A Sense of Place: Willow River State Park

I know the official 20 Prospect Great Staycation of 2009 is officially over, but this past weekend we took the dog exploring with us in Wisconsin, and found a remarkable little park that we had never visited, Willow River State Park. I have no idea how I have lived in the Twin Cities for 16 years and never stumbled across this lovely park. I take it as a sign that there is still much about this area that I don’t know, and many more things left to discover.

Willow River Falls

Willow Falls

The Willow River is one of several small rivers that drain the farmlands and wetlands of Western Wisconsin into the St. Croix River. As noted in previous postings, the St. Croix Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the State, and a place that makes me dream of returning to “the land.” (The fact that I didn’t come from “the land” is not something I let get in the way of my day dreams.) It is a lovely little river, as are the Apple River to the North, and the Kinnikinnick to the South. Calling them Rivers is being generous, as they are really just creeks, and trout streams. In my stylized day dreams of returning to the land, I fly fish them regularly, as that is what all great localist renassaince men do. (Again, I don’t let the fact that I do not know how to fly fish get in the way of my daydreams.) Willow River State Park is located around Willow Falls, where the river cuts through the escarpment of the Central Plain, and drops down into the Western Uplands. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.

almost broke my fricking neck getting up to get this shot

almost broke my fricking neck getting up to get this shot

The center point of the park is Willow Falls, which is about a 2 mile hike in from the main body of the park. Of course, there’s a shorter route in from the County Highway, but we went for the walk after all. It gave us a chance to get some much needed exercise, and the kids another opportunity to fill their pockets with acorns. Squirrels, and 10 year old’s, can never have enough acorns. What I found the most surprising about the place is that “they” let you climb right out into the water. In these days of litigation I am amazed that “The Man” allows such reckless behavior. In fact, Wisconsin is not alone in putting such blind trust in its citizens. Minnesota State Parks like Gooseberry Falls also allow the masses to clamber around on slippery, sharp pointy rocks. Cool.

Having grown up in the Empire State of New York, I just can’t get over this fact. The great “Nanny State” of N.Y. would never allow such rampant, willful, dangerous behavior on the part of its citizens. Why they’d position State Troopers with sniper rifles around the perimeter to keep us from hurting ourselves, if they had to. But they don’t have to. The docile populace of NYS has been trained through years of servitude to expect “keep off the grass” signs in our parks. No, the only dangerous waterfalls I ever climbed in NYS required me to trespass over private property. In a way, I almost prefer it like that. The extra effort of petty law breaking is good for the soul, and adds another element of adventure to the risk of splitting your head open on slippery, moss covered rocks.

Looking downstream, at bluffs

Looking downstream, at bluffs

But I still say hats off to Wisconsin. Willow Falls is just one of the few water falls in a State Park. There are many more falls out in the back country of the North Woods that are less accessible, and crowded, and still offer you the chance to donate your gray matter to nature, should you so choose. I’m looking forward to getting out and finding some of them in the years to come. The kids love it, and Moxie seemed to enjoy it too.

The Indomitable Moxie Approves

The Indomitable Moxie Approves


3 thoughts on “A Sense of Place: Willow River State Park

  1. Tom,

    Great piece. However, I need to correct you. Stony Brook State Park in Dansville, NY used to allow us to hike up the stream (on slippery, sharp pointy rocks) when I was a student at Alfred U. I’m not sure if they still allow it, but the pics from Willow Falls sure took me back. The scenery is eerily similiar.

    Keep up the great writing.


  2. Jim,
    Wow. Thanks for pointing that out. I have never been to Stony Brook, only Letchworth and Watkins Glen where “the man” doesn’t let you get in the water. The places where we could risk life and limb that I refer to, were usually on private property, or in a state forest up in the Adirondacks, where there were fewer people around.
    Glad to have you stopping by.

  3. I was just at Willow river last week, and I thank my lucky stars ‘the man’ hasn’t turned his gaze upon Wisconsin, yet. Not only did they make room for me and my bike in a full-to-capacity campground, but I was able to climb up, fall off, and be as much of a darned fool as I pleased at the falls. Perhaps four other groups of people lingered in the five hours I spent there – gooseberry falls is always swarming.

    One of these groups consisted of five college-age fellows who actually lugged along a cooler of beer and drank it down in a warm water pothole. Hot tub falls, I’m calling this place.

    For a sad comparison… two years ago I visited Kauai, with high hopes of reckless climbing, biking on the cane roads, and freedom. Turns out the cane roads are now illegal to so much as walk across, and several of the more striking(and dangerous) hiking trails had been shut down after folks kept falling off cliffs and trying to sue the adjoining landowners. Le-sigh.

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