Interstate State Park
One of the smallest but most scenic and popular of Minnesota’s state parks, Interstate (307 Milltown Rd., 651/465-5711, 866/857-2757 or www.stayatmnparks.com for reservations) sits right on the southern edge of Taylors Falls.
The Dalles of the St. Croix, a gorge with sheer pine-topped cliffs jutting up to 200 feet straight out of the river, is one of the most beautiful sights in the state. By the early 1850s they had become a major tourist destination, with thousands arriving by steamboat and later railroad just to see them.
That didn’t stop businessmen from proposing to blast the cliffs into gravel, however. The citizens of Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, pushed to preserve the Dalles as the centerpiece of a national park, but these dreams were dashed.
Finally, the state of Minnesota set aside 298 acres as a state park in 1895, and Wisconsin opened its much larger share across the river five years later, creating the nation’s first interstate park.
Besides being beautiful, these cliffs are now the most popular rock-climbing destination in the state, with routes rated as high as 5.13. Naturally, the best sites in the 37-site (22 electric) campground are those abutting the river. Park stickers from either Minnesota or Wisconsin are valid on both sides on non-holiday weekdays.
While the cliffs get the majority of oohs and aahs, the most interesting geological formations are the potholes. In many places the torrential water from the melting glaciers that cut the Dalles formed massive whirlpools. Sand and gravel trapped in the vortices carved shafts in the solid bedrock so symmetrical it’s difficult to imagine nature doing it on its own.
Over 200 potholes, including the world’s deepest at 60 feet, are found in the two parks—a greater concentration than anywhere else.
A small web of trails leads past and even into the potholes and atop the Dalles. Some of these form the Pothole Trail, a partly wheelchair-accessible quarter-mile route with interpretive panels along it.
The River Trail leads for nearly 1.5 miles from the pothole area to the campground. It’s an easy hike with great views, and even though it abuts the highway for part of the route, it is definitely worth your while.
You can make a round-trip out of it by returning along the Railroad Trail on the other side of the highway.
Across from the campground is the mile-long Sandstone Bluffs Trail. It has some great vista points, passes small Curtain Falls, and from mid-April through May the forest floor is carpeted by an amazing concentration of wildflowers. It requires a bit of a climb, but it’s not too tough.
The best way to see the Dalles is from the water, and although you’ve got the option of the paddlewheel tour boats, the peaceful St. Croix is prime paddling territory. The river is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, and longer trips beyond the park are popular.
Common day-trip options include the seven-mile float to Osceola and the 17-mile trip to William O’Brien State Park. Rental and shuttle service from St. Croix River Canoe Rental (651/465-6315 or 800/447-4958) are available. You can get additional information at the National Park Service’s Riverway headquarters in downtown St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition