Wisconsin’s Interstate Park Hiking — Dalles, Potholes, and an Old Mine

As I continue working towards my goal of visiting every Wisconsin State Park, I sometimes wonder what rhyme or reason there is to the order in which I go. Turns out, there is no order. BUT if there had been an order, a logical one would be in order of date of establishment. If I had done that, Interstate State Park or Interstate Park, would have been first on my list.

Located directly across the St. Croix River from Minnesota’s Interstate Park, Wisconsin’s Interstate Park became Wisconsin’s first state park in 1900. (It was Minnesota’s second state park.)

As this park is a 4 1/2 hour drive from my home, we camped in the park and made a long weekend of the trip. The camping was…well, I’ll cover that in a different post. The hiking, though, that part of the trip was wonderful. Scenic and full of both natural and human history.

Links to follow along:

Park Website
Park Maps
Trail Descriptions

Where are we in the world?

Interstate State Park is located about an hour northeast of Minneapolis, and 1 hour and 40 minutes northwest of Eau Claire.

Let’s hike!

Here we hiked a few different trails as they are shorter. We started with the Pothole Trail, then hiked the Summit Rock Trail, to the Echo Canyon Trail, to the Lake O’ the Dalles Trail. We then drove to a different part of the park to hike the Silverbrook Trail. The first part is noted in pink highlighting on the map.

Pothole Trail

Distance: .4 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy – this trail has little elevation but does require walking on rocks and uneven surfaces
Description: This short trail packs a punch with scenic river views, geological formations, and status as the Western Terminus of the Ice Age Trail

This trail has a small parking area at the trailhead. Since this is one of the more popular trails in the park, there is also an overflow parking lot a short walk away. We were camping at the park and did a “cold start” breakfast (no fire,) so we were able to get on the trail by 8am.

The trail starts with a few rock steps and then works its way to the river.

At the river, a plaque marks the Western Terminus of the Ice Age Trail.

While this is a scenic spot to start the 1,200 mile trail, it’s a little weird, in my opinion. The trail begins about halfway through the Pothole Trail loop, meaning to officially hike the Ice Age Trail, you have to go out a little ways on the Pothole Trail before backtracking. I guess in the scale of 1,200 miles, what’s another .25 miles?

This trail offers stunning views of the Dalles of the St. Croix River. What is a dalles, you ask? (Maybe you didn’t ask, but I did. So I looked it up.) A dalles is “a deep, narrow stream confined between the rock walls of a canyon or gorge.”

From this vantage point you can see the basalt cliffs that make up the walls of the dalles. On the other side of the river is Minnesota’s Interstate Park.

Near the river, hikers can see the potholes this trail is named for. I’ve seen these before in rivers, but never of this size.

These potholes were formed during a time when this rock was underwater. Sand and small rocks moving in a current would swirl and grind down the rock in a circular hole. Some of these holes are up to 6 feet wide and 12 feet deep.

Across the river you can also see the “Taylor Falls Princess,” which offers scenic boat tours of the St. Croix River. Some of them include wine and music, which sounds like a great time.

Puppy photo op! I swear there was a sky up there, it was just covered in haze from the Canadian wildfires, which plagued our summer.

More of the potholes, these ones smaller in size.

After completing the short loop of the Pothole Trail, we moved our car to the parking area at the beginning of the Summit Rock and Echo Canyon Trails

Summit Rock and Echo Canyon Trails

Distance: .5 and .7 mile loops (respectively)
Difficulty: Easy – a few areas with 10-15 steps, but otherwise little elevation gain
Description: While separate trails, these two trails make a loop towards the river and the highest point on the bluffs.

This trail works its way up towards the river.

In a few spots, rock staircases lead the way.

This trail is littered with various rocks of all sizes on both sides.

Once the trail approaches the river, a wooden staircase takes you to the lookout area. From here, you can see the Pothole Trail area.

Apparently you can also see the “Old Man of the Dalles” rock formation from here. It’s located upriver, towards the bridge on the Wisconsin side of the river. I didn’t know to look for it, so I didn’t capture it. (Apparently I should have taken the boat tour to learn about it!) Or a sign would have been nice.

I rarely do this, but I’m borrowing a photo from another source to show the formation. (Click on the photo for photo credit.) See the face? After looking at this picture, I’m not entirely sure where this rock formation is on the river, so I might have missed it anyway. Oh well. Onward!

From the observation point, the trail curls towards the Echo Rock Trail and the parking area.

The trail travels through Echo Canyon, an old riverbed surrounded by canyon walls.

In some spots, the rock walls get quite high.

I see a face in this rock formation!

The Echo Canyon trail spills onto the north shore of the Lake O’ the Dalles and onto the Lake O’ the Dalles Trail.

Lake O’ the Dalles Trail

Distance: 1 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy
Description: This flat trail circles the entire Lake O’ the Dalles

The Lake O’ the Dalles is a 25 acre lake that offers fishing, swimming, and nonmotorized boating. The lake was very still on this day, making for a neat reflection of the trees on the water.

The sky again is a wildfire smoke background. One of the trees around that lake had a large bald eagle nest in it. We saw mama eagle circling the lake trying to fish. We got to witness a few (unsuccessful) dives into the water. As we neared the nest we could hear the needy calls of the hungry young birds.

The trail follows close to the lake the entire way around.

The east side of the lake is home to the beach area. It was deserted as I was there on a Friday morning, but I can see how this beach would be a popular spot in the summer.

Time for another puppy photo op! That’s a classic Moxxi side-eye look right there.

After visiting the beach area, we made the short walk back to the parking area. From there, we drove to the next trailhead, accessed by leaving the park and driving a few minutes away.

Here we planned to check out the Silverbrook Trail, but only hiked the small area highlighted in pink as the trail was very overgrown with tall grass. I like a meadow trail, but I don’t mess around with narrow meadow trails and they increase your exposure to ticks.

The parking area for this trailhead is off highway S. It’s small and comes up fast, so keep your eyes open.

We started by heading towards the old mine. We met a friend along the way! Although I’m not sure she saw it that way. Her camouflage was good, it took Moxxi a decent while to spot her. In hindsight, probably too long to spot her. My dog isn’t the most observant creature.

A few fenced off areas announce your arrival at the mine. Strangely, there is no information posted at the mine itself, but instead a phone number to call for more information. I did not have service at the time in the forest, so I was unable to do this while on site.

I did, however, call the phone number later, and learned this site is part of a trial the Wisconsin State Parks are doing to include audio information in parks. I also went to the website listed for the hearing impaired, and found all the audio stops in the park, their script, and photos not provided through the audio only version.

Thanks to the audio tour, let me sum up the history of this mine.

The Holbert family was drawn to this land in the 1890’s with the hopes of mining copper. They built a 25 room summer house on the land, along with a ski run, copper smelter, and several mine shafts, including one 600 feet deep. Arguing the value of the land, the Holberts delayed the creating of Interstate Park by arguing it was too valuable. The Holberts sold their property in 1908, due to less than expected copper returns. The home on the land was eventually sold to the park and demolished in 1974. (Info and photo credit)

One of the shafts is evident by the fence surrounding it.

A fence also surrounds the remnants of the ruins of the copper smelter.

Looking back and knowing what I know now, it would have been much more meaningful in the moment to know the history of the land I was standing on. If I had enough cell service to call the number, that would have worked well. I totally get that putting that much information on a sign, and then paying for the upkeep of that sign, is a lot.

Either way, after checking out the mine, we headed back towards the waterfall.

Nestled in the hillside, the 18 foot waterfall was a cute and picturesque stop.

From the waterfall, the plan was to loop through the Silverbrook Trail, which travels through a meadow. We started out on it, but quickly found it too overgrown for our comfort level. I like a meadow trail, but not at the expense of numerous ticks.

After calling the meadow trail quits, we ended our hike for the day.

While not the longest or the most difficult hiking available, the trails did offer a variety of scenery, natural history, and local history. It’s easy to see why this land was made a state park so quickly to become our first state park.

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