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5 Fall Road Trips Along the St. Croix River

This tributary of the Mississippi river provides almost 200 miles of colors during the fall season. The St Croix river boasts vibrant views for those who enjoy outdoor activities like camping, canoeing, and hiking.

Here are five Minnesota State Parks along the St. Croix that provide hiking trails and river access, perfect for any nature enthusiast searching for that fall color view.

1. St. Croix State Park (Hinckley, MN)

St Croix State Park occupies over 34,000 acres of land and sits an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities. The park is open for different activities throughout the seasons as its miles of trails are not only for hikers, but also cyclists, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and even horseback riding.

This state park borders twenty-one miles of the St. Croix river that can be explored by kayaks or canoes. For those interested in camping, there are a variety of drive-in, walk-in, backpack, and even horseback campsites to choose from.

Keep an eye open for the stemless lady-slipper, also known as the moccasin flower, they’re common in the area. You can also anticipate seeing bald eagles, black bears, and timber wolves.

2.Wild River State Park (Center City, MN)

An hour north of the Twin Cities, is another picturesque state park next to eighteen miles of the St. Croix river. Wild River State Park’s 35-mile trail system is a hot spot for outdoor activities.

Wild River State Park is a great location for birders.  You’ll find songbirds, hawks, owls, and eagles.   For wildlife viewers you can often find tracks of beaver, racoon, fox, coyote, otters, and even mink.

A fun way to explore Wild River is geocaching. You can use one of the park’s GPS units for free.  Grab a map and hike the park looking for these little treasure troves.

3.Interstate State Park (Taylors Falls, MN)​

Interstate State Park is distinctive as there are state parks on both the Wisconsin and Minnesota sides of the St. Croix.  The area is best known for its interesting geology and rock-climbing opportunities, along with  scenic river views from the cliffs.

A great hiking choice is the Glacial Potholes Area. Which is much cooler than it sounds.   These holes were created by swirling water in the time when the St. Croix was faster and bigger than any river in the country today.  There is also the world’s deepest pothole, and one that you can hike through and marvel at its formation.

The park is a prime location to listen for bird songs and owl calls, it also has many creeks and springs that flow into the St Croix river that sustain an array of wildlife like white-tailed deer, skunks, racoons and some rare and endangered species.

4.William O’Brien State Park (Marine on St. Croix, MN)​

William O’Brien State Park is an ideal getaway park on the banks of St. Croix river, it is perfect for canoeing as the river is a drifting pathway where visitors can appreciate stunning sights and sounds along the river.  

Its hiking trails allow visitors to explore the park’s meadows and upland prairies, to its woodlands and wetlands.  This wide diversity of habitat offers a lot of wildlife viewing.  Take the time to amble along the St. Croix river, past Lake Alice, and view 100 year old pine trees.

Anglers can fish the channels of St. Croix, to catch northerns, walleye, bass and even trout. During the spring and fall seasons, the wildflowers and leaves transform the park into an eruption of color.

 5.Afton State Park (Hastings, MN)

Featuring glacial rubbles and bluff lands, Afton State Park comprises restored prairies, deep ravines, and grassy ridge tops and bluffs that overlook the St. Croix river. Only situated half an hour east of the Twin Cities, it is just the right spot for an outdoor getaway.

What makes this park stand out is that it’s cut by deep ravines which can drop 300 feet to the river and display breathtaking views.

For those attracted to birding, one can expect hawks and waterfowl on the St. Croix flyway and waves of migratory birds in the floodplain. When it comes to family activities, this park has got it. Geocaching, a swimming beach, and even naturalist programs that are based on the park’s natural and cultural resources.

I love anything related to arts and culture like dance, music, and visual art.

Carissa Chin

Writer , River Travel Magazine