William O’Brien State Park: A Feast for the Eyes

One of the tranquil views from the Prairie Overlook Trail in William O’Brien State Park.

Russ and I meandered south a couple of hours to camp along the St. Croix River in William O’Brien State Park. We chose the park mainly for the location – we wanted to visit the river towns of Stillwater and Afton, both of which are not far south – but we plan to return again someday because of the great accommodations and the views – oh, the views!

Visitor can choose from two campgrounds at the park. We chose the Riverway Campground because it was closest to the river, and we are water people. After setting up camp our first night, we visited Stillwater and took advantage of its foodie options. We ate at the Marx Fusion Bistro – excellent food and drinks – much better than camp food. That was a treat for us — who usually camp in the middle of nowhere.

Back at our trailer, we enjoyed a fire and a visit from three fat racoons who quickly checked our site for food. Finding none, they waddled off to the next site.

The next morning, we walked the 1.6-mile Riverside Loop Trail near the campground. The trail passes through old white pines along the river and then turns inland a bit, meandering by Lake Alice, which is named after the daughter of William O’Brien, a lumberman who used to own the land that’s now the park. Two bald eagles graced us with their presence, performing aerial acrobatics.

Later, we took a nine-mile (round-trip) bike ride to the small town of Marine on St. Croix. We explored its short main street and stopped to visit an old lumber mill site featuring a short trail and interpretive signs. The mercantile in town looked like it could accommodate any forgotten food needs, plus there’s a coffee shop that touts its cold-press coffee as “best in the valley.”

We sipped our coffee while sitting in the town’s gazebo/band stand in a small park just across the street from the shop. The town was so quaint and picturesque, I felt like I was in a gosh darn Hallmark Channel movie.

A view of the St. Croix River from the Riverside Trail. I call this one, “X Marks the Spot.”

After supper, we revisited the Riverside Trail and made good use of one of its benches to watch the moon rise above the clouds lining the river. Barred owls hooted their “who cooks for you?” calls and Canada geese honked as they flew to their nightly roosting waters.

As we fell asleep back inside our trailer, the quiet of the night was interrupted by a pack of coyotes who yipped to each other.

On our final morning in the park, we drove a few miles to hike the Prairie Overlook trail through a restored oak savanna. The trail loops around a small lake. As I hope my photos attest, everywhere we looked was a feast for the eye. Seas of sumac had turned red and lined the trail.

The day was overcast, and the rain conveniently waited until we reached our car to begin. The drops came down, steady and persistent, so once back at the campground, we packed up and headed home.

8 thoughts on “William O’Brien State Park: A Feast for the Eyes

  1. What a beautiful place! Both your descriptions and photos are wonderful. My Swedish ancestors settled in Stillwater and Marine on St. Croix.

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