I toured the St. Croix River by car, start to finish. In 2016. It was exciting. I was motivated to do this when I learned a continental divide separates the watersheds of the Brule and St. Croix Rivers.
This continental divide in Northern Wisconsin is fantastic and not well known. It is an east-west divide. North of the divide, rivers flow into Lake Superior. South of the divide, rivers run south to the Mississippi. This map is a layman’s attempt to show what is happening here. The red line depicts where I think the Continental Divide is.
I must tell a short story. I did no0t know about the continental divide!
When first I looked at my map of the area, I thought the Brule flowed out of Lake Superior southward into the St. Croix and to the Mississippi. Therefore, I wanted to see the source of the Brule, so I tracked the river northward to Lake Superior.
At one point in tracking the Brule, I spotted these two ladies kayaking on the Brule northward toward Lake Superior. They should have been working harder since they were going against the current.
A short time later, I came upon what I thought was the source of the Bois Brule River, Lake Superior. I stopped, walked on the beach, and over to this area. That is the Brule you see. But something was wrong. It looked like the Brule was flowing into Lake Superior instead of out of Lake Superior. In disbelief, I picked up a leaf and threw it into the water. What? How can this be? The leaf made its way into Lake Superior! Oh my God, that meant the Brule was flowing northward, not the other way as I had thought!
I could not figure this out. So I drove back to the Solon Springs area. That’s when I discovered the Brule and St. Croix were not connected, and I learned about the Continental Divide that sent one river northward and one southward. That explained why the ladies were kayaking so nicely downstream the Brule.
Near Solon Springs, I spotted a sign on Hwy 53. Paul Fehrenbach took this photo in 2012. It is posted on The Historical Marker Database page for “Brule-St. Croix Portage. The sign says:
“Approximately one mile northeast of this point, a continental divide separates the watersheds of the Brule and St. Croix Rivers. The Brule flows north to Lake Superior, and the St. Croix flows southerly to the Mississippi. A time-worn trail connects the navigable portions of these two rivers.”
After I had consumed this message, I decided to drive around to look for this portage area. I bumped into a guy on CH A a tad north of Solon Springs. He was a resident of the area.
We were at this location, He told me the St. Croix watershed was to the left of this road, and the Bois Brule watershed was to the right. My first thought was, “C’mon, you gotta be smokin’ me!” But he seemed sure of what he said. I believe him to this day. That’s my story, and I am sticking to it!
Given what he said, this then would be the St. Croix watershed …
And this would be the Bois Brule Watershed, I think!
Following this experience, I decided to track the St. Croix. I also would separately track the Brule, but that’s another story.
Tracking the St. Croix was not an easy task. I quickly learned I would be on a lot of gravel roads. Getting close to the river was tough. I was in some wild country. I later learned I was roaming around an outwash plain with extensive flat areas. A few times, I feared I would get lost and never return! In retrospect, I would like to track the Upper St. Croix again and take more photography. It is a most engaging river!
I don’t know why, but I took CH 77 south out of Solon Springs. Next time I will try to hug the river more closely, though roads there are sparse.
I took Hwy 77 to the west when I left Danbury. There is a bridge crossing the St. Croix into Minnesota. There is a spot known as Thayer’s Point Landing. I took this shot upstream of the river. You can see a bit of motion in the water here.
When I zoomed in on the photo, I could see a line of rocks from one side to the other. It almost looks like people put those rocks down for whatever reason, perhaps to cross. Silly since there was a bridge right there. But we all know kids. They designed an adventure.
This is Norway Point Landing, about 14 miles southwest of Danbury, the way the crow flies. I was on Burnett CH F, at this point going west, when I saw a sign for Norway Point Landing to the north. I took it, crossed Sadlers Rd., and found myself here. Beautiful country. It looked like I was far away from civilization.
Here’s another shot, looking downstream. The river on this day in this location was as “calm as a cucumber.”
This is Foxes Landing. Finding this location was complete luck. I was on Burnett CH F, saw a sign for Foxes Landing, and turned westward. The gravel road headed west, then hooked hard to go due south. Stay straight, leading to the west, and you’ll run into Foxes Landing.
I felt I had been in no man’s land. This landing is about 20 miles southwest of Danbury, Burnett County. I was shocked to see people out here kayaking. There were quite a few, so it must be a well-known spot in these woods!
My next stop was the County O Road Landing in southwestern Burnett County. Two people are fishing out there. You have to zoom in on the photo to find them!
This photo looks across the river into Minnesota. A woman is standing there fishing, just to the left of the gravel road path.
Getting to the St. Croix by car was becoming increasingly challenging. That said, I found Nevers Dam Landing on River Road, about 10 miles north-northwest of St. Croix Falls. This guy discovered it long before me!
Here you see another person, “just fishin’.”
John A. Weeks III is an avid photographer. He operates a terrific website that covers a host of subjects. He wrote an informative history piece on what is known as the Nevers Dam, formerly the St. Croix River Dam. He tells us Frederick Weyerhaeuser built a dam here to move the logs on the river faster and prevent log jams. Once the logging business faded, the dam was used to provide electrical power while the new dam at St. Croix Falls was being built. The dam no longer exists.
I was only ten miles from St. Croix Falls, so I stayed on River Rd. and headed to it.
I quickly learned when I arrived in St. Croix Falls that there were no falls. A hydroelectric dam replaced the falls in the early 20th century. A Marker at Overlook Park in the city center says, “We once had a mill by the dam site, but now we only have a dam at the mill site.” It is a massive dam.
Well said, but there is plenty to see and do here. Let’s start with the dam.
When I first got to Overlook Park, I couldn't immediately figure out what I saw. I saw a calm,”table-top” body of water resting on what looked like a shelf. I could barely see that water going down over a dam. You have to cross the river to see the water over the dam.
This is a “no foolin’-around-dam.” It is a concrete arch-gravity dam with an S-shaped spillway and a hydroelectric power station. It is 60 ft. high. It generates 25.0 megawatts of power. That’s enough to power over 4,000 homes.
The Interstate Park shared by Wisconsin and Minnesota on both sides of the St. Croix River is a paradise for campers, hikers, photographers, and visitors wanting to observe spectacular scenery. I visited it twice, once on a cloudy day in June 2016 and once on a sunny day in October; I’ll share a few photos with you here.
Like these two kayakers, it’s time to move down the St. Croix. We have come a long way, about 80 miles the way the crow flies, about 100 river miles, and a bunch more roaming in and out of all the gravel roads! It was great fun. We have about 40 miles to reach the point where the St. Croix merges with the Mississippi.
Osceola is only about seven miles from St. Croix Falls. Bluffs along the St. Croix river become noticeable and inviting, especially for hikers and campers. A careful eye will notice a dog swimming across in the middle of the photo to fetch his stick!
As is often the case along the St. Croix river, two kayakers are heading upstream. This is the Osceola Rd-Minnesota Hwy 243 bridge crossing.
I will now highlight my laziness. I took this photo of Cascade Falls in downtown Osceola from the deck on Cascade St. I was tired out, and the sign said 135 steps to the waterfall. The waterfall takes a 25 ft. drop and flows into the St. Croix. Please don’t be lazy like me. Go down there. I will next time.
Getting to the St. Croix River by car from Osceola southward is rough until you reach the shoreline across from Stillwater, Minnesota. There is plenty to see and do in between these two points, but you’ll have to be on foot or have a drone!
Once you reach Houlton, Wisconsin, you can glimpse Stillwater. There she is! I go there a lot. It is a great place, with lots of tourists, but a great place nonetheless. Here is your glimpse. I urge you to visit.
My next stop is Hudson. I have always liked Hudson. It is a quaint little town. It is an authentic river town. You are only 20 miles or so east of Minneapolis-St. Paul, known as “The Cities.”
The people of Hudson are doing their best to preserve the historic downtown and remain a semi-rural suburban community, despite “The Cities” and I-94.
I came to Kinnickinnic State park on the St. Croix by visiting River Falls, which is inland from the St. Croix River. The Kinnickinnic river flows into the St. Croix. The state park is located where the two rivers join. There are plenty of hiking trails.
I recall walking down a pave decline at the park to get to the junction of the Kinnickinnic and St. Croix rivers. You will see a sizeable sandy delta when you get there. It was a beautiful sight. Going back up the paved decline was, well, good exercise. You will see a sizeable sandy delta.
After leaving Kinnickinnic, I made a bee-line to Prescott and the point at which the St. Croix merges with the Mighty Mississippi. The river upper left in this photo is the Mississippi. The one to the lower right is the St. Croix. Magnificent spot.
Prescott marked the end of a long car ride I shall cherish forever. Seeing the BNSF Railroad Lift Bridge joining Prescott with Point Douglas, Minnesota, was also a fabulous experience. This is one heckuva bridge, a fitting end to my tour of the St. Croix, a magnificent river.
As an aside, I recommend driving over to Point Douglas Park to get your best views of the two mighty rivers meeting up.