pay your fee. The park also offers camping sites for those who are interested and do have set hours when you can enter, be sure to check their website for more details: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/afton/narrative.html.
Time to keep moving, here is another view of The St. Croix Trail as you are leaving Afton, MN. I'm not sure about you but I'm in love with old and even abandoned places. There is just something about them that makes me want to photograph them and yes, I do quick pullovers to get shots of the amazing places.
Use extreme caution when you arrive at these areas. There are a lot of blind spots, sharp turns, bikers, residential walkers, and posted speed signs that have you slowing down in a short period of time. Relax, go slow and enjoy the view, these areas are the best part of the trip.
As you will notice there haven't been too many shots of the St. Croix River, even though the trail is following it there are very few points where you will actually see the river. Plus there are no stopping points or observation areas along the route which is why I recommend having someone along so one can drive while the other takes photos.
Another point of interest along the trail is St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park. Once again there is a fee to enter this area and the station is located right at the entrance.
As you drive in there is a place to park or you can continue down the road to other areas for more hiking, as you can see the trails are paved and the area is well kept.
Continuing South on the Trail we will come upon one more attraction that offers a bit of an education. Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center. Free of charge but donations are welcome and encouraged. They will educate you about anything and everything that has to do with nature as well as give tours of the area. You are also welcome to take your own tour.
Just a few short minutes after the Nature Center you are at the end of the St. Croix Trail. Welcome to Point Douglas Park.
The St. Croix River. On the left is Minnesota, on the right is Wisconsin. Douglas Point isn't just an area where both states can be seen by just turning your head which alone is pretty neat. This also where the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers become one. Unfortunately, the Mississippi River isn't able to be seen until you take the bridge over to Prescott. WI.
Before you do, take a moment to relax and enjoy the scenery. As you can see dogs are welcome here but only on the side that doesn't have picnic tables. There are also restrooms here if needed, a small beach area to wade in as well as docking slips.
Let's go check out Prescott, WI. Another personal favorite of mine, trains, and railroads. Luckily I got them both as they are crossing over the Mississippi River into Minnesota. I've always enjoyed the rustic look that is part of cargo moving trains.
As you can see, Prescott also holds on to a bit of history as well. I think it's part of the river town theme to hold on to the look of classical buildings made of brick that have withheld through time. I absolutely love walking around and taking pictures of these buildings. For a moment, I feel like I've stepped back in time. These towns make up the St. Croix Trail and are worth taking a few moments to explore and stretch your legs.
If you live in the area or find yourself in Minnesota I hope you too will take a moment to enjoy this road trip. The entire trail from North Branch, MN to Prescott, WI is approximately 65 miles long. My route from Stillwater, MN to Prescott, WI was 34 miles long; the halfway point on the trail. I never went any further North on the trail than Downtown Stillwater and am not sure what it has to offer.
I have no doubt that one day I will explore the North part of the St Croix Trail so I can compare. I'm looking forward to driving the South route again in the Fall. Until then, I highly recommend taking the time to drive this trail if you live in the area or coming in for a visit. Safe travels and enjoy!
You don't have to go far to have fun. Here are a few places I visit when I'm not driving across country or exploring the Rustic Roads.