Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Exploring: Willow River State Park - Hudson, WI

We are blessed with one of the most amazing parks in St Croix County, WI.  Resting just outside of Hudson sits a stunning State Park with endless options of things to do.  This park has been in my back yard my entire lift (literally, I grew up less than a mile away) and I never took advantage of all the great things it had to offer until the last 5 years.

"With nearly 3,000 acres of prairie, forests and panoramic river scenery, Willow River State Park offers year-round recreation opportunities in western Wisconsin. The park is about five miles northeast of Hudson and has a campground, a boat launch and a 400-foot beach and picnic area centered on 172-acre Little Falls Lake."  (Side note: the lake is drained right now as they are preparing a major dam project) - WI DNR Website

I started coming here to hike a few years ago and have only grown more and more fond of the park with every visit.  I also met one of my closest friends at the park.  I was on the fence about joining a bootcamp and the instructor was leading hikes at the park and then a fitness class after the hike. I put on my girl pants and came by myself and instantly made a connection with a gal and her daughter.  A new friendship was born and with that came many other awesome adventures!  You never know what (or who) you might find when you come to the park.

There are 12 hiking trails in the park and many connect up to campsites as well as gorgeous scenery and spectacular views.  The trails are both paved and crushed rock.  I usually bring my jogging stroller and can push George with no problems on either trail.  I would recommend a heavier duty stroller or even a backpack if bringing small children and doing a longer hike.

At the beach is a gorgeous brand-new beach house and playground for the kids to play (or for me to dread because I just want to hike and George just wants to play!).   With picnic tables and grills throughout the park, you really cannot go wrong with a day at Willow.   The lake is currently drained because they are working on a major dam project.  The sand is still there to play in, but no swimming at the beach (you can wade by the falls though) for at least 1-2 summers.

Beach House with a Shelter and Picnic Tables

Playground with activities for kids of all ages
The trail(s) I hike most often are the Green (Little Falls Trail) and Blue Trails (Willow Falls Trail).  When you take the Green to the Blue trail, this takes you to the Falls that are nestled in the park.  The Green Trail starts off at the beach parking lot.

Paved Trail (Green Trail)
One of the big draws to Willow River State Park is the camping.  As you navigate through the park, you pass many different camp sites. Some have some serious setups with campers, cooking equipment, coolers, etc.  And others keep it simple.

A little tent I passed while walking - these folks kept it simple
In order to get to Willow Falls, you have to move from the Green Trail to the Blue Trail. The blue trail is a bit more rugged and is crushed rock vs paved.  Its a bit more hilly and more "hiking" vs "walking" trail.  However, I regularly pass families with younger children and several folks (like myself) who are pushing strollers. Again, you will need a heavier stroller to make your life easier on this trail.  Let me just say, it is so absolutely worth it if you hike this trail! At the end of the trail you get to Willow Falls.. (which you can get to multiple ways, but this just happens to be my favorite!)

Willow Falls - Willow River State Park, Hudson, WI
Once you get to the falls, as you can see you can navigate onto the rocks and cool off in the water. I am not one you will ever see out there, but as you can tell there are several people doing this.  I just think when you're dealing with water, it's dangerous and you never know when you could get swept away (call me old and dull, but I prefer to play it safe here!).   

Another activity you can do while at Willow is Rock Climbing.  You bring all of your own equipment and will need to have some experience climbing because it is not only dangerous but also a challenging wall to climb.  It certainly didn't stop these guys though! I am always so impressed with the people who are so talented/fit and accomplish this.

Look close and you will see the climber hanging from the rock

I mentioned there are multiple ways you can get to Willow Falls.  You can park at the parking lot on top of the hill (near the entrance) and navigate down the stairs to the falls.  However, you can also navigate up those same stairs which is very challenging, but an excellent workout.  I had my doubts, but George and I climbed the stairs and again, it is so worth the view at the top!

View over the State Park at the top of the Stairs near Willow Falls
I could just sit here and be at peace for hours on end. (Plus I'm usually still dying from climbing the stairs and need that much time to recover).   It is quiet and serene and the view is simply breath taking!  It is all right here in St Croix County and so many people have no idea what they are missing out on.  

Apparently after all the stair climbing my sweet George wanted more.. He really did.  He was all about climbing stairs..and not even halfway (I begged repeatedly) he wanted to make it to the top.  

My little adventurer
We survived all of the steps, both up and down and navigated our way back over the falls.  This is the view if you look West instead of East (Opposite of the falls). 

Usually you might see a fisherman or two out here trying to catch a fish for supper.  Its amazing to watch the raging rapids on one side and see this nice, calm river flowing on the other. Nature is certainly incredible.

Willow isn't just a summer State Park either!  In the winter they offer several groomed cross country ski trails as well as Snowshoeing trails (although you have to be very careful to be sure you're on the snowshoe trail as the skiiers will give you dirty looks even just trying to get to your trails).  (It's a brown trail if that helps!).

We managed to get out one time this winter to do a little snowshoeing!  George got to ride along in his little sled (which thanks Jen for giving us that years ago! It has been so handy!).

At the parking lot of the beach house there is also a Nature Center.  Here, you can get souvenirs, sunscreen and any other small item you might need to make it for the day or weekend (plus there are plenty of gas stations nearby if you leave the park).  The nature center also has great educational activities for children of different ages to get children engaged and learning about the outdoors.

Nature Center

Kids activities - pick up at the Nature Center
Whether the patio is as outdoors as you get or if you're a rugged outback sleep under the stars kind of camper, Willow truly offers a wide range of options of things to do!  It's $8 for the day if you're a WI resident, $11 for out of state vehicles and $28 for a yearly pass if you're a WI resident.  We are there enough times a year to make up for the cost!

Trail Map - you can get a copy at the gate or online


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