We are incredibly fortunate to live within a few miles of two of Wisconsin's most magnificent state parks. The Kinnickinnic State Park is practically in our back yard, being just three miles south of our farm. It marks the flow of the Kinnickinnic River into the mighty St. Croix River between Hudson, WI and Prescott, WI. In the eight years that Cliff and I dated before we got married, we spent many days hiking along the Kinnickinnic River, wading in the river's cool, clear springwater. How lucky to live so close to such a wonder.
The Kinnickinnic isn't our only state park nearby. Willow River State Park is just about 10 miles from our house and takes us only 15 minutes to drive there. This park is the home to the Willow River's breathtaking waterfall, that makes you feel as though you aren't even in the midwest anymore. It's truly grand. The park has a campground, a swimming beach, walking trails, a disc golf course, and more wild natural areas than you can imagine, but my favorite place of all, is the falls.
The truth is, this walk in the park is no walk in the park. The trail down to the falls is long and steep. This is actually the case at both of these parks. The walk to the swimming beach at Kinnickinnic is long and steep and the walk to the falls at Willow River is long and steep. Really long. Really steep. Even though it is downhill on the way there, you're sweating when you get to the bottom because you've been working so hard to not just go rolling down the hill. It's a great strengthening exercise for your knee muscles!
The path starts out nice and even and get's the steepest about half way down. It's lush and green and thick.
The bank on the edge of the path is full of ferns. The evening sun gleams through the treetops in a way so magical you would think you were in a fairy tale.
and then you emerge from the dense woods to this...
tier after tier after tier of roaring, rushing cold spring water flowing over rocks, trickling into little pools
The water along the very edges, where it flows out of the rocks, is ice cold, but where the water sits in small pools between the deep and flowing river and the rocky edges, it's warm and calm. Gavin loved splashing and jumping in it and even discovered a few crayfish skittering between the rocks. He didn't want to leave and would have stayed and played all night. Cliff and I used to climb all the way up to the first tier of falls, where you can actually crawl in behind the curtain of flowing water and look at the falls from the inside out, but Gavin's a bit too young yet to make the treck up there. The rocks are always very slippery, so until he's a bit more sure of his footing, is wearing a life vest, (and bubble-wrap and a helmet and knee pads and elbow pads) we'll hold off on taking him up there. For now, he is so happy and content to wade in the side pools and watch the crayfish and jump and splash.
(down river from the falls)
You need to absorb a sight like this before you leave to remind you why you come here. Because the walk back up the hill again almost makes you not want to come back. We almost always take the short cut straight up through the woods, which is more steep, but not as long as the path. It's usually full of mosquitos, poison ivy, and inconveniently placed gnarly roots to make it even more interesting, but there is nothing like getting to the top all sticky, sweaty, and bug-bitten to make you want to run back down again and jump in the river!