I had Monday off this week for MLK day, and it was beautiful outside. Perfect conditions to go for a hike! In keeping with my mission to do all of the hikes in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Twin Cities, and because we had time to drive out a ways, Dave and I decided to head to Kinnickinnic State Park in Wisconsin. It took us about 50 minutes to get there from Burnsville, MN (we took 494 to US-10 through Prescott, but I suspect it would be easier for most Twin Citians to take 94 to Hudson).
When we arrived we found the gates to the park closed, with a few cars parked outside of them. As we approached we saw a sign notifying visitors that the park is unstaffed and closed to vehicular traffic during the winter, but that people are welcome to hike, ski, or snowshoe in. I guess we would have known that in advance had we checked the park website before we left. As it was, we had only read the park profile in 60 Hikes, which had stated that the park was open in all seasons. Unplowed roads, ungroomed trails, no staff, and no bathrooms isn’t what I typically expect from “open all seasons!” However, being good little adventurers, we persevered!
Once we got our car out of the snow it got stuck in as we were trying to park (with the kind help of a passing Wisconsinite!), we ducked in through the closed gate and were greeted by this:
That would be the visitor center. If it was open for visitors. It was kind of eerie to be there all alone in an unkempt park! One good thing was that it was dead silent there aside from the birds, which made things very peaceful once we actually started hiking. At the visitor center there was a place for trail maps to be available for winter visitors. Unfortunately for us, it was empty. Therefore, we had only the very small, and not very good, map in 60 Hikes to work with. We really should have checked the website before we left! Instead we found a trailhead off the main road into the park, and pretty much decided to wing it from there. The first little loop that we hiked through (the red trail) looked mostly like this:
A flat easy hike through a prairie. Then the trail turned off into a wooded area (the blue trail), that became a lot more hilly and challenging, like this:
At the end of the blue trail, it became apparent that we were hiking around the edge of a valley, but not the river valley. Once we hit the yellow trail, things started to get confusing. The path went in several different directions, and some had red and yellow markers on them, instead of one or the other. If we had a map, we would have know that this signified a separate trail – the orange trail. Instead we decided to just keep veering left because it felt like that was the direction we needed to go to head back towards our car. While we were veering, we came upon this overlook that looked into the river ravine:
We sat and took a rest at the bench there, and then got back on the trail, veering left. Well, the trail dumped us right back at the point where we had started veering left. At this point, we didn’t know what to do. We’d been hiking for awhile, and wanted to head home before rush hour, so we didn’t want to risk taking the trail down to the right, because we didn’t know how much farther into the woods it went before we’d have a chance to loop around. We could see what looked like it would normally be a DNR service road off to the right, so we decided to see if we could follow the road out of the park. The road was so hard to see, while covered with snow, that we didn’t even see that there was a parking lot very nearby until we were walking through it! It was intuitive to walk away from what we thought was the direction of the river, but we decided to cheat and used the GPS in Dave’s phone (in hindsight, we could have probably pulled up a map on his phone from the very beginning. Duh. But, we’re still not totally used to having Internet on our persons at all times, so we just didn’t think of it. Sometimes it makes me a little sad that his phone is smarter than we are!). We walked the DNR road back to our car. My very childish red scrawling shows where we hiked:
Now that I’ve looked at a decent map, I feel really disappointed that we had no idea where we were, and never got down to look at the river. Therefore, I don’t feel like I can give a really fair assessment of the whole winter hiking experience. What we did do was an exceptionally good workout. However, I can say that it seems like this would be a better place to go in the summer, when it is supposed to be a great place to go swimming in the river, and when the prairie parts of the hike would be more interesting. If you do decide to go in the winter, I would suggest snowshoeing or skiing as opposed to hiking. The snow wasn’t well-packed at all, and it was hard to get good footing in a lot of areas. Also, no matter what your sex, you need to be O.K. with peeing in the woods at any temperature because you have to hike a long ways until you find a pit toilet!
In closing, I can now personally attest to the recent findings that people naturally walk in circles in the absence of landmarks. With snow covering so many of the usual hiking landmarks (like roads!), I felt like I had no sense of direction at all. It was pretty trippy at some times, but not a bad day overall!