Lovely little Taylors Falls is the last town on the St. Croix in Minnesota . Beyond that, the river runs wild, with some of Minnesota’s largest state parks protecting the shore.
Taylors Falls mixes spectacular natural scenery with historic architecture to create one of the best quick getaways from the Twin Cities . The first two settlers here were the well-financed Benjamin Baker and his employee Jesse Taylor, who came in 1838 to open a sawmill. Baker died before the mill could be completed, and Taylor later sold his logging claims and moved on, but his name remained.
The namesake falls are not the small rapids below the bridge, but a long, raging tumble that now lies buried behind the hydroelectric dam just upriver from the town.
Though steamboat service began immediately (iron mooring rings from this era can still be seen along the river), the city didn’t really begin to grow until 1850. In 1886, one of the largest logjams ever stretched seven miles upstream from the city.
Perched on the bluff above town is the Angel’s Hill District, populated almost exclusively by white Greek Revival homes with green trim; most were built in the 1850s and 1860s. The resemblance to a New England village is so remarkable that, according to some locals, transplants from out East sometimes visit to relieve bouts of homesickness.
On your way up the hill you’ll pass Minnesota’s oldest schoolhouse (1852), second-oldest operating church (1861), and the simple but stately Folsom House (272 W. Government St., 651/465-3125, 1–4:30 p.m. daily except Tues. June–Oct., $5 adults). New England lumber baron W. H. C. Folsom came to Taylors Falls in 1850 and constructed this home four years later. It stayed in the family until 1968, at which time it and most of the original furnishings were acquired by the state.
It also opens the two weekends following Thanksgiving to coincide with the city’s Christmas-themed Lighting Festival.
There is always something interesting on display at Franconia Sculpture Park (29836 St. Croix Trail, Franconia, 651/465-3701, www.franconia.org , dusk–dawn daily, free admission). Dozens of works by artists from many countries grace the field along Highways 8/95, 2.5 miles southwest of town. Artists live and work communally while creating their art, which is then left on display for a year or two. Guided tours are given Sunday at 2 p.m.
Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours (651/465-6315 or 800/447-4958, www.wildmountain.com ) of the St. Croix River begin by chugging through the Dalles of the St. Croix and then continue down the river, taking in more of the valley’s beautiful scenery. There are up to four cruises a day from May to October, plus Wednesday and weekend dinner cruises. The shortest (three miles/30 minutes) trip is $11, while the most expensive dinner run is $37.75. The boat company is just off Highway 8 in downtown Taylors Falls; watch for signs at the only stoplight in town.
The same company operates Wild Mountain, seven miles north of town on Highway 16. In the summer you can get your thrills on five water rides, alpine slides, and a go-kart track. In the snowy season there are 25 downhill-ski and snowboard runs, the highest dropping 300 feet, and a tubing chute. You can ride the chairlift in the fall to take in the splendid color.
Located at Wild Mountain, Taylors Falls Canoe and Kayak (651/465-6315 or 800/447-4958, www.taylorsfallscanoe.com ) rents boats ($10.50/hour or $42/day) and arranges shuttles.
The Cottage Bed & Breakfast (950 Fox Glen Dr., 651/465-3595, www.the-cottage.com , $120–140), perched on the edge of a bluff just outside town, offers serenity and phenomenal views from its private two-room cottage.
Conveniently located in town, the petite Pines Motel (531 River St., 651/465-3422, www.pinesmoteltaylorsfalls.com , $64) is older and very basic.
Five miles out of town, a mother-daughter team run the three-room Country Bed and Breakfast (17038 320th St., Shafer, 651/257-4773, www.countrybedandbreakfast.us , $85 single occupancy, $140 double) in a 130-year-old redbrick farmhouse that has been in their family since 1938. The whole house has a comfortable, lived-in feel, and the breakfasts are terrific.
Wild Mountain’s Wildwood RV Park and Campground (20078 Lake Blvd., Shafer, 651/465-6315, $30 without hookup, $41 full hookup) is as far from wilderness camping as it gets. You can canoe on the river or swim in the heated pool; you can toss horseshoes or play mini golf.
In town, the Old Jail (349 Government St. W., 651/465-3112, www.oldjail.com , $140) has three large and distinctive self-contained suites with private entrances and a few funky touches. The namesake is in the 1884 jail, which retains the original exterior, including the iron cage door, but has been thoroughly modernized inside. In the house next to the jail are the Overlook Suite, with great views, and the ground-level Cave Suite, with its bath in an old beer cave extending into the bluff.
Carhops still bring you burgers and malts at The Drive-In (572 Bench St., 651/465-7831, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat. May–Oct., $3–7).
With dishes like teriyaki-glazed Cornish game hen and whimsical decor, Tangled Up In Blue (425 Bench St., 651/465-1000, 5–9 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 5–8 p.m. Sun., $17–31) is trying to take Taylors Falls up-market.