It’s been 27 days since our last hike in the woods. 27 days since our Jack was healthy. In the span of 27 days Jack got a stomach bug, broke his right clavicle, and got pneumonia. In 27 days Jack has been in 2 Emergency Rooms, had 2 X-rays, 3 blood draws, 1 urine test, 4 physical exams, and 3 prescriptions filled. In 27 days Jack has missed 3 swim lessons, 4 ECFE classes, and we had to cancel 1 weekend on the North Shore. In the last 27 days Jack has spent 1 day outside on a walk around our neighborhood. To say that we all had cabin fever would be an extreme understatement.
Our Jack is finally on the mend AND the weather was amazing this weekend so, we loaded up our gear and hit the road. We drove the 55.6 miles to Willow River State Park located just across the border in Hudson, Wisconsin. We made it our winter family goal to visit 7 frozen waterfalls near the Twin Cities and this was the next one on our list!
First stop was the open ranger station found at the main entrance to the park to purchase an annual state park pass for the state of Wisconsin. They’re steeply priced for non-residents at $38 a pop and don’t have the luxury of expiring in the same month they were purchased, like the MN state parks passes do. These expire on the 1st of the new calendar year. So, despite the fact that we bought our 2016 permit a mere 8 months ago we were already faced with requiring a new permit. The woman at the station was friendly and helpful and they did take Visa. We later learned a self-serve pay station was available at the parking lot of the trailhead.
The sun shone brightly, but the wind was howling wildly as we set off on what would be a 2.43 mile hike with 243 feet of elevation gain along the Burkhardt Trail to Willow Falls. There are multiple routes to take to the falls from three different starting points. We opted for the longest route with the most undulating landscape. We were excited and amped up for a bit more of a challenging stroll after a long spell with no hikes.
The path was wide, well trodden and popular amongst dog walkers. The combination of the blazing sun and slightly warmer, yet still chilly, temperatures made for icy and slippery trails. We were once again, very grateful for our trustworthy MicroSpikes from Kahtoola.
The hike culminates at a breathtaking overlook high above the falls after descending partially frozen wooden stairs.
From here hikers are faced with a long trek down what seemed to be hundreds of stairs. The stairs were free of ice and snow, thankfully making our descent much easier.
A bridge spans across Willow River at the base of the falls and benches can be found on either side. Remnants of an old dam, removed in the 1990s, can still be seen. Climbers will love this area if looking for a difficult route with roofs. We followed the climber’s trails to the base of this partially frozen beast of a waterfall. This is by far the largest falls we’ve visited this winter. The roar of it’s raging water was remarkable.
We opted to take the longer way back to the parking area that didn’t involve any stairs. We always like to see more of a park, if possible, and we figured the longer distance would probably take just as long as the trip up all of those stairs would!
This was by far my favorite hike of the winter season. It was the longest hike we’ve done since Rowan was born, it was Rowan’s first trip outside of Minnesota, and it was the first hike in over a year that Jack had zero interest in leaving the comfort and safety of his pack. We figured that he is still healing up from his bout of pneumonia and didn’t push it or force him. We are so glad we were able to get out and explore as we know the benefits hiking has for all of us. Only three waterfalls left to go!