St. Croix River II
Osceola to Somerset Landing
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
A scenic last stretch of St. Croix National Scenic Riverway that is surrounded by tall cliffs, rolling bluffs, sloughs, gigantic islands, a quaint retro railroad bridge and the cute-as-a-button river towns of Osceola and Marine on St. Croix.
August 11, 2012
St. Croix Falls: ht/ft: 2.97 | cfs: 2,500
We recommend this level and water levels are almost always reliable. (Note: if you’re interested in only the rapids at St Croix Falls, you’ll want a minimum of 7,000 cfs for play opportunities.)
Osceola landing (technically on the Minnesota side of the river).
Somerset Landing, St. Croix County, Wisconsin
Time: Put in at 2:30p. Out at 5:00p.
Total Time: 2h 30m
Miles Paddled: 9.75
Wildlife: Turtles, frogs, an osprey and lots of mussels.
Time worth driving to: 2 hours given the riverside camping options.
After a two-year hiatus (see St. Croix I), I finally returned to complete the penultimate segment of the great St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. If a 9.75-mile paddle is too skimpy for you, by all means tack on another 5.5 and begin at Interstate State Park further upstream. Or better yet, tackle the rapids and be blown away by the awesome gorge and dalles geology another half-mile from the park’s put-ins. (Again, see St. Croix I.) But this stretch makes for a very pleasant day of paddling. I personally didn’t have a whole lot of time, so I hustled but this could be a great lazy float-trip with numerous sandbars and islands to picnic on and/or camp at (for free no less!).
What we liked:
The put-in itself is picturesque, with the town of Osceola, Wisconsin set above you (literally), along with a plummeting waterfall, a cute bridge, a sandy beach and a cliff on the badger state-side at least a couple hundred feet high. All that before you even get in your boat! The scenery is just lovely as can be, reminiscent of the lower Wisconsin river. Federally protected, you feel like you’re part of something special. That and it’s kinda cool that on your right is Minnesota and on the left, Wisconsin. Not exceptionally wide, the experience is still quaint. Sandstone cliffs small and tall run parallel virtually the entire trip, as does a train track on the Wisconsin side for about half the paddle. There are excellent put-in and take-out points throughout. And did I mention that it’s free to camp at the official sites!? Each is well-marked and smartly spread out for the sake of privacy.
On the bike shuttle back to my car the young curmudgeon in me had to gladly begrudge a stubborn smile at the whimsy and serendipity of people at our most random. Quite utterly in the middle of nowhere I passed a red barn with William Carlos William’s Red Wheelbarrow poem engraved in large letters on its broadside facing the road. Who knows the politics of the farmer(s) (St. Croix County isn’t much known for its bleeding heart liberalism) but this bit of kismet won my heart over. Across the road was an entranceway to a state natural area I had never heard of before: Standing Cedars, a cool community land conservancy.
What we didn’t like:
It was a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon but not too hot when I rolled into Osceola. Parking was impossible. The main lot is all but totally designated for boats with trailers, no exceptions. (I tried to park there and was kindly told to go elsewhere by one of the rangers.) I’m hardly wild about being put in my place by powerboats, but what can you do? It would be remiss of me not to point out this other factor about the Osceola landing: it’s like a transfer point for a busline, busy with canoe rentals heading downstream from Interstate State Park. Busses and trailers alike come and go like clockwork. Fortunately for this segment, most folks end at Osceola but the put-in is always busy on a summer weekend.
This lower segment of the St. Croix is not often associated with swift current. Not a big deal, but I thought I’d mention it.
Lastly, if solitude is what you seek, paddle elsewhere (starting many more miles upstream ideally). There will be river traffic, be it canoe rentals, kayaks, powerboats, or jet skis. It is a lovely stretch but a purist might be put off by the hoi polloi.
If we did this trip again:
I would, for sure, but there are many other segments of the St. Croix (not to mention other rivers in this neck of the Wisconsin woods) that I will explore first before returning.
St. Croix River I: St. Croix Falls to Osceola
Camp: Interstate State Park
General: National Park Service
Good People: Friends of the St. Croix Headwaters
Good People: Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District
Guide: Paddling Northern Wisconsin
Guide: Wisconsin Trail Guide
Overview: Wisconsin Guides
Video: St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers
Wikipedia: St. Croix River
10.7 miles. It’s not often when the pedal and paddle are nearly equidistant. This is a hilly ride though, let me put that out there. From the very beginning, it’s a steep and fairly unforgiving climb from the river to the main road. If you’ve ever been at the Wyalusing boat launch, you can appreciate such an ascent. After that though the ride is never so strenuous. Idyllic and isolated, I was not past by a single car the entire time. Plus you pass a barn with a William Carlos Williams poem engraved on it!
Note: If you are driving and not riding a bike, you’ll probably want just to get back on Highway 35 from Polk-St. Croix Road (aka County Line Road), as it is much faster and more direct.