Polk County Attractions
Located on Wisconsin's northwest border just an hour away from Minneapolis/St. Paul and Duluth/Superior, Polk County is an historic and present wilderness wonderland, richly forested with hundreds of lakes and streams teeming with wildlife. The great St. Croix River flows through deep gorges between two hundred foot bluffs punctuated by legendary glacial rock formations along the county's western border.
Inland, the forested hills and bluffs, eskers, kames, valleys, lakes and streams created by the glacier and its meltwaters present an ever-changing view of the mighty glacier's legacy. Thundering rapids and cascading waterfalls announce their presence from a distance while gentle streams quietly wait to be discovered along the county's trails and forest lanes.
Polk County's dairy farms and cheese factories, small towns and villages, lumber camps and pioneer settlements, forests and streams, museums and cultural arts centers invite visitors to enjoy its outdoor recreation opportunities, its historic past, its festivals and celebrations; and, the frontier friendliness of its people.
Today, University of Wisconsin historian, Margaret Beattie Bogue wrote, "the vision of the St. Croix is in large part the vision of a river as a recreational paradise." And, so it is. Fish and fowl are found in abundance. Eagles and osprey nest and feed on the river's edge. The new growth forest stands tall along its towering bluffs, and the river runs free and clear through its spectacular glacial gorge. Paddle-wheeling excursion boats today cruise the spectacular Dalles of the St. Croix River. For 52 miles, from St. Croix Falls to Prescott, the river is alive with canoes, kayaks, sailboats and power craft, all enjoying the beauty and freedom found in this National Scenic Riverway.
Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy Polk County's many recreational opportunities, including camping, hiking, cycling, mountain biking, boating, canoeing, sailing, horseback riding, nature and bird watching, specimen gathering, swimming, soft and hard water (ice) fishing, large and small game hunting, fowling, downhill and cross country skiing, water skiing, wind surfing and skating, ice-boating, snowmobiling, ATVing, golfing, wildlife and scenic photography.
The county's many trails, including the 98-mile Gandy Dancer rail trail, the beginning of the 1,000-mile Ice Age Trail, and a dozen more single and multi-use trails meander through breathtaking wilderness, rural countryside, charming crossroads, towns and villages. Many of the county's trails interconnect with one another and join with statewide trail networks, providing the opportunity to take a leisurely walk through the forest, a challenging mountain bike run, a thrilling day-long ATV, motorcycle or snowmobile ride, a quiet glide over a well-groomed woodland ski run, or a relaxing horseback ride through forest and glen.
With seven scenic courses to choose from, Polk County golfers can play a different one every day of the week. Their well-kept greens, helpful staff, talented pros and added amenities make every outing an outing to remember.
The area's history is well preserved and comes alive in Polk County's many museums and historical sites. Visitors can walk through, touch and relive the lives of pioneer farmer/lumberjacks and their families. You can visit their log cabin homes; stroll through a lumber baron's mansion; view photographs of colossal log jams and the brave crews that risked their lives to break them down. Visitors can even depart the 21st Century from an early 20th Century Railroad Depot and ride through the historic countryside in an elegantly restored railroad car behind a lovingly preserved iron horse; see the massive machinery, steam crawlers, sledges and winches used in the timber industry; return to school in one-room schoolhouses that educated five generations of area families.
Polk County is privileged to serve as the home of three fine arts organizations, including: The St. Croix Artbarn in Osceola where theater, visual arts, music, writing, dance and story telling are promoted and presented to captivated audiences; the nationally recognized St. Croix Festival Theatre Company that presents lost and forgotten works of outstanding playwrights along with unforgettable classic and contemporary stage works, and an annual music festival in the historic Auditorium Theatre in St. Croix Falls; and, the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts in Amery, a nationally certified school for the arts that provides training, support, rehearsal, performance and exhibit facilities for visual artists, writers, community theater, and a 55-piece chamber orchestra.
Treasure hunters enjoy browsing through Polk County's eclectic collection of artist's studios and galleries, antique stores, craft outlets and flea markets for original, contemporary regional and international artworks, 19th Century clothing, household items, utensils, jewelry, family portraits, agricultural implements, antique furnishings and decorative art, books and manuscripts, weapons, relics of the Native American past, basketry, weaving, contemporary collectibles, glassware, porcelains, restored musical instruments, historic military apparel, unique homemade whimseys and contemporary manufactured gift items galore.
Whether its a romantic moonlit dinner aboard a paddle-wheeler on the St. Croix River, a picnic serenaded by the falling waters of Cascade Falls, a good old-fashioned home cooked meal in a cozy family restaurant, or a great warm-em-up breakfast after an early morning duck hunt, Polk County chefs, cooks, and wait staffs go the extra mile to feed you well in friendly style. Menus range from burgers and fries, fish fries and chowder, pizzas and subs; and, salad bar, chicken, chops, steak, and potatoes, to fine Californian and European cuisine, served with pride in fast food outlets, family restaurants, bistros and taverns, excursion boats and trailside picnic spots, country clubs and night clubs, hotel dining rooms and other fine dining establishments.
Polk County visitors have a wide range of lodging accommodations to choose from, including primitive carry-in, carry-out campsites along the trail; full service RV Campgrounds; secluded forest cabins; romantic, rustic and historic bed and breakfast inns; housekeeping homes and cottages; resort cabins and cottages complete with boats, motors, outdoor grills, docks, swimming beaches and more; and, economy and full service hotel/motels with swimming pools, jacuzzis, saunas (this is Nordic Country) game rooms and dining facilities.
Located across the St. Croix River from Minnesota, Polk County is just an hour's drive from both Minneapolis/St. Paul and Duluth/Superior -- Polk County is easy to get to and hard to leave.
Clear Lake Area Museum
The Clear Lake Area Historical Museum, located in downtown Clear Lake, allows visitors to walk down a re-created Main Street of yesteryear, peek into a pioneer family's log cabin, visit a one-room schoolhouse, admire a century-old church, and view photographs, uniform and clothing, newspapers, weapons, and other memorabilia of the area's political, sports and military activities.
Polk County Museum (website)
Housed in Balsam Lake's historic old courthouse, this three-story museum's 57 exhibits take the visitor through the county's 150-year history, from first settlement by Yankee lumber barons and immigrant lumberjack/farmers through the present day. Open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, 12:30 to 4:00 p.m. Sunday through Friday, and 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturdays and holidays. Guided tours are available by appointment April through October.
Rural Life Museum
Visit this museum's old country school, general store and railroad depot filled with intriguing artifacts of rural pioneer families, the telegraph station and iron road they relied upon for news of the world, travel and commerce.
Now a stop along the Gandy Dancer rail trail, this beautifully restored 1901 Soo Line Depot houses memorabilia of the iron horse days - a must stop for old-time railroad enthusiasts.
Emily Olson House
River Street, Osceola
Located in the restored mansion Andrew Jackson Clark built for his bride, Emily, in 1862, the exhibits in this museum recount the history of the Osceola area. Open 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Sundays from Memorial Day weekend through October.
Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway
Except for the passengers and crew, everything on this railroad is historic; from the 1916 Osceola Soo Line Depot to the elegantly restored passenger cars and mighty steam engine that ply the line from Osceola to Dresser from spring through fall. Operated by volunteers of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, this railway offers rides in early twentieth century style through spectacular scenery much as it was in the early 19th century, before the great timber harvest.
Apple River County Park
Apple River, North of Amery
This heavily wooded 18-acre park along the Apple River offers hiking and snowmobile trails, canoeing, and swimming (with bathhouse, but no lifeguard), picnicking, and playground with picnic shelters and restrooms.
Atlas County Park
Long Trade Lake, N.W. of Luck
Equipped with a boat landing on Long Trade Lake, a ball field, picnic shelter trails and playground, this park consists of three different sections of land connected by a footbridge. The fishing, hiking and snowmobiling here is great.
Balsam Branch Ski Trail
Balsam Branch, West of Amery
Groomed for classic and skate-skiing, this 10-mile recreation trail crosses the D.D. Kennedy Environmental Area, the Garfield Recreation Area, and Lake Wapogasset Bible Camp. Parking and trail access are available at D.D. Kennedy Park and Garfield Recreation Area.
POINTS OF INTEREST
St. Croix and Taylors Falls
In the 19th Century, Wisconsin's St. Croix Falls and Minnesota's Taylors Falls were named for the series of roaring rapids formed by a forty-foot drop in water level over a six-mile stretch of the river that flowed between them. Construction of hydroelectric dams down river eventually flooded the valley northward to three times the old river's width, hiding the "upper falls" that gave these cities their names. The "lower falls' lying between the dams and the Interstate Bridge are also largely hidden except in times of excessive water flow as occurred in the Spring of 2001. When the water's high, the hidden "lower falls" reappear.
Black Brook County Park
Black Brook Flowage, S.W. of Amery
The Black Brook Flowage is created by a large dam located in this park along the Apple River, southwest of Amery. The park is equipped with a picnic shelter, playground and boat landing for easy access to great fishing.
D.D. Kennedy Environmental Area
Balsam Branch River, South of Balsam Lake
This is a nature center for all the family to enjoy. Here, learning about the history of the land, the forest, the wildlife and the people who have lived here is coupled with the opportunity to camp, fish, hike, canoe and cross country ski through its diverse and unique ecosystems. With picnic shelter and playground, it's the perfect place to stop, breathe the forest air, listen to the waters flow, the birds sing and the critters rustle through the under brush, launch your canoe or bait your hook.
East Lake Park
Southeast of Dresser
Few places on earth display the beauty found in this park's abundant American Lotus beds floating among clouds reflected in the crystal-mirrored waters of East (Lotus) Lake. Here, visitors will find a boat landing to launch a Lotus filming or fishing expedition, an interpretive hiking trail, a refreshing water well, picnic shelter and playground.
U.S. Highway 8 & State Highway 35
St. Croix Falls 715-483-3747
Cooperatively created in 1895 by the States of Wisconsin and Minnesota, this park occupies 850-acres divided into two units located across from one another at the Dalles of the St. Croix River. Connected by the Interstate Bridge on U.S. Highway 8, each unit offers different views of the Dalles, different geological formations and ecological communities: and, different varieties of recreational opportunities. Here, osprey and bald eagles nest, soar and swoop over the bluff-lined waters, scooping their dinner from the fish-filled river; legendary rock formations stand sentinel over the forest; crystal clear waters whisper down spectacularly beautiful Curtain Falls; and the National Ice Age Trail ends its thousand mile journey from the East.
The 290-acre Minnesota unit offers 48 campsites, a 1.25 mile river trail, a one-mile trail to the Curtain Falls overlook, and a short trail over glacial potholes near the museum, boat landing and visitor center adjacent to the bridge at U.S. Highway 8. In addition to fishing, canoeing, camping and hiking, this unit offers expert-level rock climbing and whitewater kayaking, also for experts only. In the summer park naturalists provide interpretive programs, explaining the origins and significance of the landscape, the diverse wildlife habitats, their occupants and their development from the end of the ice age to the present day.
In the Wisconsin unit of the park, visitors will find a group campsite that accommodates 60 persons, 85 single family campsites, seven picnic areas, and ten miles of hiking trails with excellent views of the Dalles and its unique rock formations, including the Old Man of the Dalles, the Devil's Chair and the Maltese Cross. In addition to fishing, hiking, picnicking and camping, this unit offers swimming, with lifeguards, at a park lake in summer; and cross country skiing in winter.
Garfield Recreation Area
South of Hwy. 8, between Amery and Balsam Lake
This 133-acre park in the Town of Garfield is full of large and small game and offers hunting, cross-country skiing and mountain biking, all in season.
St. Croix National Scenic Riverway
St. Croix River, Polk County
Extending on both sides of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers for 250 miles, with boat launching facilities providing convenient access every ten miles or so along the route, this Riverway provides breath-taking views of bluff-lined gorges teeming with bird life and unmatched fishing opportunities. Primitive (pack-it-in, pack-it-out) camping is permitted along the shore. Canoeing, boating, wildlife observation and photographic opportunities are unlimited.
Polk County Trails
Polk County offers a variety of single and multi-use trails for year 'round enjoyment. The trails' many uses include hiking, cycling, mountain biking, ATVing, horseback riding, motorcycling, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing. Some are segmented into restricted and non-restricted use sections; others are multi-use throughout. Consult trail maps, available throughout the county, for trail use details.
Balsam Branch Trail
Along the Balsam Branch River, adjacent to the D.D. Kennedy Environmental Area near Amery, this trail is groomed for both classic and skate skiing in winter.
Running 18 miles from the trail head, with parking next to the Apple River in Amery to Almena in Barron County, this trail is popular for hiking, cycling, horseback, ATV and motorcycle riding in Spring, Summer and Fall, and snowmobiling and ATVing in Winter.
Clear Lake-Clayton Trail
In summer, this multi-use trail is popular for mountain biking as well as hiking, ATVing, and motorcycling. In winter, it is ATV and snowmobile territory.
Coon Lake Trail
This 5.3 kilometer hiking trail is groomed for both classic and skate-style skiing in winter,
Gandy Dancer Trail
This converted rail trail runs 98 miles from St. Croix Falls to Superior. The southern portion of the trail, from St. Croix Falls to Danbury, is surfaced with crushed limestone. The entire route is open to hiking and cycling in summer and ATVing and snowmobiling in winter. In summer, all motorized vehicles are prohibited south of Danbury, but ATVing is permitted on the section north of State Highway 77.
Ice Age Trail
Crossing from St. Croix Falls through Polk County's glacial landscape, this hiking trail is segmented into various multi-use sections. Consult trail maps for permitted uses along the route.
Interstate Park Trails
Twelve hiking/skiing trails travel ten miles over the unique glacial terrain encompassed in this 890-acre park, providing four spectacular overlooks and a warming shelter for skiers in winter.
Luck Ski Trail
East of the Luck Golf Course and Country Club, this 5.5-mile trail is groomed for classic skiing with some straight-aways groomed for skate skiing.
Trade River Trail
This 4- kilometer trail is groomed for both classic and skate skiing.
Fine Arts Venues
Polk County is home to a number of nationally recognized fine arts organizations; groups that provide encouragement, training and performance in music, writing, visual arts, story telling, dance and theater, including:
St. Croix Art Barn
This 100-year old dairy barn on the north side of Osceola has been renovated to provide a 200-seat theater, gallery and gift shop, this historic building is the scene of family musicals and dramas, children's theater, community dances, talent showcases, choral, band and chamber music concerts and recitals, local and regional art exhibits, writers' workshops and showcases, art camps and an annual "Art Explosion", a hands-on family art festival. Call 715-294-ARTS for program schedules and details.
St. Croix Festival Theatre
A non-profit professional theater company nationally recognized for producing lost and forgotten works of outstanding playwrights, quality classical and contemporary plays and an annual music festival in the historic Auditorium Theatre in St. Croix Falls. Call 715-294-29917 for information and schedules.
Northern Lakes Center for the Arts
One of the principal reasons that Amery has been designated one of the nation's top 100 small arts towns, the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts provides space where musicians practice, community theater groups perform, writers gather, visual artists display their works and a 55-piece chamber orchestra performs throughout the year. The group also operates one of Wisconsin's five nationally certified schools for the arts. For more information and schedules call 715-268-6811.