Willow River State Park

We spent some time at Willow River State Park (WI) today. It’s a pretty sweet park, and barely an hours drive from the cities. I’ve written about it a couple times before. As usual, Willow Falls are the highlight of the park, and they were packed with people swimming, wading, and jumping in the water.

Willow River State Park.

I even jumped in myself!

That’s a gold medal right there.

We also took the canoe out on the lake for a bit, and here’s a tip: right across the lake from the beach, there’s a cool rope swing for jumping into the lake.

Willow River State Park.

If you live in the Twin Cities and you’ve never been to Willow River State Park, I recommend you check it out. It’s a pretty cool place to spend a saturday.

Afton State Park

Happy late 4th of July. Oh jeez, it was hot as balls outside on the 4th.

It being independence day and all, Mel and I really wanted to do the most American thing we could think of. But sitting around in our cool air-conditioned living room watching MASH re-runs on MeTV and eating pizza just seemed a bit wasteful of a day off, so we decided to go to the beach instead. We wanted to go someplace we’d never been before, so we just started googling around and found Afton State Park, which offers a “swimming beach” according to the website.

We drove out to the park, and found it to be beautiful and pleasant.

Beautiful Trails.

Except for this:

Sad Trombone.

Nothing says state park like a high-voltage transmission line.

At any rate, we discovered that after you park the car, the beach is about a half-mile walk down some trails.

Fat Lips won’t stop us.

The beach wasn’t what we were expecting, but it turned out to be pretty perfect for us. The beach is actually more of a small sandbar along the river with trees growing all over it. If you were expecting a wide expanse of sand, or great tanning conditions, you’d be disappointed.


But anyone with a toddler knows that direct sun isn’t always the best thing in the world because we don’t want to accidentally burn our daughter and end up like Tanning Mom.

Shady Beach.

So we enjoyed the shady beach, went swimming in the river, and had plenty of time to play in the sand.

St. Croix River
fun stuff happened

All in all, the beach at Afton State Park turned out to be a pretty family-friendly place to hang out, and great for kids with all the shade (although, the river can be awfully turbulent – keep a close eye out for those kids near the water). The $5 state park entrance fee and 1/2 mile walk kept it uncrowded (even on this hot as balls 4th of July holiday.

How about you, readers? Ever been to Afton State Park? What did you think?

Veterans Memorial Park in Richfield

You guys ever been to Veterans Memorial Park in Richfield (right off 66th Street and Portland Ave)? It’s pretty cool.

Mel and I spent a couple hours walking the paths there this past weekend. It’s a pretty good place to kill a few hours walking around. There were two things that really stood out to me:

1. It’s surprisingly beautiful once you get back in the trees. The park is much larger than you think it’s going to be.

2. These trails are in very poor shape. Time for reconstruction.

Some path.
Just some other path.
Some paths are shared-use, others are peds only.
Just some wetlands.
Some other wetlands.
Steel prefab concrete deck bridge. Nice, huh?

The boardwalk was probably my favorite part, because it bounces with each step. Also it’s very narrow, so it’s fun to imagine other people falling into the wetlands.

Narrow Boardwalk.
It floats, so it bounces with each step.

Ever been to Veterans Memorial Park in Richfield? What did you think? Will you go back?

Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield

Mel and I took advantage of the warm weather to head down to to the Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield. Here’s a few pics:

It's neat how the wetland is nestled in the middle of the most dense portion of Richfield.
Wood Lake Nature Center wetlands
One of the coolest parts is the boardwalk.
Here's my ugly mug on the boardwalk.

How about you? Did you get a chance to get outside to enjoy the great weather on Saturday?

Skiing Minnehaha Park

Have y’all ever been skiing along Minnehaha Creek below the falls?  Turns out, it’s a really great place to ski. No matter how many times it happens, I’m always amazed at how the Minneapolis Parks can make me feel like I’m in the middle of the wilderness while I’m still right in the middle of the city.  I love this City!

Also, I take lousy photos at night….


Vermillion Falls, Hastings, MN

Your Ultimate Guide to A Hastings Saturday Morning Getaway

With Mel being all 7 months pregnant and all, we’ve been looking for a few opportunities to get out and do some things that we might be hesitant to do if we’ve got a baby to cart around with us (In other words, we’re living it up in preparation for the birth, which we are referring to as “the end of fun.”).  We decided to take a little road trip to the sleepy town of Hastings, MN, about 30 miles southeast of Minneapolis. Vermilion Falls is right on the south end of town on the Vermilion River.  We just stopped for 15 minutes for a quick photo shoot:

After we hung out at the falls for a while, we decided to check out downtown hastings. Turns out, if you don’t know where you’re going, downtown can be a little tricky to find. If you drive into town on US-61, you fly right over main street on the bridge without even noticing it’s there. Once we found it, though, we liked it. US-61 has taken over as the town’s primary thoroughfare, leaving downtown to handle all the niche destination shops. As the downtown is only about 3 blocks long, you can explore the whole thing in just a few minutes.

The first thing that stands out at you when you get to downtown is that the streets are huge! Meaning enormously wide.  At my day job as a traffic engineer and urban planner, I’m always working on projects where public right-of-way is extremely limited. This main street has more room than it knows what to do with!

What’s really tragic here is that the City hasn’t taken advantage of their enormously wide right-of-way available to provide things like enormous sidewalks (which could allow for sidewalk dining during the summer), landscaped medians, or corner bumpouts. Anyway, eventually you run into the Hastings Bridge, which dominates the city streetscape and kind of cuts main street in half.

After that, we made a stop at Karl’s Red Rock Cafe for some lunch.  We thought it was absolutely hilarious that their menu says “Breakfast Served All Day (until 2 pm)” because, of course, that’s not all day.  But they close at 2:00 pm most days, so it sort of makes sense.  Sort of.

mmm.mmm.  Biscuits & Gravy. American Fries. Bacon. Eggs. Blueberry Pancakes.

Coldwater Springs

Mel and I visited Coldwater Springs near Minnehaha Falls for the first time last weekend.  It’s pretty neat back there. The spring is surrounded by a bunch of buildings abandoned by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Mines. Neat, huh?

Ever been back there before? If not, you should check it out. The neat thing is that the water is always warm enough that it doesn’t freeze in the winter.

Willow River State Park

I told y’all about how last Saturday Mel and I tried to go bike camping at Willow River State Park but our plans changed after it rained on us all day.  We woke up on Sunday feeling a little bit defeated, and we also didn’t really want to go sit on hard metal chairs for two hours, so we decided just to drive out and see the park instead – We weren’t disappointed.

Willow River State Park is located just across the Wisconsin border – and it’s an easy 1 hour drive from the heart of Minneapolis.  There’s a dam along the Willow River in the park, so it creates a large, beautiful lake.  There’s also some pretty manicured lawns and a little beach area (and a full playground – not exactly wilderness out here…).  The most spectacular feature, however, is Willow falls – pictured above.  The falls are much larger in person than the photos suggest.  It’s definitely worth seeing.  There’s also a set of stairs up to the top of some rock bluffs where you can look out over the falls and the lake.  The view is pretty phenomenal.  Check out the photos I snapped along the way:

After we had finished checking out the State Park, we decided to check out downtown Hudson, WI, a cozy little town along the St. Croix River.  We decided to stop in for lunch at The Winzer Stube, a German restaurant that was apparently voted the 17th best German restaurant in the US and received a “10 beer stein” rating (ahead of South Minneapolis’ beloved (but pricey) Black Forest Inn, which was unranked and received only 9 beer steins) in what I’m sure was a very scientific and unbiased evaluation.

Anyway, that’s what I did Sunday.  What did you do?  Ever been to Willow River State Park?  How about the Winzer Stube?  What did you think?

[edit: we decided to check out Willow River State Park after reading about it here.]

Adventure: Biking to Stillwater

Saturday morning, we set off to conquer a new horizon – we wanted to go bicycle camping.  We chose our destination – Willow River State Park in Wisconsin, we loaded up the bikes, and prepared for our journey.  We were camping “light” – meaning we weren’t really bringing any food with us – we’d just buy food as we got hungry along the way, but we wanted to carry our own tent and sleeping pads with us and stuff.  So here we are with our loaded bikes:


Notice that I’m using the sweet new bags Mel made me for my b-day.  This will be their first real road test.  We brought along Netflix with us, just to drop it off in the mail on our way out of town.  We’re hooked on Dexter and can’t wait for the next disc to arrive!



The weather forecast on weather.com said there was a 30-40% chance of rain all day.  We knew we were taking a risk when we decided to make the trip anyway – especially when we started feeling the raindrops before we even left the driveway.  Here is Mel, making an earnest appeal for blue skies to Zeus, God of Rain.

And here we are ready to start our adventure:

The first order of business was to drop off our Netflix movie so that we can hurry up and get our next dose of Dexter:

Good times on the Midtown Greenway:

By the time we made it to the Mississippi River, it was raining enough that we had to put on our rain gear (frown):


We made it to the Gateway Trail, and it was still raining:



We hate rain:


It kept raining the entire trip to Stillwater!!!  We were soaked to the bone when we stopped in for lunch at Nacho Mama’s (click on this link if you want to hear some really, really bad MIDI music that sounds like it was made back in 1997 by some kid in his basement on a pirated version of Cakewalk).

Here I am in the restaurant looking like I’ve never seen a cell phone before:

“Hey Reuben, let me take a photo of you with our burrito.”

“OK, I’m ready.”

“I can’t fit all of you in the photo.  You have to get closer.”

“I can’t get closer. I’m scrunched up as far as I can go.”

“No, you have to get your face closer to the burrito before I can take a picture.”

That’s how you end up with photos like the following:

Mel looooooves nachos:

After lunch, we decided that we were soaking wet enough that we weren’t gonna have fun if we stuck with the original plan to camp.  So, like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, we chose to just turn around and ride home – we’d try camping again some other day.  Here’s soaking wet Mel on our way home:

Here’s the best part.  After we rode all the way back to South Minneapolis, as soon as we were on the Midtown Greenway, a mere couple miles from home, the sun came out and it turned into an absolutely lovely evening – but we were too tired to go outside and do anything.