Atop the glacial formed cliffs towering by the St. Croix river, are two beautiful parks: one on the Minnesota side and one on the Wisconsin side. They share the “Interstate” name and they share similar terrain, however they are operated independently by each state. For over 100 years, visitors have come to this area to view the rugged cliffs, unique glacial formations and the forested hills surrounding the scenic St. Croix River. In addition to the breathtaking scenery, the area is perfect for a number of recreational pursuits include hiking, camping, fishing and boating.
In 1895, the Minnesota Interstate Park was established to help preserve the scenic beauty and geologic wonders found in the area. Wisconsin followed suit in 1900 by establishing Interstate Park at the southern edge of St. Croix Falls, directly across from the Minnesota Park. Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is the oldest established Park in the state. When originally conceived in the early 1900’s , the Parks were run with a certain degree of reciprocity between the two states. However, with changes in administration of the Parks, after 2003 the Parks became independent of each other and are operated by their respective states. Even though the administration is separate, the ideology and shared vision of protecting this unique and beautiful glacial land is reciprocal.
Wisconsin Interstate Park is Wisconsin’s oldest state park and boasts incredible land forms and hiking trails with breathtaking view of the St. Croix River. Interesting geological formations in the park called “potholes” can be viewed in several locations throughout the park. Not the kind of potholes we usually think of that afflict the roadways for motorists, these potholes were formed when sand and rocks were trapped in glacial whirlpools and drilled deep potholes into solid rock. Another feature of the rock formations can be found by the cliffs rising from the riverbeds. Some of the cliffs rise up to 200 feet high above the river. One of the most unusual rock formation is the “Old Man of the Dalles”, with an uncanny look of an old man looking out over the St. Croix River. It makes one think of the man-made stone work of Mt. Rushmore, but it is truly amazing that this visage was totally crafted by natural forces.
Another interesting feature of this Wisconsin Park, is that it also has an affiliation with the National Park Service by virtue of the fact that this park is on the western edge of the Ice Age Trail. The effects of the glacial period are readily seen across the state of Wisconsin and better preserved than almost any other area of the country. The Interstate Park Visitor newsletter reports: “In 1964, legislation was passed by Congress to preserve and protect this heritage of the Ice Age in Wisconsin. This legislation created the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve. The Reserve consists of nine separate units located across the state from Lake Michigan on the east to the St. Croix River on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border on the west.”
The Ice Age Interpretive center, close to the entrance of the park, has informative displays on the effects of glacial activity and a 25 minute video entitled “Mammoths & Moraines”. Additionally they have a book store and gift store in this same facility. The staff there can help with any questions about the area and what your needs are when visiting the park. For example, which trails would be suited for my hiking ability? Some trails are much “trickier” and steep than others. If canoeing or boating, there are boat launches available on the St. Croix River and Lake O’ the Dalles. Campers can take their pick from 82 beautiful wooded sites. Camping is available May 1- October 1. The Interstate Park of Wisconsin encompasses 1,330 acres with an abundance of land to explore.
The Minnesota Interstate Park is smaller, at 293 acres, but also has an abundance of interesting terrain and activities. The views of the river provide different outlooks from the western side. When I was there, several brave souls were climbing the steep faces of the rocky cliffs. (With several safety harnesses, luckily….sorry, just not my cup of tea.) Another activity, only available on the Minnesota side of the river, are boat rides on the St. Croix on those old, quaint paddle boats. I must clarify that the boat tours are not affiliated with Minnesota Interstate Park, they just happen to be right next to the park. Both the Park and the boat tours are in Taylors Falls and both on the riverfront. When you are hiking in the park, it is common to see several of these tour boats going up and down through the Dalles. You gotta love those huge paddle wheels churning up the water. (Cue: “Mississippi Queen…You know what I Mean….”) Boats have been touring up and down this river since 1906. For more information on the Scenic Boat Tours, you can check out their website at: http://www.taylorsfallsboat.com
Exploring both of the parks can be very rewarding. They share a border and also share the same vision of protecting a beautiful part of our Midwestern landscape.
Information on Wisconsin’s Interstate Park can be found at:http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/interstate/
Information on Minnesota’s Interstate Park can be found at: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/interstate/
Put your traveling shoes on. JES