Despite freezing temps and the snow-covered scene before me, I’m sweating beneath my pack and the brilliant sunshine. The cold is, of course, predictable as I’m just an hour and a half outside the Twin Cities in midwinter. What I couldn’t have guessed, however, is the effect winter has on this wilderness. The Northwoods’ familiar scent of birch mingled with spruce and pine is somehow stronger. The evergreens themselves look even prettier under pillows of snow, and the usual silence is magnified. But as lovely as this winter wonderland is, I’d still rather not camp on a bed of snow, which is why I’m snowshoeing 5 miles to an elevated shelter. I love winter, but not that much.
Distance: 11.3 miles (out and back)
Time: 2 days
From St. Croix Lodge
(1) Head 1.6 miles north on the right branch of an unnamed loop trail to a junction.
(2) Take the bypass .1 mile west to unpaved St. John’s Road (closed to vehicles in winter).
(3) Link up with the road for 2 miles to St. John’s Landing at mile 3.8.
(4) Veer north (hiker’s left) through gate #14 and continue .7 mile to another fork.
(5) Proceed .3 mile east onto the Matthew Lourey State Trail.
(6) Turn north onto Crooked Creek Trail and walk another .4 mile to a Y-junction.
(7) Stay left and take the spur .4 mile to Crooked Creek campground.
(8) Retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Crooked Creek (mile 5.7)
Nab one of two three-walled Civilian Conservation Corps shelters that overlook the wetlands to the northeast ($13 or $15, depending on season) so you can get off the snowy ground at night. Each has raised sleeping platforms for three people and a fire pit outside.
With woodlands, rivers, and swamps, St. Croix is home to hundreds of bird species. Print out the checklist at bit.do/stcroixbirds and see how many you can ID. In winter, look for northern cardinals, red-tailed hawks, purple finches, and a number of owls, including screech, snowy, long-, and short-eared.
You can usually snowshoe or cross-country ski in winter, but call ahead to check: Last year’s milder winter, for example, left trails snow-free. Spring brings wildflowers, summer is best for paddling, and the sugar maples and birches turn in fall.
- State: MN
- City: Minneapolis, MN
- Distance: 11.3
- Contact: bit.do/StCroixSP
- Land Type: State Park