Hiking Club and Prairie Loop

Wild River State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Friday, August 18th, 2017
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 5.5 miles roundtrip
Time 2 hours
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Only an hour away from the Twin Cities, this state park is a great escape into nature. The St. Croix River is a federally designated Wild and Scenic River thanks to the eponymous act of Congress in 1968 protecting 8 rivers throughout the nation. This limits development near the river, leaving a pristine natural environment perfect for recreation. Combining this with the distance from major highways, you can enjoy the peace and beauty here without traveling far.

Dogs are allowed on leash. While this particular route is not family friendly, most of the trails in the park have flat terrain and can be completed as short loops. Some alternatives are the 1.2 mile Amador Prairie Loop, the approximately 2.3 mile Hiking Club Loop, or the 1.4 mile River Terrace Loop. Much of this trail is groomed for skiing in the winter and hiking is not allowed. I went on a Friday afternoon and saw only a few people plus one large group on horseback in the prairie; I doubt this experience is standard on the weekends however, so expect greater numbers. You can access this route from all of the parking lots except for the ones near the campgrounds in case parking is full at any of the lots. This also allows you to modify your starting position based on when you want to do the shadeless prairie portion of the hike (important on a hot day).

From the parking lot, follow signs near the building pointing east for the Amador Prairie Loops. At the first intersection, turn right. The trail soon leads to a large restored prairie (as you might have guessed from the trail name). Depending on the time of year, many different types of flowers bloom here such as daisies, coneflowers, and goldenrods. Turn right at the next intersection, then turn right again at the following intersecion where signs point to the Nevers Dam Trail -- the picture below was taken here.

Restored prairie provides wonderful scenery

Restored prairie provides wonderful scenery
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Your surrounding environment soon shifts from prairie to forest as you hike closer to the river on the Nevers Dam Trail. After crossing the paved trail, turn left to do the River Terrace Loop; if you want, you can skip this 1.4 mile section by continuing straight on the Nevers Dam Trail, but this extra loop allows you to spend more time by the St. Croix River, the best part of the whole park. Once you reach the river and see views like the picture below, you will understand why I recommended you do the River Terrace Loop. There are two trails near the river: the official one that is well-maintained and obvious and an unofficial use trail right next to the riverbank. As a steward of the environment, I have to strongly suggest you take the official trail, but that is your choice to make.
The calm river creates a mirror image of the opposite bank

The calm river creates a mirror image of the opposite bank
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Eventually, you will reach the Old Nevers Dam Site where there is a platform with educational signs explaining the historical significance of the Nevers Dam. There is also a set of stairs leading to a sandy beach area along the river. Now continue south on the River Trail and enjoy more views of the St. Croix. Northern leopard frogs (pictured below) love to hang out in this section of trail, and it is likely you will see a couple hopping away from you as you walk. Further down the River Trail, there will be areas with small ponds like shown in the second picture below. This scenery and the abundant wildlife is what makes the journey worth it.
You will see countless green northern leopard frogs while hiking along the St. Croix River

You will see countless green northern leopard frogs while hiking along the St. Croix River
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Algae filled pools are frequent on the River Trail

Algae filled pools are frequent on the River Trail
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The trail ends at a parking lot. Walk through the lot and and the trail restarts again. You will cross a small bridge over the creek pictured below, then there will be a grassy overlook of the river on your left giving you the view pictured at the top of the page. At the intersection ahead, turn left and continue straight with a bit of uphill until you reach the paved trail.
A short bridge crosses this pretty little creek

A short bridge crosses this pretty little creek
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Once you reach the paved trail, you have two options. I chose to zigzag to the Windfall Trail, but you can also turn left and follow a portion of the Mitigwaki Loop. The distance is about the same, but taking the Windfall Trail means you must take the paved trail back to the parking lot whereas the Mitigwaki Loop is all unpaved and connects to the horse trail back to the parking lot.

The wide variety of landscapes and the relatively easy but long trail makes this an excellent destination hike. The St. Croix River is a stunning spectacle, and the restored prairie is pretty. The best part is this park is close to the Twin Cities, so you can easily escape to enjoy nature. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Directions

From the Twin Cities, take Interstate 35 north to County Road 19 in Stacy, then turn right. Soon, turn left on Forest Boulevard, and later turn right on County Road 18 (Lent Trail). Turn right on Lincoln Road, then turn left on County Road 15. Turn right on Minnesota Highway 95, then immediately turn left on County Road 12 (Park Trail). Follow this road straight to the park entrance. Pay your fee at the office on the right, then turn left ahead to park at the trail center/horse camp area.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Like all Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas, you must pay a vehicle entry fee of $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). There is a large building with restrooms near the lot.

External Links

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