Monday, July 2, 2018

Kinnickinnic State Park: Purple, Green, and Yellow Trails (Blog Hike #693)

Trails: Purple, Green, and Yellow Trails
Hike Location: Kinnickinnic State Park
Geographic Location: west of River Falls, WI
Length: 3.1 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2018
Overview: A flat loop featuring an excellent St. Croix River overlook.

Directions to the trailhead: Just east of the Minnesota state line, take I-94 to Carmichael Road (CR F, exit 2).  Exit and go south on CR F.  Drive CR F 9 miles to 820th Avenue and turn right on 820th Ave.  The signed park entrance is 0.2 miles ahead on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the large park entrance fee, and drive the main park road to its end at a large blacktop parking lot for the beach and picnic area.  Park here.

The hike: Perched high on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Kinnickinnic and St. Croix Rivers, Kinnickinnic State Park protects 1242 acres of woodlands and prairies.  The park was established in 1972 when local residents became concerned about the expansion of the Twin Cities metro area into Wisconsin.  Wanting to preserve the scenic area around the Kinnickinnic River’s mouth, local landowners donated 45 acres, which led to the establishment of the park.  The river’s and park’s name comes from the Chippewa Indian word giniginige, which is a mixture of tobacco and other plant material for smoking.
            The day-use park offers swimming, boating, and fishing on the St. Croix River, and several picnic areas beckon social gatherings.  For hikers, the park offers 9.2 miles of trails open for hiking in the summer and snowshoeing/skiing in the winter.  Though not the longest possible route, the hike described here gives a nice sample of the park’s woodland and prairie, and it also takes you to the St. Croix River overlook that is this park’s main scenic attraction.
Picnic area trailhead
            Start on the asphalt trail that leaves the rear of the parking lot and heads west through the picnic area.  In 300 feet, you reach the St. Croix River overlook.  The south-facing vista offers a fantastic view downstream along the St. Croix River with the mouth of the Kinnickinnic River directly below you.  The St. Croix River was full of boats on the cloudy and humid Sunday afternoon that I came here, and the river’s narrow, steep, wooded valley made for a scenic sight.
St. Croix River overlook
            Retrace your steps back into the picnic area, then leave the pavement by turning left and walking along the perimeter of the mowed-grass area to find where the Purple Trail enters the woods.  Marked by brown wooden posts with a painted horizontal purple stripe, the Purple Trail is a wide dirt trail; do not take the unofficial narrow trail beside the overlook.  The Purple Trail descends gradually and curves right to cross the asphalt trail that leads to the park’s swimming area.
Intersection of Yellow and Green Trails
            The Purple Trail next climbs gradually to reach its northern end at an intersection with the Yellow Trail at 0.5 miles.  Turn left on the Yellow Trail, then in a short distance turn left again to begin the Green Trail.  The Green Trail is the park’s main prairie trail in the sense that it traces the perimeter of the park’s largest prairie.  The prairie offers nice bird watching; I saw blue jays, sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, and hawks among other birds on my visit.  Also, while the mosquitoes were very numerous in the woods, I encountered very few bugs in the dryer prairie.  Thus, the Green Trail may be the park’s most pleasant trail.
Prairie on Green Trail
            After tracing the west, north, and east sides of the prairie, at 1.7 miles you reach the Green Trail’s eastern end at another intersection with the Yellow Trail.  Turn left on the Yellow Trail and quickly cross the main park road.  At 1.9 miles, where the Blue Trail exits left and heads for the sledding hill, turn right to stay on the Yellow Trail.
            The Yellow Trail now heads southwest as it passes through a small prairie picnic area that features an interesting hand-pump water fountain.  Ignore the Orange Trail as it exits left and heads downhill.  The Yellow Trail follows the south edge of the prairie with a dense forest of pine and oak trees on the left.
Back in the forest on the Purple Trail
2.5 miles into the hike, you reach the southern end of the Purple Trail.  Turn left on the Purple Trail to begin the final leg of the hike.  The trail drops steeply for a short distance to reach the west end of the Orange Trail.  Turn right to stay on the Purple Trail.  The remainder of the Purple Trail passes through seasonally damp forest that features large numbers of birch, basswood, maple, and oak trees.  The Purple Trail comes out at the east end of the overlook picnic area, thus signaling the end of the hike.

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