Monday, February 11, 2013

Running Willow River

I’d like to share with you a wonderful running location not 10 minutes from my front door in NW Wisconsin called Willow River State Park.  This 3000 acre gem can be reached from the Cities by taking I-94 into Wisconsin, and heading north on Hwy 12 (exit 4) for a few miles.  The swimming isn't much (unless you prefer your bathwater green), but the trails are great and getting better.

From spring to fall, I can get up to 15 miles of trail without backtracking (much), allowing me to mix up my runs a bit.  In the winter, you get about 6 miles, which I’m not complaining about.  The park trails, like most up here, are limited to skiers only.  I struggle with the ethics of this: limiting park access to those with the means, or only to those who chose to ski.  But heck, I’ll take the 6 miles.  Here are some of the pictures I took on last weekend's run.

The Falls is beautiful any time of the year.  In the Winter, it is exceptionally so.  You are greeted with a fully frozen cascade with fractal-like ice formations; to totally free running free, and anything in between.  This is a great place to climb too!

Willow River Falls - partially frozen

What's nice about this falls is that you can scramble up and along (and even behind) it along both sides.  This falls was reborn recently when a dam was removed.  You can see the spillway along the right (southern) rock wall.
Willow River Falls - a closeup of the runoff

There are many hills in the park, many exceeding 250 feet or so, with lots of smaller rollers.  It doesn't take long to get 2,000+ feet of climb in an afternoon!
Running along the bluff edge

One of the many hills to climb

A view of the river along the southern bluff...

... and from the northern bluff

The park offers about 6 miles of trail for pedestrian use during the winter.  The path varies from ski-grade groomed to lightly trampled singletrack.  Fun!
Miles of some pretty interesting running

Run 1 – starts at the River Road parking lot, and runs along the southern park boundary, returning along the southern edge of Little Falls Lake.  This will get you about 10 miles.

Run 2 – starts at the same location, and runs north of Little Falls Lake.  This is a new section of trail that is nearly completed.  It started out a single track scout-trail, which was fantastic.  Now you can drive a jeep down the trail.  Oh well.  Then return to the falls along the lake, back along the southern boundary and then returning along the north side of the lake.  This will get you up to 15 miles.
Park trail map
I hope you all get a chance to check out this park during any season, it is well worth the visit!