Visiting William O'Brien State Park has been strangely difficult for us. It is located about 30 miles east of the Twin Cities, right on the St. Croix river. It's not that far from Joe's place in St. Cloud, and an easy drive from a day in the Cities. But for some reason we have been rebuffed every single time we have tried to visit.
Bad weather has stymied us several times. We tried to visit in the winter last year - they have two Hiking Club Trails, a summer one and and a winter one - and we decided to stay home because it was the same day as a skiing festival and we didn't want to battle the crowds. Life got in the way a few times, what with me needing to travel back home early because of oncoming bad weather. We decided to stay home once when we called and found out that the Hiking Club trail was underwater due to a flood. It's become a joke to us that we just can't seem to get to William O'Brien. Well, we finally got there...and it was great*.
|Welcome to William O'Brien, on a beautiful sunny day|
William O'Brien encompasses about 1.500 acres right on the river. Of course, that means that we would have a whole different experience if we had a boat. There is a peninsula right on the river that has campgrounds, an amphitheater, a ball field, a swimming beach, fishing pier, and other amenities. Interestingly enough, the Hiking Club Trail doesn't go anywhere near the river or the amenities, but up on the bluffs above it. I thought that was pretty nice - gets us away from the crowds. It is one of the longest Hiking Club Trails in the system at 6 miles. The path was mainly wide and mowed. Once we got onto the trail, we seemed to be enveloped by the woods and the meadows and it was strange to think that we were so close to the Cities.
|Ferns and foliage, far views|
Holy mackerel, did we ever see a lot of birds. We also saw a ton of frogs and toads (good thing we left Thunderdog at home - she has a history of eating amphibians) and butterflies. We didn't see any larger animals, but it didn't matter. We were too busy marveling over all of the little critters. One of those little critters - a mama bird, probably an Eastern Bluebird - definitely noticed our presence. Apparently we got too close to her nest and she began to dive-bomb us. We could see a nestful of little hungry birds in one of the parks birdhouses, but didn't get too close lest we lose our hats.
|YOU STAY AWAY FROM MY BABIES|
The trail was easy going for the most part, but there was a steep climb up and down Wedge Hill. We were rewarded with great views, but it was tough going! We ran into a geocacher at the top, and wondered about how skiiers deal with the incline. William O'Brien is a well-known Cross-country Skiing park. Someday we'll give it a try, but perhaps we'll skip that hill.
|Good place for a picnic at the top of Wedge Hill|
At one point Joe's ears perked up: a train in the park?? He was right - the Osceola and St. Croix Valley Railway has a tourist excursion train that goes right through William O'Brien. Someday Joe and I will have to visit the Minnesota Transportation Museum and take a nice ride through the park. We also took a look at one of the impressive beaver lodges in the park, but unfortunately Mr. and Mrs. Beaver weren't around to entertain us.
We ran into a problem on the trail around the furthest northwest corner of the park: water covered the path for about 20 feet on either side of the trail. Joe and I bushwhacked along the left side for a bit, trying to find a way around the water. We could see that it was at least 6 inches deep in the center, and there weren't really any logs or stones or other ways across. After scratching up our legs, we abandoned that section of trail and had to double back. We took another trail met up with the Hiking Club Trail on the other side of the water - we probably only missed about half a mile of the trail. Luckily, the password sign wasn't on the inaccessible section! We know that, if we were unscrupulous people, we could have just found the password online. We're just too darned honest to do something like that, though. :-)
|Flood courtesy of Mother Nature, photoshopping courtesy of me! See * note below.|
The hike was challenging only due to its length and the heat. I'm still a wimp in the heat because of the long winter and my living in a place where it just today got warm enough for me to go outside without a sweater or light jacket. Otherwise, I think it'd be a great park to visit if you're in the Cities and want to get away for the day.
The hike also brought us to 121.4 Hiking Club Trail miles. We are pretty close to our 125 mile patches! We're going to do our best to get our 125 patches on the 4th of July. It's tradition now to get a patch on the 4th: last year we got our 75 mile patch on the 4th, and in 2012 we got our 25 mile patch on the 4th. We don't have many parks left to choose from that are nearby and have long enough trails, so we might be taking a ridiculously long drive to just go for a hike. Stay tuned, and keep your fingers crossed for nice weather on the 4th!
Total miles hiked today: 6.2
Total miles hiked in 2014: 8.8
Total Superior Hiking Trail miles hiked in 2014: .8
Total ticks today: Joe - 4; Thunderdog - 0; Elly - 3.
Total ticks in 2014: 11