Photos by Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360
The St. Croix and Bois Brule Rivers both begin in the same bog in northern Wisconsin. A swamp of sphagnum moss and white cedars is nestled between two high ridges carved by an ancient glacial flood. Water bubbles up in pure pools surrounded by green growth — or white snow, depending on the time of year.
Even in the winter, the springs spill water into the world here, and it begins a journey to the Gulf of Mexico, while water just a hundred feet away flows north to Lake Superior. It’s a silent and sublime place, wild and beautiful like the rivers that begin here.
The trail to the St. Croix’s source is a landmark on its own merits. People have passed over this path for literally countless generations. It was an important portage connecting the Mississippi River (via the St. Croix) and Lake Superior since long before Europeans arrived, and continued to serve as an important travel route for French and British exploration, the fur trade, and beyond.
The path is worn into the soft, sandy soil in many places, making a hiker wonder about all the feet that have trod the trail. Stones placed every quarter-mile or so commemorate the Europeans who crossed here between the 17th and 19th centuries.
The source and portage are both part of the Brule River State Forest and the trails are all part of the North Country National Scenic Trail, the longest hiking path in the United States. It crosses from Vermont to North Dakota, traversing about 4,800 miles. Smaller segments make great day hikes, including the historic portage.
The trail is primarily maintained by dedicated volunteers, who clear fallen trees, build boardwalks, manage erosion, and more. On Feb. 18, a few of those hiker-builders will lead a public snowshoe hike through some stunning winter scenery to the St. Croix’s source.
“The Brule Bog is a winter wonderland due to the snowstorms this winter,” said hike leader Teresa Nelson, with the North Country Trail Association’s Brule-St. Croix Chapter.
- When: Feb. 18, 10 a.m.
- Where: Trailhead at Palmer’s Landing on St. Croix Lake, 10625 E. County Highway A near Solon Springs.
- What to bring: Snowshoes, poles, water, and snacks, and dress warmly. Snowshoes may be rented from Superior Adventures at UW-Superior, 715-395-4651. For more information, see www.meetup.com/sscbhikers.