Hiking in Wisconsin’s Interstate Park

St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin • Daily or annual park fee

st croix river with cliffs to the left
The St. Croix River shoreline (Minnesota is across on the right shore)

Wisconsin’s Interstate Park has, hands-down, some of the best, most scenic hiking within an hour of the Twin Cities metro.

The St. Croix River, the forest, the many craggy rocks and boulders, the hills, the bluffs overlooking the river—all these contribute to make this park a winner for hikers.

I spent a glorious few hours there one day last October, while the yellow maples were in their peak fall color.

Here’s the trail map (courtesy of Wisconsin DNR) for reference as I bring you through the trails I hiked that day:

Eagle Peak Trail

Eagle Peak Trail, as its name makes obvious, takes you to Eagle Peak, the highest point in the park. Unfortunately, when the leaves are on the trees you can’t see much!

eagle peak hiking trail overlook
The view from Eagle Peak—not much to see when the leaves are on the trees!

But the woods are still beautiful, and it was worth doing. I only took the section leading to the peak, not the longer section down to South Campground.

An advantage of this trail is it’s right next to South and Pines Group campgrounds. A very pretty area with huge mature pines, along with lots of maple, oak and others, too.

It’s short and would be a great hike for families with younger children. A few steps and some uphill climbs, but not bad

hiking trail covered in fall leaves, next to a big boulder
The trail can be hiding under a carpet of leaves in the fall!

Horizon Rock Trail

Horizon and Potholes Trails can be accessed from the same parking lot, on the other end of the park from Eagle Point. It’s very close to North Campground.

Horizon Rock Trail takes us away from the river and climbs into a gorgeous maple and oak forest. I felt like I was in Lothlórien, in Tolkien’s world—the golden wood.

yellow maple trees in the fall
The gorgeous golden colors of fall

A steady but gentle climb takes us to some wonderful overlooks of the St. Croix River and river valley.

hiking trail overlooking a forest and st croix river valley in early fall
Overlooking the St. Croix River valley from Horizon Rock Trail

One very cool thing about this trail: It’s part of the very western-most end of Wisconsin’s 1,200-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Potholes Trail

The Potholes Trail is the very end of the Ice Age Trail, and starts directly across the park road from Horizon Rock Trail.

This short trail is super gorgeous because of its several overlooks of the St. Croix Dalles from the steep cliffs along the shore (dalles are river rapids between the walls of a gorge or canyon).

This particular view is, in my opinion, the most dramatic view of the St. Croix in the entire park:

st croix river gorge, between treed cliff sides
This section of the St. Croix River is especially dramatic

The potholes themselves are nothing to write home about, being very small compared to the ones on the Minnesota side, just across the river. But hey, they’re potholes!

glacial potholes on the Wisconsin side of the river
The glacial potholes carved out of the stone

Summit Rock, Echo Canyon and River Bluff Trails

These are separate loops, but I highly recommend doing them as a unit as they’re the best trails in the park.

Steep climbs, big rocks and boulders everywhere, towering trees, high bluffs with stunning views of the St. Croix River, and downhills that bring you next to the shoreline.

beautiful hiking trail in the woods with mature pines and large boulders
The structure of this area has a definite “wow” factor!

It’s one of those trails where I would often stop and just say, “Wow!”

Looking at the park map, this set of trail loops is between the river and Lake O’ the Dalles. It doesn’t matter where you start, it’s all beautiful.

riverboat on the st croix river in early fall
A riverboat makes its way upstream on the St. Croix River (Minnesota shore on the far side)

In the fall when the leaves cover much of the forest floor it can be a bit tricky to see where the trail goes in some places. Sometimes you just have to give it your best guess. The woods aren’t thick, though, so if you end up off-trail it’s not hard to get back on.

If you have young children who love running off to explore, these trails will probably be stressful! Lots of cliff edges here that are high above the river.

The Bottom Line

If you love to hike and you haven’t visited Wisconsin’s Interstate Park, you need to go today!

Give yourself plenty of time because you’ll want to take time to explore. The trails are short enough that you can get several in during one trip.

I went on a perfect autumn weekday and saw a handful of others using the trails. I’m sure weekends are busier, and summer busier still.

But you don’t want to stay away from this local jewel…even if it is in Packer territory 🙂

a section of hiking trail above the river with trees
A section of the River Bluff Trail

What About the Winter?

Many of the trails are open during the winter months. The same map as above has a Winter Recreation Trail marked on it.

It’s multi-use for winter hikers and snowshoers (leashed dogs welcome). The Skyline Trail is groomed for cross country skiing, with only skiers allowed (intermediate difficulty).

It’s helpful that the map tells us the trail difficulty for winter use. Let’s us know what kind of workout to expect, and therefore how to dress.

How to Get There

Minnesota Highway 8 (which exits off 35 just north of Forest Lake) will take you all the way over there. If you’re on the east side of the Cities, make your way to Highway 95 and head north. It joins 8 for a little while, so just follow the signs to Wisconsin.

Once you cross the bridge, head up the hill and watch for the brown signs on the right which will direct you to the park.

Hiking Guide cover

Twin Cities Hiking & Trail Running Guide

Published in 2020 and updated in 2023, our 48-page digital Hiking & Trail Running Guide is the easiest way to find hiking and running trails in all seven counties of the Twin Cities metro area.

Click here for the details…

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Sharon Brodin
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