Just east of Minneapolis-St. Paul is the St Croix River Valley which forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. The St. Croix River is roughly 170 miles long and was a key part of development for the region through fur trade and logging in the mid 1800’s. As time progressed the decision to preserve the beauty of the St Croix River lead to the National Park Service to designate the area as a National Scenic Riverway. This limited industrial uses along the river and helped developed a series of state parks and federally supported areas along the course of the river. My first trip out here was in July of 2017 on a quick overnight trip. I would ride north up the Minnesota side of the river to Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls before heading south on the Wisconsin side of the river and crossing back into Minnesota at Point Douglas. This route was primarily on pavement with a nice blend of rolling hills and forested river bluffs to keep things entertaining. While it wasn’t a challenging trip by any means it was a nice little get away on my 2011 Kawasaki KLR 650.
I took off right after work on a Friday and had to fight the typical suburbia traffic in the Twin Cities before I reached the town of Hastings. Hastings is located where the Mississippi River and St Croix River meet and was my jumping off point before heading into the St Croix River Valley. Since it’s a fairly large town Hastings has everything you need from food and fuel and is fairly easy to get to from the Twin Cities. From Hastings I rode north along St Croix Trail which is also marked as Minnesota State Road’s 21 and 18. This section climbs up some river bluffs and takes you through a nice mix of wooded hills and apple orchards through the small town of Afton before ending at the riverside town of Stillwater.
Stillwater is a nice little town with a busy main street that has several shops and restaurants along with a nice waterfront park. One of the things that Stillwater is known for is the historic lift bridge that was built in 1931. The bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the few lift bridges still remaining in the country today. As you ride north out of Stillwater their are a series of small wayside parks that provide some nice overlooks as well as some informative kiosks on the history of the St Croix River and the town.
Heading out of Stillwater on Minnesota State Highway 95 things opened up quite a bit as the road somewhat followed the course of the St Croix River and meandered its way through rolling hills and farm land. By this time, the sun was starting to set and I really didn’t want to make camp in the dark so I pushed the 650 thumper a little harder then I normally would with the town of Taylors Falls in my sights. Taylors Falls is the home of Interstate State Park which sits right on the St Croix River. The significance of this park stems from the areas topography which is known for the Dalles of the St Croix which is a steep rocky gorge that the St Croix River flows through.
I was able to arrive at Interstate State Park while their was plenty of light and quickly set up my camp for the night. This park like many other state parks that I have been to in Minnesota was very quiet and clean and had a really nice bath house as well. With a decent amount of daylight left I decided to take a quick mile long hike along the river to check out some of the rock formations and the scenery of the Dalles. This area is pretty neat and had several informative signs on how this area was impacted and developed by glaciers and flooding. It was also nice to see several people leisurely paddling along in canoes and kayaks in the calmer sections of the Dalles. As the daylight faded I was treated to a nice quiet night on the river that was perfect to forget about the hustle and bustle of city life.
The next morning I packed up my camp and made the short ride to the town of Taylors Falls about a mile away. I ate a tasty bagel breakfast sandwich at the Juneberry Cafe before filling up the KLR. At this point, I was planning on riding back down the Minnesota side of the river but at last minute I decided to ride the Wisconsin side to see if it was just as scenic. Unfortunately it was somewhat of a let down in some areas as the routes I took were mostly through open farm land. I had attempted to follow a route that would take me as close to the river as possible but on the Wisconsin side it was pretty difficult to follow the course of the river.
In all I made a 120 mile loop in the St Croix River Valley that was a perfect day trip escape. Granted, this ride was almost all on pavement it was fairly enjoyable for the most part and the KLR did just fine. On the trip amenities such as food and fuel are readily available and the average distance between services was about twenty to thirty miles. The St Croix River Valley is a beautiful area that I would highly recommend to anyone to ride especially the Minnesota side while it doesn’t have any technical or challenging off pavement riding it is still an area worth riding.