#45 and #46 hikes of my 52 Hike Challenge
Trash Collected: .3 pounds
Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park
#45hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
Every park on this trip had me surprised while offering plenty of opportunity to reflect. Making the drive from the western prairies toward the southeastern corner of Minnesota the terrain reminded me of the changes in landscape heading toward the north shore and Lake Superior. Arriving at Forstville/Mystery Cave State Park, the prairies gave way to the start of forested areas that line the Root River. I knew that the Mystery Cave portion of the park would be closed which was fine with me as I prefer above ground hiking pursuits (and don’t enjoy being hundreds of feet underground).
Entering the park drive after a week of prairies and farm land felt like entering a mystical woodland. Forestville is an apt name for both the park and the historic town that makes the park it’s home. Unfortunately the historic site in the park was also closed due to a construction project to restore the site being completed this summer by the Minnesota Historical Society. Stopping by the ranger office, I was able to get a park patch and ask a few questions before hitting the Maple Ridge Loop/Hiking Club Trail. The drive to the parking lot where I’d start my hike was beautiful.
I started on the trail near the amphitheater, finding the first of many pine and fir trees along with the distinctive smell they offer. The forest was very quiet with the exception of the hum of cicadas. I felt that I’d stepped into a forest fairyland. A short distance later, I had the option of turning left or right. The trail to the right called so I followed the fairly flat wide section of the west side of the loop. Following the trail past the campground brought me into earshot of campers and the early afternoon activity of the people staying in the park.
The trail continues alongside the Root River which has many side trails that take an explorer right to the riverbank. Several people were fishing the for the river’s trout along the river, while the river itself offered another lovely element to my hike. Flowing slowly past, the water was clear and nearly still on it’s face. I rejoined the trail as it wove through the maple and basswoods, revealing many of my favorite woodland plants and abundant mushrooms.
I circled away from the river toward the ranger station finding a tree stump that gave me pause as it looked like a screaming specter. I laughed as I thought of coming across that tree at dusk or in the dark. It would be very frightening for an unsuspecting hiker. This section of trail was interesting to traverse as it is shared with horses. There were horse apples to dodge for most of the way from the river to the ranger station. The experience reminded me of discussions on my 2015 trek with the Scouts about horse apples being excellent boot conditioner. Thanks to both the tree and horse apples, I had a good laugh as I hiked along.
Heading east past the ranger station, the terrain changes completely. The trail rises over 400 feet up the bluff before it levels off. It was a workout I welcomed after my drive to the park. I was grateful for the large Nalgene of water and snack I’d brought. I stopped a few times to take advantage of both. As the trail descends back toward the amphitheater, it widens further and passes near the road to the park’s camper cabins.
Before I left the park, I drove to check out the camper cabins for a future visit. The six cabins are placed facing east and each has plenty of privacy even though they are not truly far apart. With so many more trails than what I explored, I know this would be a park to visit in the winter for snowshoeing while staying in one of the cabins. I hope to visit again in the future to spend more time on the parks trails and stay in one of the beautiful cabins.
Beaver Creek Valley State Park
#46hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
Coming to the end of my last full day of my road trip I found a new park to love. Located about five miles from Caledonia, Beaver Creek Valley State Park and its source, Big Spring, became a state park in 1937. Nestled into what is known as the geologic “driftless area”, the creek is surrounded by hallmark bluffs of sandstone and dolomite. In the late summer heat, this deep valley is cool most of the day and stays warm through the winter. When booking my campsite, I had noticed the long necklace of sites through the park. It was only as I arrived and drove to my campsite that I truly understood why the campground is strung out like beads on a chain.
The site I’d selected was closest to one of the entrances to the Hiking Club Trail and considered a walk-in site, though it was just a few steps from the parking spot allotted. Just 50 yards from where I parked my car, Beaver Creek flows past and is crossed by car via blocks set in the water. I got my camp set up and had lunch before setting off on the West Rim Trail.
From my site the West Rim trail climbed the bluff and headed south. The trail is wide and relatively flat even though it continues to climb the forested hills. As I moved along the trail, I was thrilled to not find myself along a trail that hugged the bluff, but rather moved across terrain bordering on areas of prairie and sections of trees. Where the trail loops back north, it slowly descends to the last of the walk-in and cart-in campsites. One of the cart-in sites caught my eye with it’s perch about 20 feet above the creek. I added that to my list of campsites to visit in the future and kept moving.
Just a short distance away I came on the next climb onto the Hole In The Rock Trail. The trail gains elevation of nearly 400 feet in less than a half mile. It was more grueling than I expected. The trail also narrows to a small footpath more similar to the Superior Hiking Trail. As I climbed the western side of the bluffs, the trail continued to narrow and the sun was hot. It wasn’t long before I came to a bench with what I knew was an overlook into the valley. I was feeling bouts of vertigo due to the height so I took care to step behind the bench at the overlook before I raised my glance toward the view. It was spectacular and a bit terrifying to me.
I’d hoped to find enough courage to take a picture, but that wasn’t going to happen. In times where I experience this deep feeling of my fear of falling from height in the outdoors, I’ve discovered the best thing for me to do is to keep moving. I considered briefly turning back the way I’d come, but I wasn’t feeling I’d be able to make the hike down safely in my current state. So I pressed on.
The whole time I’d been on the West Rim Trail, I’d heard blasts of what I assumed were park staff with chainsaws working somewhere. The next thing I knew four Conservation Corp crew members met me traveling the opposite direction. They were wielding heavy duty weed trimmers and walked the narrow trail with confidence. I mentioned that I’d heard them and appreciated the work they were doing to keep the trail clear. In my head I was thinking I’d like to ask them to widen the narrow path a few feet. They encouraged me on to experience the trail ahead and we parted ways.
When the crew was out of sight, I took a moment to stop and figure out how to navigate the next section where I could see the drop to the valley below. The trail angled toward the valley and had a few spots that were nearly washed out. Somehow I managed to keep my footing, all the while thinking I’d be looking forward to telling my son that he’d be proud of me for navigating this trail. Thankfully there were a few bridges to cross areas where it was the safest option. I never thought I’d be so happy to stand on a bridge that wobbled from my weight.
Each bridge got me further along toward the northern end of the trail. After about 30 minutes of hiking I came on a staircase leading down to the creek and decided I would take it forgoing the remainder of the western side of the trail. It was good to be back in the valley and not as stressed about the terrain. I’ve written about knowing when it’s good to bail on a trail or trip. This was one of those times. I knew I was potentially missing something, but the trade off for my stress level was worth it.
Back at creek level, I headed north to pick up the Beaver Creek trail that would take me to the north loop of the Hiking Club Trail. The trail includes access to Big Spring, the main source of the creek. A small pool of crystal clear water offers quiet respite and a wonderful place to reflect. I spent a bit of time enjoying the spot before continuing my journey. Just past the park’s large picnic area I found the northern section of trail.
The trail crosses the creek several time on small bridges before the end loop. At the base of the loop, I opted to head east first, circling a small open prairie. Turning back to my campsite after nearly three hours of slow hiking, I gathered my supplies for dinner. While waiting for my food to cook, I spent time journaling and reflecting on the day’s hikes. Sitting back from the bench, I noticed a name carved in the top of the picnic table. Another indication that I was exactly where I was meant to be, but also of the indelible mark our presence leaves as we travel, whether intended or not.
I know I want to return to both of these parks in other seasons to take advantage of their quiet and uniqueness. It’s unlikely I’ll try to tackle the remainder of the Hole In the Rock trail, but one never knows. Either way, I was grateful for the beauty, challenge and solitude the day offered as I began thinking of heading home the next.
Next Post Preview: It’s time to head home, with one last hike before I go. My gratitude came with the hope I’d left as little trace of my presence as possible journeying across this remarkable state I call home.
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