Monday, July 9, 2012

St. Croix State Park: July 4, 2012

Independence Day!  It fell on a Wednesday this year, so I took Thursday and Friday off to make a nice vacation for myself.  But before vacation time in the Cities, Joe and I met at Tobies at 9:00am on Wednesday and drove to St. Croix State Park to see what this one's Hiking Club Trail had to offer.

The reason we met so early in the morning was because it was going to be hot.  HOT.  While I've been luxuriating by the nice cool breezes of Lake Superior, the rest of the state (the rest of the country, really) have been baking in the hottest summer on record.  Temps were predicted to climb into the upper 90's on the fourth.

Were we crazy?  Perhaps, but we were as prepared as we could be.

  1. Joe brought four big bottles of water for us.
  2. I brought a whole bottle for Thunderdog, and her usual collapse-able water dish.
  3. We planned to meet as early as possible to beat the heat of the day.  Getting to the park at 10 meant me leaving at 7am.
  4. It was a 4-mile trail, but the description did not mention it being a difficult trail. In fact, my Hiking Club book said that part of the trail was paved.

Hiking Club Trail, with a great view of the road.

And so it was.  

So...before I get into what our hike was like, let me tell you a bit about St. Croix State Park.  St. Croix is the largest of Minnesota's State Parks, at over 33,000 acres.  The Civilian Conservation Corps had an early presence in the park, creating many of the buildings and other structures.  There's over 127 miles of hiking trails, 80 miles of snowmobile trails, and 75 miles of horse trails; a huge equestrian facility and camp; canoe, snowshoe and bike rental; group centers; a swimming beach and fishing...seriously, this park has it all.  It would be a great park to set up your camper or tent for a week and just explore, explore, explore.  Unfortunately, all we had was one morning and a four-mile hike.  Would it be a great representation of the park?  Surely, with 33,000 acres, it would be the best of the best, right?


I am not going to just sit here and curse St. Croix State Park.  Of all the elements that went into making it a not-awesome Hiking Club Trail, only one element could be directly attributed to St. Croix State Park: the trail itself.  

The Hiking Club Trail was four miles, starting at the campground.  It was a long loop along the St. Croix River.  Looking at the map, it appeared that we would walk out along the bluff, go down to the river, and walk back.  Instead, the path was way up on the bluff both directions.  For about 1/3 of the time, the  large RV campground was in view.  Some of the Hiking Club Trail was shared with the road.  We viewed the asphalt and listened to the gentle hum of RV generators.  Ah, nature.

Seriously, the park is 50 square miles.  There are over 120 miles of hiking trails.  Could they not have picked a Hiking Club trail that was more inspiring, more interesting, more varied?  VERY disappointed.

Here are the elements of our poor hike that were NOT the park's fault:

1. Almost a year to the day before our trip, St. Croix State Park experienced a massive storm that blew down over 50% of the trees on almost 10,000 acres of parkland (link warning: pdf). The park suffered extensive damage, and the area of damage included the forested area along the Hiking Club Trail. What would have been a nice, shady trail was now full-sun.

Well blow me down!

2. The heat was oppressive. Joe did a bit of checking on the exact temp and humidity. When we started, it was 82 degrees with a dewpoint of 74 (a heat index of 88 - at 10 in the morning). When we ended, it was 90 degrees with a dewpoint of 78. That's insane. That's a heat index of 105. No wonder we were miserably hot.

3. Thunderdog did not enjoy the walk. For one thing - and I feel absolutely horrible about this - I should have put some more thought into whether or not it would be okay to take a densely furry dog on a 4-mile hike in the oppressive heat. Especially a dog like Thunderdog, who spends most of her life in either air conditioned luxury or amidst the cool breezes of Lake Superior. She drank almost a liter of water and I put my water-soaked bandana around her neck to cool her off, but she was still hot.

Thunderdog does the shimmy shimmy shake to get the flies off

4. The deer flies. Oh, the flies. They landed on us, of course, but they TORTURED Thunderdog. She spent a good amount of time dragging her long nose in the grass as we walked along, or stopping to roll over in the hopes of getting them off of her. I felt awful for her. It would have been so nice if the path had gone along the river, like I thought it would.

But, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  With this Hiking Club Trail, Joe and I hit 25 miles (25.9, to be exact).  Of course, we've hiked many more miles than that on other paths in parks and on trails this year.  But, for the sake of the Hiking Club, we've covered enough to earn our first patches. I got Thunderdog one as well, even if she hasn't hiked all 25 miles with us.  She's earned a patch on her little backpack.

25 miles patch!  Joe's sewing his patch onto my face.

Total miles hiked today: 4 insanely hot, humid miles under a blazing sun
Total miles hiked (in 2012): 71.9
Total ticks today: Joe - 0; Thunderdog - 0; Elly - 1 (I even picked up a tick. Also not St. Croix State Park's fault)
Total ticks (in 2012): 46


  1. Wow, hope you all recovered from the heat. Sounds pretty miserable. At least you got your patches! That is a big achievement! :) I would love to know how to pronounce St. Croix .

    1. Thunderdog recovered fairly quickly - she was up in our faces begging for French Fries about an hour after we left the park. :-)

      It's pronounced Saint Croy - rhymes with toy.

  2. I had the same opinion of St. Croix earlier this year (and it wasn't nearly as hot in early June when we visited it!). Mark and I ended up driving around other areas of the park and climbing the fire tower. We found that much more interesting and scenic than the Hiking Club Trail. Congrats on your patches! That's a huge accomplishment!

    Does Joe have his own Hiking Club membership, or do you share?

    1. We share. When we hit 25 miles I got one free patch - and the lady at St. Croix charged me a measly 50 cents per extra patches. I was expecting to pay much more! That's why I went ahead and got Thunderdog one, even though she has not technically hiked her 25 Hiking Club miles yet :-)

      Perhaps someday we'll go back to St. Croix and see the fire tower. The park is kind of out of the way for us though - the only logical time for us to go to any of the parks in the area is when we are able to meet there.