Willow River State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of
Length: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2012
Overview: The back road to impressive
. Willow Falls
Park Information: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/willowriver/
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=122680
Directions to the trailhead: In western
Wisconsin, take I-94 to US 12 (exit 4). Exit and head east on US 12. Where US 12 turns right, continue straight on CR A. Bypass the signed main park entrance, drive through the town of Burkhardt, and cross the . Immediately after crossing the river, turn left on CR I. Take CR I 0.5 miles to Willow River River Road and turn left on River Rd. The small gravel River Rd. parking lot is 0.1 miles ahead on the left. Park in this lot.
The hike: Located just north of I-94 less than an hour east of Minneapolis/St. Paul,
protects 2911 acres along the park’s namesake river. After spending several days at a conference in Willow River State Park Minneapolis, I stopped here to spend a couple of hours on the trail before heading east across Wisconsin. After my visit, I wished I had a full day to spend here.
The land around
has a long history of industrial use. Christian Burkhardt, the German immigrant for whom this trail is named, purchased 600 acres along the river for the purpose of building a mill. The mill was completed in 1868, and farmers from near and far brought their grain here to be ground. With the dawn of the electric age, the river’s falling water was used to power generators, and 4 hydroelectric dams were built along the river. The dams and land eventually became the property of Northern States Power, which sold the land to the state to form the park in 1967. Willow Falls
Most people who visit the falls today do so by way of the 0.5 mile paved trail from the Willow Falls parking lot on CR A. While the paved trail provides an easy way to access the falls, it is also highly developed and congested. Thus, for hikers with a little more time, a more scenic and natural route with less traffic would be preferable. Such is the moderate 2.7 mile route described here.
|The hot, sunny Burkhardt Trail|
At 0.5 miles, you reach the Burkhardt Trail’s main fork. The trail is easier to hike if you hike the loop clockwise by turning left here and using the right trail as the return route. A wooden sign directing you to the overlook also points left here. Wooden posts, each with a single pink stripe, mark the trail, but the trail is wide, obvious, and easy to follow.
For the next 0.2 miles the trail follows the boundary between a bluff-top prairie (another reverting farm field) on the right and the wooded ravine containing
on the left. Stay left at the next two intersections, heading for the overlook. At 0.9 miles, you reach the short spur trail that exits left and descends a few steps to the river overlook. At nearly 100 feet above the river, this platform overlooks the peaceful section of the river in a rock-walled gorge just above the falls. Take a couple of minutes to enjoy the peaceful river, but keep in mind that the real show still awaits. Willow River
The wide dirt/gravel trail heads up the side ravine and soon begins a moderate climb back to the bluff. This climb is not easy, but it is far easier than climbing up the staircase you descended on. Raspberries grow plentifully beside the trail and become ripe for picking in late July.
|Closing the Burkhardt Trail loop|