By Lisa Brainard
As you may have noticed last week, I’ve started a new “column within a column,” if you’d like to think of it that way. “Ask Lisa Your Questions” invites you to submit questions on the outdoors: things to see and do, new outdoor activities you might want to try, equipment and, well, whatever you might think of.
I’ll try my best to answer, or attempt to consult with others, if need be. With years of outdoors experience right here in the tri-states of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, I’m hoping I can draw into my personal reserves most of the time.
Also - don’t worry - I’ll still be sharing tales of my outdoor treks and travels. Right now I’m waiting for spring to begin in earnest (minus flooding, if I might make that request of the powers that be). A couple weeks from now I’m hoping to see the snow gone in a big way. My first camping trip will occur then. Eh, I have a hunch the tent will be on snow. Of course, I’d readily take that over Root River water in my living room!
• Hikes to avoid mud •
This question comes from a mom in Lanesboro:
I’m getting restless indoors. Would like to take the boys out on a simple hike or geocaching expedition. Any thoughts on nearby places that won’t be horribly muddy the next few weeks?
You’ll be happy to know that this type of question even comes up on backpacking forums. There is just something about that spring mud “season” - and most of us would like to avoid it, myself included.
I’ll throw out a few options here. First, very close to home, are the Root River (Fountain to Houston), Harmony-Preston Valley (Isinours Junction near the Old Barn to Harmony), and Shooting Star (LeRoy to Taopi) Recreational Trails. They are hard-surfaced, so once the snow is gone, you will definitely not find mud. There might be a few water puddles in low spots, but that’s just all the better for the kids to have fun and jump in, right? Just keep your distance when you see the puddles coming.
Most people call each of these a “bike trail,” but the actual title is “recreational trail.” Sure, you can roller blade or cross-country ski on them, but they’re certainly open for a lovely nature hike as well.
Other such trails include the In Town or Trout Run Trail in Preston, which starts at the DNR trailhead and runs southwest along the Root River. I’d guess the length at under a mile. It ends at the Fillmore Co. (14? 15?) bridge on the southwest edge of town. You’ll see some marvelous bluffs very reminiscent of those found in the Wisconsin Dells along the route. Their nooks and crannies are ablaze with beautiful color at sunset.
Let me also mention the city of Preston plows this trail in the winter, so it’s pretty clear of snow. I just took a hike on it and managed to avoid a few iced-over puddles.
In Chatfield you have two options. The Savanna Springs Nature Area Trail begins near the Chatfield High School football field, just off Highway 52. There’s a short hard-surfaced trail, then you’d walk on prairie trails. Also in Groen and Mill Creek Parks there’s a hard-surfaced trail.
Spring Valley has a similar trail, although I haven’t been on it to any great extent (and must remedy that).
Looking to Iowa, Decorah, Cresco and Riceville also have trails that are hard-surfaced, or include sections that are. Decorah is working on a trail of around 12 miles that will both encircle the city and take hikers/bikers/skaters/skiers by the Siewers Springs Trout Hatchery southeast of town. (Did I mention there’s a bald eagle nest in this vicinity?)
The Prairie Farmer Trail runs from Cresco to Ridgeway to Calmar. Also in Cresco, the Prairie Springs Trail runs south of town to the village of Vernon Springs, the Howard County Nature Center and Campground, a couple nature areas and a golf course.
At Riceville, near Lake Hendricks Park and Campground, the Great Wapsi Trail runs north. It’s partially hard-surfaced.
There’s a lot of variety on these trails to get into some new country on a non-muddy spring hike. If you’re looking to geocache, I can share that there are quite a few along the Root River Trail.
If you’d like to try natural surface trails, you’ll want to look for those that are either on a ridge, on sandy soils or that have some type of covering, like rock or wood chips.
I won’t guarantee there won’t be any mud, but I can give you some better bets to avoid as much as possible - and I’d like to be contacted by readers if any of these trails prove quite muddy - thanks!
I’m thinking the “inner loop” of the Oak Ridge Trail in the Wet Bark unit of the Richard J. Dorer Forest, between Bratsberg and Houston, might be pretty mud-free. It stays on high ground for the most part, looping a farm field and on the edge of a forest. It’s what hikers call a “lollipop” route, which is a loop hike, with a “stick” or out-and-back at some point. On this hike that portion takes you down a bit in elevation, perhaps, at the far point of the loop, but you also get a superb view of a coulee valley. I would guess the route between 2 to 3 miles.
Finally, a bit farther away - but not that far and definitely worth the trip - is Effigy Mounds National Monument north of Marquette, Iowa. Another “lollipop” route of 2 miles, I believe, sees you go up (and later, down) the trail from the visitor’s center to the blufftop. There the trail loops around both Native American mounds as well as spectacular Mississippi River overlooks.
The trail is typically in good shape and covered with wood chips, which help with water drainage. I have seen some mud on top at times, but overall, I always recommend this trail for a pretty decent, early season hike. The park also has a hard-surfaced trail of around half a mile to a bridge over Yellow River.
There is an entrance fee at Effigy Mounds, but it’s very reasonable, $3 a person over the age of 15. And check out the visitor’s center before your hike.
I hope this helps. Anyone else have any ideas to share? Contact me, “Ask Lisa,” at the e-mail below, or become a member and feel free to ask on the Bluff Country News Facebook page. Happy spring hiking!
• Effigy Mounds National Monument:
• Find a Minnesota State Trail:
• Decorah’s trail:
• Prairie Farmer Trail
• Prairie Springs Trail
• Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail: