St. Croix State Park
By Jim Umhoefer
This National Historic Landmark is Minnesota’s largest state park so there are many quiet spots in St. Croix’s 34,000 acres of elbowroom. Flanked by the St. Croix River, a National Scenic Riverway, and the Kettle River, a designated Wild and Scenic River, this park is a must-see for nature lovers.
St. Croix State Park is located 16 miles east of Hinckley just off the St. Croix Scenic Byway in Minnesota’s Pine County.
Read more here:
Visitors can hike into the backcountry or stick to developed portions. Though most of the roads are not paved, it’s possible to see much of the park from your car. There’s vehicle access to the fire tower, landings, campsites and overlooks. Perhaps the most scenic of the park’s 127 miles of hiking trails is in the southwest corner, along the Kettle River’s tree-covered banks.
St. Croix State Park also has 75 miles of horse paths.
Some riders also drive north into the St. Croix State Forest, where the trails are hillier and there is another campground for riders. Primitive camping for riders is also available in the St. Croix and Chengwatana state forests. The flat terrain of St. Croix State Park can be marshy in early summer and after heavy rains, so riders should check with the park manager for current conditions.
A hard-surfaced 5.5-mile trail from Lake Clayton to the campground is designed for bicycle and wheelchair use. For off-road mountain biking, try the Matthew Lourey State Trail, which travels through the park. This 80-mile natural-surface trail along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border between Hinckley and Duluth is open to a variety of uses, but the 21 miles inside the park are managed especially for mountain biking. This portion of the Matthew Lourey trail does not connect with he paved Willard Munger State Trail.
Camping and Lodging
The park has extensive camping facilities. There are more than 211 drive-in sites split into numerous loops along the St. Croix River and a handful of walk-in campsites along the trail at the far end of the campground. Backpackers can hike into two sites along Bear Creek and Crooked Creek. It’s a five-mile hike and you have to bring your own water.
Group camping at St. Croix State Park is more elaborate than at other state parks because St. Croix has the space to develop large complexes. Two separate group centers in the park feature dining halls, showers and lodging facilities. The centers, Norway Point and Head of the Rapids, have a combined capacity of 340.
Tent camping for groups is available at eight locations, which have room for 25 campers each.
Visitors can rent canoes in the park and take advantage of ten canoe-in only sites.
Equestrians have access to 40 sites in the horse camp.
Fishing and Boating
The St. Croix River, which forms the park’s 21-mile eastern boundary, attracts many anglers and canoeists. Fishing can be good for muskies, northern, bass and sauger. Walleyes are taken in the lower Kettle River as well as in the St. Croix. Hay Creek is popular for trout fishing.
Paddlers can choose from three nearby routes: The St. Croix is both a state canoe route and a National Scenic Riverway. The Kettle River, on the park’s western edge, and the Snake River in the Chengwatana Forest, just south of the park, are also state canoe routes. There are two canoe landings on the Kettle River and three on the St. Croix. In addition, there’s a drive-in boat landing just downhill from the campground.
St. Croix State Park’s size translates into 11 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiers and a cozy warming house with wood burning indoor fireplaces.
Snowshoeing is allowed throughout the park anywhere but on groomed trails.