A Visit to St. Croix State Park


Our first camping trip as adults was at St. Croix State Park in 2006. One of the most popular state parks in Minnesota, it was a favorite camping destination for my family when I was a kid. A relatively short drive from home with lots of hiking, bike and canoe rentals, and interpretive activities, they also had a little store in case you forgot anything. We decided this was the perfect location to test our camping skills and eagerly hit the road for the weekend with our borrowed gear.

Our campsite in 2006, #211
Our campsite in 2006, #211

That outing all those years ago reawakened my love of camping though there were many anxious moments as I sat by the fire the first night. Surrounded by the wildness of the woods on a pitch black night with no moon, the trees were alive with noises – noises attached to eyes that glowed when I pointed my flashlight into the darkness. I listened closely trying to identify each sound while soothing Danny who growled with apprehension; he was a bona fide city dog and this was his first camping adventure ever.

Several tents and many camping trips later, Danny sleeps through the mysterious sounds in the darkness now and we’ve graduated to “scamping” in our small Scamp travel trailer. Last month we headed back to St. Croix to see if it still held the same magic nine years later and this time we brought some friends along.

Getting a later start than we had anticipated, we arrived at the park after dark. In the warm glow of our trusty lantern, we got set up quickly while a light rain fell. Walking down the road in search of the bathroom, my senses felt confused. Things didn’t feel quite the same, I decided it was just because it was dark. But the next morning under the bright light of the sun, the park still didn’t feel the same. Where were the dense woods filled with raccoons? Had they just seemed more spectacular then because I hadn’t been camping in years? I kept my disorientation to myself. The park was still beautiful, it really didn’t matter. Hours later, our last friend arrived. His drive up had been uneventful but he was stunned by the size of the blowdown area driving into the park – a sight we missed by arriving in the evening.

St Croix State Park habitat restoration area

How had we forgotten about the devastating storm that hit the St. Croix Valley on July 1, 2011? It only took the storm a few minutes to blow through the park, but its 100 mph winds damaged 13,000 of the park’s 34,000-acre forests and left it closed for nearly three months. Since then, a multiphase habitat recovery effort has been underway that included logging, controlled burns and restoration.

St. Croix State Park is still a perfect destination, but it holds a different beauty now. Four years after the blowdown the prairie is returning and the restoration work continues. The 2011 storm damaged 97,000 acres of trees in the St. Croix River Valley. Within the confines of the park, however, one is able to see the resilience of nature and that time really can heal wounds.
Prairie returns to St. Croix State Park

Learn more about the St. Croix State Park restoration effort.

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By Heidi Van Heel
Heidi Van Heel

Heidi Van Heel

Writer, freelancer, and believer in magic living in Minneapolis. In my free time, I love reading, exploring the great outdoors, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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