Two times the fall scenery at Interstate State Park

Interstate State Park has campgrounds, trails and activities on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the St. Croix River. Photo by Alec Kasper-Olson.
Interstate State Park has campgrounds, trails and activities on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the St. Croix River. Photo by Alec Kasper-Olson.

After moving through your daily morning, there’s a chance you get a moment to take in the chilled Minnesota air before diving into the rest of your day. Whether it’s walking from your dorms to class in the morning, or from your car into work, it’s hard not to have a moment when you encounter the beautiful fall weather. Between the cooling air and the vivid transformation from greens to reds, oranges and yellows, it’s hard to say what beats fall in Minnesota.

But, it seems like it’s here in an instance and gone just as fast.

Even with midterms going on, it’s hard to argue against taking a little extra time to enjoy the fall weather in Minnesota. Even better is if you can rearrange your schedule enough to go camping.

There are places to camp near St. Cloud, but if you’re up for a weekend road trip, Interstate State Park is a little less than two hours away from St. Cloud. Call first, though, just to make sure campsites are available, given the high-traffic this time of year.

The park is on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, on the shores of the St. Croix river. There are campgrounds and trails on both sides of the river.

On the way to the park, there are St. Croix scenic rest stops where you’re able to stretch your legs, read some history from a plaque and take in the scenery.

Stop by the park’s office after getting into the park for two reasons. The first, to buy authorized wood from the park, which only sets you back about $3 to $6 (to avoid bringing in anything that could have unwanted little critters burrowed in there—invasive species). The second, ask whoever is working the desk what the must-see site is at the park.

Depending on which type of camper you are—an RV camper, or a tent-camper—the Minnesota side might be better suited than the Wisconsin side, or vice versa.

The Minnesota side offers 37 drive-in sites, 22 electric sites and four group sites, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website. Showers and flush toilets are available seasonally.

But, even if driving into your campsite isn’t your preference, the 281-acre park has enough to do for an overnight or weekend trip, including learning about the park’s history and naturalist programs, so that the time spent in your campsite is minimal.

Must-See of Interstate State Park

You’re in the park now. Camp is almost set up. Now it’s time to get moving.

With camp being on the Minnesota side, the main trail you’ll want to get on right away takes you along the St. Croix River—the River Trail.

The trail starts out fairly mellow, but the farther down you go, the more rises and falls you’ll climb.

On the Minnesota side, the River Trail takes you on a rocky path parallel to the St. Croix River. Photo by Alec Kasper-Olson.
On the Minnesota side, the River Trail takes you on a rocky path parallel to the St. Croix River. Photo by Alec Kasper-Olson.

The trail offers a mix of wooden bridges and boardwalks, to a steady climb up the rocky paths.

At many points along the trail, the climb can be steep. If it’s rainy or early in the morning, the rocks might be slick too. As long as you’re watching your step, the trail is worthwhile, to say the least.

As you’re walking along the path, occasionally stepping off at one of the many overlooks that branch off of the main trail, you’ll make your way through an oak, maple and pine area before coming to the end of the trail.

The River Trail climbs up to parallel the roadway, ending near a trailhead facility and the main attraction of the park, the glacial potholes.

The potholes, a result of the melting and receding glacier, sit at the end of the trail and on the edge of the town of Taylor’s Falls.

The trails that wind through the potholes are paved, with hand rails, so people can navigate their way in and out of these geological wonders with ease.

When you’re making your way through the trails, you have the chance to get up close to the rock. It’s smoothed over, glimmering in the sun showing a variety of metallic-looking colors. There are many ways through the glacial potholes, and there are a few places where you’re able to actually climb down into a deep, weathered hole that resembles something of an empty glass.

A hose in the bottom helps to pump water out of the pothole. There are lines on the rock wall, showing where water sat for a period of time. You’re standing on a rusted metal platform, gazing at the smoothed walls and up through the top where the sun peeks inside.

Climbing back out, you’re able to continue through the area to see the various pothole formations.

Getting back on the trail

You’ve been down the River Trail, through the glacier potholes and now it’s time to shove off again, especially if you’re on an overnight trip. Luckily, you’ve got options.

Past the trailhead facility, toward the small town, there is a giant yellow chair at the top of the hill, next to Minnesota’s oldest standing school house, as it states on the walls of the building.

You can hang a left at the giant chair, which is the trail marker, and loop back to camp. From there, you’ll hop on the Railroad Trail, connecting back to the Minnesota campground.

Or, if you’re trying to stay out a bit longer, make your way across the bridge toward Wisconsin.

The bridge is a short walk, passing over the St. Croix. After crossing, hang a right onto the road—watching for cars, of course—to meet one of many short trails that take you up and down the cliffs, near the dalles and into nature.

Both sides of the river offer different angles of the river and the bluffs. On a nice, sunny day, it’s not unlikely that climbers, kayakers and hikers will be out, sharing in the sights and sounds of the forest and river.

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