Author of Chaos to Clarity
Several weeks ago the hubby and I ran over to Willow River for a day hike. We liked it so much that we decided to go back there to camp a month later. Located a few miles east of Hudson on I94, the park is only a 30-minute drive for us from Minneapolis; so about 50 minutes from the south suburbs. At some point maybe the number of different landscapes available within a short drive of the cities will stop being amazing to me (but hopefully not)!
Like most state parks, Wisconsin parks require a vehicle pass. It is $10 per day for out-of-state plates, and we were there for three days, so we decided on the annual pass for $35 (WI plates cost $7/day or $25/year). The campsite fee for everyone is $15/night.
There are four campgrounds in the park: 100, 200, 300, and group camps. My advice is, unless you like baking in the sun and being fully visible to all campers, hikers, and passing cars (in the style of prairie dogs), avoid the 100 and 200 campgrounds. They are on the prairie and have zero shade or privacy:
However, the sites in the 300 campground are wooded and private. Our site was pretty typical of the 300:
The other advantages of the 300 camp are that it has easy access to the all of the trails, and it is where the showers are. The showers are quite clean and unscary, but be warned: the only water temp available is cold (maybe unless you also get up at 5:30 AM to beat everyone else there, which I, for one, do not do!).
I was pretty impressed with the group campsites, and would definitely consider them for camping excursions with friends (especially because alcohol is legal at WI State Parks, as opposed to MN. Which is good for me because I require a New Glarus Belgian Red any time I’m in Wisconsin!). They are nice and big, but are also situated so that sub-groups within a group can have a little privacy, too. This is group site D (I also particularly liked C, but A & B are fine, too):
There are presently only about 13 miles of trails in the park, but that number can be deceptive. Since most of the trails kind of lead into each other, we hiked 5-8 miles/day without getting bored. The trails are well-groomed, and are pretty easy, with only some gentle hills. Like other WI State Parks we’ve visited (Kinnickinnic and Copper Falls), we found that it would pay to bring a compass as well as the trail map on hikes. There seems to be a penchant for forks in the trail that aren’t on the map, combined with confusing trail markings, in Wisconsin parks. I got a little lost on a solo hike on Friday night and had to make my own trail down to the road before I could figure out where the heck I was!
The trails cover all sorts of landscapes including hardwood and evergreen forests, prairie, and rocky river bluffs:
Of course, the crown jewels of the park are the falls:
There is a parking lot for the falls; but it should be noted that accessibility from the lot is not easy; the trail down to the falls is paved, but it is not tiered, so it is extremely steep. For those with bad knees/hips it might actually be easier to hike in on the Willow Falls (blue) Trail than to walk in from the lot.
From the falls you can hike up to the top of the river bluff (lots of stairs!) on the Burkhardt (pink) trail and catch some pretty sweet views:
Willow River’s other big attraction is the large and pristine beach/picnic area:
There are no pets allowed in the beach/picnic area or on the nearby nature trail, and we had our dog with us, so we didn’t spend much time there, but it seemed really nice!
All in all we had a great experience at Willow River: beautiful scenery, nice campground and good facilities. Maybe best of all, the drive home was only half an hour! If you live in the Twin Cities Metro (or even if you don’t!), this place is worth checking out.
Have you ever been to Willow River State Park? If so what is your favorite part of the park? What about other local State Parks? Which are your favorites? What are you favorite local parks that may not be state parks? What do you enjoy most about our local parks? Whatever you have to say about this one go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts!