It was a perfect morning to explore Willow River State Park. Photographing Willow Falls has been on my list for a long time now. At only 45 minutes from Red Wing, I am not sure why we haven’t been sooner. After seeing numerous posts on facebook, I could not resist any longer. The trail to Willow Falls is short, but steep. The steps up to the lookout after you cross the river via the bridge appeared to be numerous. We’ll have to explore the three lookouts on a return trip. I’d like to explore more of the entire park. In looking at the full map, there are several trails to hike throughout the parks 2,891 acres.
The trail to Willow Falls is short, but steep. The steps up to the lookout, after you cross the river via the bridge, appeared to be numerous. We’ll have to explore the three lookouts on a return trip. I’d like to explore more of the entire park. In looking at the full map, there are several trails to hike throughout the parks 2,891 acres.
The centerpiece of the park is Willow Falls, a powerful cascade in a 200-foot (61 m) deep gorge. Another popular feature is Little Falls Lake, a shallow reservoir on the Willow River. Because of its proximity to Minneapolis-St. Paul it is one of the most visited state parks in Wisconsin. Trilobite fossils found in the lower layers of the gorge indicate the rock is around 600 million years old.
Santee Sioux and Ojibwa lived in the region and clashed over rights to wild rice lakes. European explorers witnessed one of their battles in 1795 at the mouth of the Willow River.
Settlers moved in, and by 1830 logging and wheat farming were common in the Willow River Valley. The river was invaluable for the former, as logs were floated downstream to the St. Croix. A German immigrant, Christian Burkhardt, realized the river could also be harnessed for the latter industry, and built a grist mill here in 1868. Burkhardt became a wealthy landowner and followed developments in water-powered industry. He traveled home to Germany to examine hydroelectric power plants and returned in 1891 to build his own on the Willow River. Burkhardt eventually built four power plants and dams on the river, which provided electricity to Hudson. Northern States Power purchased Burkhardt’s power company in 1945 and operated its sites until 1963, when damage to one of the plants from a lightning strike prompted the company to liquidate their Willow River holdings.
In 1967 Northern States Power sold the land to the Wisconsin Conservation Commission for a state park, and stabilized the dams at a financial loss. The state park opened in 1971. Some of the dams were removed in the 1990s to improve the scenery and trout fishery, and now only one remains. The land is still being restored from damming and farming. source-wikipedia