August 9, 2016
The St. Croix River is a tributary of the Mississippi River with headwaters in Douglas County, near Solon Springs, about 20 miles south of Lake Superior. It flows southwest from its source. In many ways, it is a very fascinating river and we have followed her most of the way. Her source in Solon Springs is especially wild, and her meeting with the Mississippi at Prescott, Wisconsin is a picture of beauty, as you can see in this opening photo; Mississippi on top, St. Croix flowing from the right. August 9, 2015
Back in 2007 I was traveling up north near Lake Superior and ran across the Brule River. When I got to what I thought was her source at Lake Superior, I discovered that I was actually at her mouth emptying into Lake Superior. My map reading had let me down. I thought the Brule flowed south, hooked into the St. Croix River, and then into the Mississippi. I turned out to be wrong and was in total disbelief when I saw that the Brule was flowing into Lake Superior. I wrote a story about my findings, "Brule River, she can trick you if you’re not careful." It's a fun story and I'll borrow much of it that pertains to the St. Croix only.
This is a scan of the map I was using at the time. The middle black arrow points to the Brule. The bottom black arrow points to the St. Croix. Even with my glasses on, it sure looked like the Brule met up with the St. Croix somewhere inside that yellow circle. I knew the St. Croix headed to the southwest so I concluded the Brule did so as well. I did not find out I was wrong until I saw the Brule meet Lake Superior. I was in such disbelief at the time that I actually threw some grass into the river to see which way she was flowing! The grass flowed out into the Lake. I was astounded, and a bit embarrassed.
This is a topographic map of Wisconsin's northwest corner. It shows how closely the sources of the St. Croix and Brule rivers are to each other, with one flowing north and the other flowing to the southwest. It also depicts the Lake Superior Lowland topography in a nice way. It is this geographical phenomenon that causes the Brule to flow north, out of the Northern Highland Geographic Province into the Lake Superior Lowland Province. The St. Croix, on the other hand, is forced southwesterly by the move out of the Northern Highland Province into the Central Plain Province.
With that as a bit of background, let's get started on the St. Croix.
Source of St. Croix: Solon Springs area
This shows the northernmost edge of the Upper St. Croix Lake. Note the St. Croix Creek feeding it, along with a few other creeks, all of which, I believe, emanate from the large area of marshland here and the fact that there is a kind of continental divide send them to the south and southwest. CH P, which gets sandwiched in between CH A to the north and south is the best place to visit to see the sources of the St. Croix and Brule.
I came to this point on CH P very close to the northeast tip of Upper St. Croix Lake. At first I was unsure what I had here, so I asked some locals. They said to the left is the source of the Brule, to the right the source of the St. Croix.
If you look to the right, you see the St. Croix watershed-bog and far in the distance, if you look carefully, you can see a horizontal sliver of the northeastern tip of Upper St. Croix Lake.
Note on this map the location of Solon Springs to the west of the lake. Note the lake itself is hardly a sliver. Solon Springs is just 20 miles south of Lake Superior, but nonetheless chose to head to the southwest, unlike the Brule which decided to head north into Lake Superior.
I drove over there, and here’s what I saw, Upper St. Croix Lake, and the onward flow of the St. Croix River.
Editor's Note: I am going to do this photo gallery differently than I am doing the others. The want to put the two most exciting spots first, the source of the St. Croix, and its meeting with the Mississippi River about 170 miles later at Prescott. I will then show photos as I explored by car from Prescott northeast to Riverside. I still need to explore the area between Riverside and the source at Solon Springs. For those who have the time and energy, doing this run from Solon Springs to Prescott by kayak would indeed be a thrilling experience.
St. Croix meets the Mighty Mississippi at Prescott, Wisconsin
The St. Croix River meets the Mississippi River at Prescott in western Wisconsin. Following that meeting, the Mississippi makes its way onward. Eau Claire is due east while La Crosse is to the southeast. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota is about 20 miles to the northwest.
When I first came to Prescott, I went to its Freedom Park a couple miles to the southeast of Prescott town center and on the Mississippi.
This is a view of the two towers of the old Prescott railroad vertical lift bridge, which is a central feature of where the two rivers meet. Let's get a closer look.
This is a closer look at this bridge. As you can see, it is a rail bridge. It once had served as a road bridge. It crosses the St. Croix just short of where the two rivers meet. One memoir said:
"Growing up, I had many scary memories riding across in a school bus during field trips. I can still remember the tremors and the virtual crawl at which the bus driver crept across. I always had the feeling the driver really would have preferred not to cross the bridge at all."
The middle section lifts straight up to let river traffic through when necessary. The near end of the bridge rests in Prescott while the far end rests in Point Douglas, Minnesota, which is a thin strip of land dividing the two rivers, the St. Croix on the right, and, not well seen in this photo, the Mississippi on the left. Below this point the Mississippi forms the border between the two states, above it the St. Croix serves that function. The bridge's top is also known to locals as "Mickey Mouse." Actually, these are sheaths at the top of steel towers that hold the cables used to raise and lower the bridge.
You are looking through the truss structure of the bridge. That's Minnesota you see on the far side. It is a massive structure. It handles about 40 trains per day. The lift bridge is opened frequently in the summer because of boat traffic.
So there is the meeting place, right about where that boat and the red marker are located. The Mississippi is above, and the St. Croix is coming from the right. You can see a portion of the lift bridge to the right side of the photo.
A slightly closer look, Mississippi on top, the St. Croix coming form the right.
You are now looking upstream the St. Croix from the Point Douglas Park in Minnesota. We will continue going upstream all the way to Riverside.
Just as I turned on Washington CH 21 in Minnesota to head northward, I spotted this distant view of Prescott through the trees from a family's front yard! What a great view they have.
North to Afton beaches, MN
We are now heading north. Note the blue line running through the St. Croix marks the border between Minnesota on the left, Wisconsin on the right.
The view upstream from the Lake St. Croix Beach at Afton, Minnesota. That's southern St. Croix County in Wisconsin on the other side.
North to Stillwater, MN
Continued heading north to Stillwater, Minnesota, about 11 miles north of Afton. Stillwater is a fantastic town, which I will cover separately.
Looking upstream the St. Croix from the docks at Stillwater, Minnesota.
A few tour ships docked at Stillwater. The larger one in the foreground is The Majestic, used largely for group events The one with the red trim to the far left is the Empress, which is an 1890s paddlewheel replica featuring Victorian decor.
This is a view downstream the St. Croix with a distant view of Stillwater from Minnesota.
North to Osceola, WI
I took these from Okey Park just before the Rt. 243 bridge crossing the St. Croix into Osceola, Wisconsin. The first one was from the southern tip of the park looking upstream, the second from the northern end of the park close to the bridge. On this one, note that flesh-looking spec in the water over left. Let's zoom on that.
Well, of course, that's a man and his puppy in the middle of the river!
The Rt 243 bridge across the St. Croix to Osceola, WI
St. Croix Falls, WI
This is really neat. I took this shot from Gaylord Nelson Riverwalk in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. I understand this park is in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, and is called the Interstate Park. You are looking at the St. Croix Falls, which is actually a dam, and which is in Minnesota. I have been told when you visit, be prepared to visit, there is so much to see and great walks around the dam and its environs.
If you look at the satellite image, you can see how the dam wraps around. Here, when I visited at an earlier time, you can see the wrap around area. The water is right up to the lip of the concrete that sweeps down to the river's floor. It looks like the river's edge in this photo — it is not. Walk off that edge and you are going way down to the river below the concrete dam. It's something interesting to see.
I want to take you downstream from the dam just a bit to the Interstate Park, most of which is in Wisconsin and on the outskirts of St. Croix Falls.
The brown lines roughly outline the portion of the Interstate Park in Wisconsin. It is a marvelous park. Plan to spend some time walking around. Let me introduce you to what might be a word new to you, it was to me — "Dalles." No, not Texas. Dalles are the rapids of a river that run between the steep precipices of a gorge or narrow valley. The red arrow points to the area. It is just a bit south of the dam.
This is a view of part of the Dalles taken from the park. You are looking upstream the St. Croix River. Note how the gorge is starting to show. I'd like to show you more of the precipices of the gorge.
Upstream the gorge and St. Croix
Kayakers paddling upstream toward the gorge
Nevers Dam Landing
This is an interesting little oasis on River Road heading north out of St. Croix Falls, just short of CH G or 230th Ave. It's known as Nevers Dam Landing. There is a short road to the left that takes you to the river. As you can see on the map the St. Croix is in a small little bay as a small peninsula juts out from the shore. The folks up this way know about it as you'll see. It's a terrific place to hang in your kayak.
As I stood there, I was a bit bewildered. I felt as though the St. Croix suddenly narrowed and then turned up between the blue kayak on the right and the sand beach on the left.
Of course I was wrong. I chatted for a bit with this guy enjoying his kayak, enjoying the world, and he explained it was just a little bay and still part of the St. Croix River which flowed briskly on the other side of this short peninsula, on the other side of those trees! Neat.
County O Landing
Remember, we're still heading north from Prescott to Solons Springs.
I am now in Burnett County. Based on my travels throughout the state, this is among the more rural counties I have been in. I worked very hard to get to the County O Landing. You can see on the map how it goes to the St. Croix. To get here, however, I took East River Road out of Wolf Creek just north of Nevers Dam Landing, and then turned west on CH O. The countryside turned a bit desolate I thought, a lot of marshland. Once I came upon the County Trunk O Flowage to my right the road turned from paved to gravel. My recollection is that I was flying by the seat of my pants figuring out how to stay on CH O. Thanks to God, I did it and came to the St. Croix and the County O Landing. In retrospect, I felt like a real explorer!
Well, it might have seemed desolate on the Wisconsin side. I later learned this area is a very large fish lake wildlife area.
Not only that, over on the Minnesota side there is not only a guy fishing from the shore but off to the left there is a wonderful home. And as I looked upstream I could see many more with marvelous properties and homes right on the river.
State Road 70 landing
Looking upstream from State Hwy 70 landing
Little tough to get your bearings with this map. We're still heading north and we're in Burnett County. I took CH F north out of Grantsburg to a left on Foxes Landing Road. Oh yes, if you are on CH F and it takes a 90 degree turn to the right, you have gone just a bit too far. Foxes Landing Road will take you directly to Foxes Landing. One note of caution. Foxes Landing Road in this location does turn to the south. Don't do that. Continue going straight on what appears to be "no name road."
While driving to these locations, and being kind of a city boy, one thinks he's out in the boondocks, and there is truth to that. But there they are, kayakers who know their way around. This is a look from Foxes Landing upstream the St. Croix.
And then downstream.
Norway Point Landing
I hate taking up so much space with this map, but I wanted to show you how Norway Points Landing Road heads north off CH F, still in Burnett County. This is the same CH F used to get to Foxes Landing discussed previously, but it has turned to the east.
A look upstream the St. Croix from Norway Point Landing
Hwy 77 Landing
Highway 77 in Wisconsin goes out of Danbury and becomes Highway 48 in Minnesota.
I put in a second satellite shot because after chasing the St. Croix all the way up to here from Prescott, where it meets the Mississippi, it was neat to see some rapids. Not killer rapids, but fun rapids nonetheless., just a tad north of Hwy 77.
Riverside, WI from Rt 35
Riverside is about nine miles northeast of Danbury and 28 miles southwest of Solon Springs. Rt 35 crosses the St. Croix here.