This week I take you to the western border of Wisconsin to the Willow River State Park located on the outskirts of Hudson, the last town on 1-94 westbound before crossing over the St. Croix River into Minnesota. The purpose of our travel was to visit The Youngest, a resident of the Minneapolis area. It was our first in-person visit since last August when we had to wear masks and social distance outdoors. Now we all are vaccinated and can enjoy being closer indoors.
We hitched up the Minnie (our travel trailer) to Red Rover (our tow vehicle) on Monday morning. We made the trip from Madison to Hudson in about five hours and arrived at Willow River at 3 PM. After filling our fresh water tank, we set up camp in site 139. As soon as we plugged into the 30 amp electric box, we turned on the air conditioning. It was hot, hot, hot all four days of our stay! One day it reached 101 degrees Fahrenheit, the other days it was in the cool upper 90’s! And there was no rain at the campground even though it was threatening a few times. The areas of the campground in the sun are parched and show it. All I have to say is that air conditioning made our stay palatable even though it kept us indoors during the hottest part of the day. I felt sorry for those camping in tents, it had to be stifling hot. When I recall those days when we tent camped, I’m eternally grateful to be able to sleep off the ground with a comfortable temperature.
Our site didn’t have much shade from the hot sun. In fact, when I reserved this site in April, there weren’t many choices. The shadiest sites go fast. Campgrounds around the country are crowded even during the middle of week although there is usually some non-prime sites availabile. On weekends, there is very little chance to get an electric site at the last minute. Or any site for that matter.
The Youngest drove out to visit us at Willow River a couple of times during our stay. We went into the city once to share an evening meal. One evening after it had cooled down a bit, The Youngest convinced us to hike down to Willow Falls, one of the main natural attractions at the park. After a short walk on the Pioneer Trail, we came to the Willow Falls Hill Trail.
The Willow Falls Hill Trail is steep, I do mean very steep! As we carefully made our way down the paved trail, I was already wondering how I’d make the walk back up the hill! I finally told myself: “Enjoy the journey. I’ll deal with the uphill later.”
We did enjoy the trip down the hill. I took a short break to snap these photos. I imagined the toppled tree in the first photo had to make a lot of noise when it fell. Then I thought about the philosophical saying: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If there was someone around to hear it fall, I’m sure it made a lot of noise. It was huge!
After the slow walk down the hill, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of Willow Falls. We weren’t alone, there were groups of people in the rushing water cooling off after a very hot day. As you can see in the photos below, the water cascades down, dropping about two-hundred feet from the upper Willow River to the lower Willow River. The evening sun cast nice light on the Falls and the surrounding bluffs.
Below is a short video, I shot of the Falls. Make sure the sound is on to hear the roaring water.
After enjoying the Falls, it was time to make the trip back up the Hill Trail. My Traveling Partner and I made several stops to catch our breath and wipe the sweat off our brow. The Youngest patiently waited for us, although she didn’t scamper up the hill like a deer either! About half way up the hill, some kind folks placed a bench for old people like us to rest. We finally made it to the top of the hill without having to dial 911 or call a priest for last rites.
A couple of days later, The Youngest took a full day off work. She arrived early so we could do a hike before it got too hot. We decided to take the Willow Falls Hill Trail down then walk along the Willow River to Little Falls Lake, a distance of about three plus miles. On our way to the Hill Trail we saw this sign and decided to take a look.
While there wasn’t much to see at the overlook, we did check out the grave site of the earliest European settlers on this land. They raised wheat and engaged in logging the dense forest. They floated the logs down the Willow River to the St. Croix. Later they built dams to produce electricity for nearby Hudson.
After walking down the Hill Trail, we stopped for another look at Willow Falls. It’s not as scenic in the morning, although much cooler.
Our hike took us along the Willow River and Little Falls Lake. We stopped to watch the cranes search for food and deer calmly graze in the tall grass on the other side of the River.
When the trail wound through the forest, the shade and a light breeze kept us cool. When we had to walk out on the open prairie, it didn’t take long to heat up. Fortunately, we packed water and the terrain was fairly flat. This hike required us to climb a much smaller, gently sloping hill on our way back to the campground. After our morning hike, we were relieved to rest up in the cool comfort of our trailer.
The last morning before we broke camp and headed home, my Traveling Partner and I did one more hike. We drove to the parking lot near the only remaining dam on the Willow River. The short walk to the dam gave us a grand view of the shallow Little Falls Lake. We learned that over the years, there were a series of dams that backed up the Willow River.
This is a photo of the only remaining dam on the Willow River. All other were removed after the State Park opened in 1971. Park staff continue to restore the land and river from logging and farming as funds become available.
After the water flows through the dam, the Willow River freely flows through the valley and merges into the much larger St. Croix River. Note the shadow of the two characters in the lower half of the photo. It’s our only selfie from this trip.
We enjoyed our short stay at Willow River State Park. Even though one has to walk down and up a steep hill, Willow Falls alone is worth the trip.
Until next week, happy travels!