By Amy Bayer
Home to more than 400 lakes and streams – including one of the most popular tubing rivers in Wisconsin: the Apple River – as well as one state forest, two state parks, three state trails, the northwest trailhead to the 1,100-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and several miles along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, Polk County has countless natural wonders. With so many areas to choose from, we’ve narrowed the list down to seven natural scenic spots to see for yourself when you head up North.
In total, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway covers more than 250 miles of mostly undeveloped shoreline along the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers. Of the two rivers, it’s the St. Croix that forms the western border of Polk County. Known for abundant wildlife and quiet water canoeing, the route is lined with several paddling outfitters who would be happy to rent, shuttle and/or guide you along the way.
For those who would prefer to see water from the shore, there are seven trails along the riverway, including the Indian Head Flowage Trail. This level route is adjacent to Lion’s Park in St. Croix Falls with bridged stream crossings and a winding path through woods and wetlands.
Straight Lake is a pristine wild lake that is drained by the Trade and Straight rivers. In addition, this area contains an 850-acre area of mature forest with century-old trees. The property surrounding Straight Lake is home to a state park, Tunnel Channel Woods State Natural Area, Straight Lake Wildlife Area, and a 3.6-mile section of the Ice Age Trail.
The park trails are only open for foot traffic, preserving this natural habitat for a wide range of animals including bears, otters, beavers, deer and porcupine.
Located near the center of Polk County, the DD Kennedy County Park is a 106-acre preserve located between Amery and Balsam Lake.
The Balsam Branch River flows through the park and provides a beautiful backdrop for hiking, fishing and cross-country skiing through open prairie and abundant woods. A prairie restoration area features native grasses and wildflowers, providing ample birdwatching opportunities. While at the park, you can also check out the dam and millpond.
This 1,100-acre property is filled with deep, wooded ravines, rare native prairie habitats, forests and wetlands. The land is being preserved to help protect rapidly diminishing native species.
There are several hiking trails, including a popular route in the southern section. The Englewood and Ski Hill trails will take you across area hills with spectacular views and down to the St. Croix River. There is a spring where water bubbles up through the sand to the south of the path along the river. Just north of this trail on the eastern edge of the property is a hillside prairie. For more information, check out the information kiosk located on 280th Street, just north of 20th Avenue.
Located on the northern edge of Amery, York Park offers 40 acres of urban mixed hardwood forest on a hilly site, a boggy wetland, and a quarter mile of undeveloped shore along Pike Lake.
There are three miles of gravel trails to hike, or watch nature from a viewing platform. You'll see several species of songbirds in the woods, as well as loons, bald eagles, osprey, and a variety of ducks and herons on the lake.
Osceola Bedrock Glades is a large complex of rocky features and includes a distinctive environment exceptionally rich in ferns, mosses and fungi. This particular ecosystem is extremely rare and was formed by lava flows more than a billion years ago.
The Ridge View Trail has a path that travels through deciduous woods along the bluffs and includes views of the St. Croix River backwaters. This unique area offers an easy hike with stunning views.
Located just east of Frederic, this village-owned property contains a 54-acre lake with undeveloped public shoreline and is bordered by 80 acres of hardwood forest. With more than three miles of trails groomed for skiing in the winter, and also are perfect for hiking in the spring, summer and fall. Be prepared for glorious fall color when the leaves change.
There is a boat ramp and fishing pier along the eastern shore so you can see the area from the water if you’d prefer. And if you feel like going for a walk, along Lake Avenue on the west there is an observation point to view the lake and neighboring woods.
Want to discover more wonders? Check out these seven statewide natural wonders, and keep an eye on TravelWisconsin.com as we roll out more articles on scenic wonders by county.