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LENGTH 6.5 miles
DIFFICULTY Easy to Moderate (hills)
DATE Sept 30, 2017
MAIN FEATURES Training Hills, Prairies, Bluffs & the St Croix River
I was a little surprised to see that I have not reviewed Afton State Park yet! It’s my go to park when I want some hills and variety of terrain without driving very far outside of the city.
The park has many features, including the infamous “campground hill”. Some of my favorites are the wild flowers, views of the St Croix River and birdwatching. It was a 3 bald eagle day! Established in 1969, the park also features a restored prairie and is only about a 30-40 minute drive outside of Minneapolis/St Paul. I haven’t been to the park in the winter, but there are cross country ski and snow shoe signs all over the trail.
I can’t remember the last time I hiked alone, I am always with another person, my dog or a big group of Scouts. Today’s hike (#41 of my 52 Hike Challenge) ended up being just me, so I took the opportunity to hike at my own pace and basically just try to end up back at the car without getting lost.
I usually drive to the center of the park to start a hike at Afton, but today I parked at the Ranger’s office at the entrance and headed to the Deer Valley loop, a side I haven’t explored much. About a mile in, panic set in and I realized that I drove the WRONG CAR….the one WITHOUT the State Park pass! I told myself that things happen for a reason, and parking right next to the ranger station miraculously ended up NOT getting me a ticket. Whew! …pay your entrance fees.
The Deer Valley Loop starts on a paved bike trail and pops under the road to a narrow remote trail that looked more like an animal trail covered with leaves today, than the typical wide well-travelled trails. It was wonderful while it lasted!
From the Deer Valley loop, I quickly found myself in one of the prairie restoration areas and then at the familiar main picnic area and parking lot. It was a busy day at the picnic area since the weather was nice but didn’t see too many folks on the trail.
The main picnic area has a nice shelter, visitor center and trails that head down to the river. Above the swimming area is an overlook of the River, then the trail descends down a set of stairs into another beach area with a swimming area and more picnic spots.
From the picnic area, the trail goes to “Campground hill”, which is about a half mile hill that feels like it’s going straight up! They even have a nice little bench if you need a rest half way up. We’ve backpacked here before and like the spots on the East side of the trail since they are more sheltered and wooded. The spots on the West side are in the prairie with a few trees, but a little more exposed.
Just past the backpacking campsites is my favorite section of the trail. A little stretch of Pine forest with a warm bed of fragrant pine needles carpeting the trail. I wish more of the trail was like this section, it reminded me of Savanna Portage State Park. I typically like to take a little break in this spot just to soak it in.
The Pine forest was about the mid point of my loop. I headed back through the prairie and hillier part of the trail back through the Afton Alpine Ski hill and saw a yurt off in the distance. Don’t these nice people make camping in a yurt look like fun? Yurt camping is available at Afton State Park, but this seemed like a strange place for a Yurt (at the bottom of the bunny hill, right by the ski lifts…maybe they are building a new one?) I would LOVE to check out the Yurts and hit the trail on snow shoes, perhaps this winter.
Have you been to Afton State Park? Would love to hear about your experience!
Stay tuned for a couple of gear reviews I’m working on, the Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt and how Smartwool Tanks and Tees performed on today’s hike and over a 3 day camping trip in 90+ degree temps last weekend! Whew!