Exploring: Willow River State Park – Hudson, WI

We are blessed with one of the most amazing parks in St Croix County, WI.  Resting just outside of Hudson sits a stunning State Park with endless options of things to do.  This park has been in my back yard my entire lift (literally, I grew up less than a mile away) and I never took advantage of all the great things it had to offer until the last 5 years.

“With nearly 3,000 acres of prairie, forests and panoramic river scenery, Willow River State Park offers year-round recreation opportunities in western Wisconsin. The park is about five miles northeast of Hudson and has a campground, a boat launch and a 400-foot beach and picnic area centered on 172-acre Little Falls Lake.”  (Side note: the lake is drained right now as they are preparing a major dam project) – WI DNR Website

I started coming here to hike a few years ago and have only grown more and more fond of the park with every visit.  I also met one of my closest friends at the park.  I was on the fence about joining a bootcamp and the instructor was leading hikes at the park and then a fitness class after the hike. I put on my girl pants and came by myself and instantly made a connection with a gal and her daughter.  A new friendship was born and with that came many other awesome adventures!  You never know what (or who) you might find when you come to the park.

There are 12 hiking trails in the park and many connect up to campsites as well as gorgeous scenery and spectacular views.  The trails are both paved and crushed rock.  I usually bring my jogging stroller and can push George with no problems on either trail.  I would recommend a heavier duty stroller or even a backpack if bringing small children and doing a longer hike.

At the beach is a gorgeous brand-new beach house and playground for the kids to play (or for me to dread because I just want to hike and George just wants to play!).   With picnic tables and grills throughout the park, you really cannot go wrong with a day at Willow.   The lake is currently drained because they are working on a major dam project.  The sand is still there to play in, but no swimming at the beach (you can wade by the falls though) for at least 1-2 summers.

Beach House with a Shelter and Picnic Tables
Playground with activities for kids of all ages

The trail(s) I hike most often are the Green (Little Falls Trail) and Blue Trails (Willow Falls Trail).  When you take the Green to the Blue trail, this takes you to the Falls that are nestled in the park.  The Green Trail starts off at the beach parking lot.

Paved Trail (Green Trail)

One of the big draws to Willow River State Park is the camping.  As you navigate through the park, you pass many different camp sites. Some have some serious setups with campers, cooking equipment, coolers, etc.  And others keep it simple.

A little tent I passed while walking – these folks kept it simple

In order to get to Willow Falls, you have to move from the Green Trail to the Blue Trail. The blue trail is a bit more rugged and is crushed rock vs paved.  Its a bit more hilly and more “hiking” vs “walking” trail.  However, I regularly pass families with younger children and several folks (like myself) who are pushing strollers. Again, you will need a heavier stroller to make your life easier on this trail.  Let me just say, it is so absolutely worth it if you hike this trail! At the end of the trail you get to Willow Falls.. (which you can get to multiple ways, but this just happens to be my favorite!)

Willow Falls – Willow River State Park, Hudson, WI

Once you get to the falls, as you can see you can navigate onto the rocks and cool off in the water. I am not one you will ever see out there, but as you can tell there are several people doing this.  I just think when you’re dealing with water, it’s dangerous and you never know when you could get swept away (call me old and dull, but I prefer to play it safe here!).

Another activity you can do while at Willow is Rock Climbing.  You bring all of your own equipment and will need to have some experience climbing because it is not only dangerous but also a challenging wall to climb.  It certainly didn’t stop these guys though! I am always so impressed with the people who are so talented/fit and accomplish this.

Look close and you will see the climber hanging from the rock

I mentioned there are multiple ways you can get to Willow Falls.  You can park at the parking lot on top of the hill (near the entrance) and navigate down the stairs to the falls.  However, you can also navigate up those same stairs which is very challenging, but an excellent workout.  I had my doubts, but George and I climbed the stairs and again, it is so worth the view at the top!

View over the State Park at the top of the Stairs near Willow Falls

I could just sit here and be at peace for hours on end. (Plus I’m usually still dying from climbing the stairs and need that much time to recover).   It is quiet and serene and the view is simply breath taking!  It is all right here in St Croix County and so many people have no idea what they are missing out on.

Apparently after all the stair climbing my sweet George wanted more.. He really did.  He was all about climbing stairs..and not even halfway (I begged repeatedly) he wanted to make it to the top.

My little adventurer

We survived all of the steps, both up and down and navigated our way back over the falls.  This is the view if you look West instead of East (Opposite of the falls).

Usually you might see a fisherman or two out here trying to catch a fish for supper.  Its amazing to watch the raging rapids on one side and see this nice, calm river flowing on the other. Nature is certainly incredible.

Willow isn’t just a summer State Park either!  In the winter they offer several groomed cross country ski trails as well as Snowshoeing trails (although you have to be very careful to be sure you’re on the snowshoe trail as the skiiers will give you dirty looks even just trying to get to your trails).  (It’s a brown trail if that helps!).

We managed to get out one time this winter to do a little snowshoeing!  George got to ride along in his little sled (which thanks Jen for giving us that years ago! It has been so handy!).

At the parking lot of the beach house there is also a Nature Center.  Here, you can get souvenirs, sunscreen and any other small item you might need to make it for the day or weekend (plus there are plenty of gas stations nearby if you leave the park).  The nature center also has great educational activities for children of different ages to get children engaged and learning about the outdoors.

Nature Center
Kids activities – pick up at the Nature Center

Whether the patio is as outdoors as you get or if you’re a rugged outback sleep under the stars kind of camper, Willow truly offers a wide range of options of things to do!  It’s $8 for the day if you’re a WI resident, $11 for out of state vehicles and $28 for a yearly pass if you’re a WI resident.  We are there enough times a year to make up for the cost!

Trail Map – you can get a copy at the gate or online

XOXO

Kristen

Wander Mum
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Exploring: Downtown Hastings, MN

I had so much fun with last week’s post about Hudson, WI that I thought i would try to make this a weekly series where I explore a small town and share some of the great adventures I have along the way.

Last Thanksgiving my friend Vicki asked me to run the Thanksgiving Gobble Gait 8K with her in Hastings.  I had never spent much time there and just figured it would be like any run.  Let me say, it was one of the most beautiful runs I have done!  All of the money from the race is donated to the Hastings Family Service which serves the local community.  What started as a small run has now grown to over 2000 runners.

Post Race Photo with Vicki (right) and her friend Stacie (center)

Although it was cold and went, it was SO WORTH it!  Just being able to say I did it and knowing my race fee went to someone in need felt pretty darn good!

The race started and finished on Main Street in Hastings and although it was cold and wet, I fell madly in love with Main Street!  There are tons of cute little shops and restaurants.  Its very quaint and a nice little day trip. From the Downtown Business Association of Hastings, MN, ” The Historic Downtown Business District of Hastings, Minnesota. You’ll find charming shops that feature; Antiques, Collectibles, Gifts, Fashion, Imports, Toys, Pottery, Jewelry and many one of a kind specialty items and services. Most of our shops are located in preserved historic buildings dating back to the 1800’s.”

Right now they are redoing some sections of Main Street so my photos may be a little limited in the angles as I was simply trying to photo without all the yellow tape and orange cones.   However, even though it was under construction we were still able to navigate to all the shops with no trouble.

My friend Jayme has super awesome taste and had told me about Eye Candy Refind, so I HAD to check it out.  (If you’ve ever been in the Loft at Viva Voce Salon in Hudson, they have several stunning pieces from Eye Candy!!) After a quick trip to their shop in Hastings, I was sold!!  First of all I LOVE the owners.  Super bad ass ladies who run a great shop with gorgeous pieces!  They are SUPER friendly and totally willing to help you with anything.  (and I mean anything, I’m still looking for my card catalog and they are too!).   I ended up buying a gorgeous buffet my first trip there and continue to get inspiration every time I go to their shop!

My buffet table from Eye Candy

I absolutely adore the signs, furniture and decor in Eye Candy Refind. They also do painting classes in the Hastings Store as well if you want to learn how to chalk paint.  Additionally they share TONS of new pieces on their Instagram (eye_candy_refind) and Facebook Pages.  If you’re looking for a one of a kind, quality piece at an affordable price, check out Eye Candy!!!

If you’re someone who wants to DIY your own furniture pieces then stop into one of the many antique shops in town!

A few others:

Second Street Antique Mall

If home decor isn’t your thing, they also have cute little clothing shops as well!  One that is always a stop when we are there is Lah-Tee-Dah Boutique.  They have adorable clothes at very reasonable prices!  You will also find that unique piece you wouldn’t find online or at a mall.  That’s what makes small town shopping so special.  You don’t look like everyone else and you’re supporting a local business.

Other shopping locations for gifts and goodies:

Mississippi Clayworks

Let’s be honest, after all that shopping I’m usually starving and (in my opinion) the BEST place in town is the Busted Nut.  We completely stumbled into the Busted Nut on a whim when we were picking up my buffet from Eye Candy.  It was the best decision ever!!  Fresh peanuts when you sit down and cold beers!  But better than that is the food.  I have been there several times now and I am never disappointed.  Last time we were there, a friend said “This is the best mushroom swiss burger I have ever had!”  I typically order the Chicken, Bacon Ranch Wrap with waffle fries and season sour cream and it’s AMAZING!!!  (See below)

Although the Busted Nut happens to be my favorite, there are lots of other choices while in the downtown area.

Restaurants:

The Onion Grille (I’ve heard this place is awesome too!)

Karl’s Red Rock Cafe (Breakfast and Lunch)

Spiral Pizza

While I was walking around taking photos, I saw the sweetest scene in Reissner’s Meat and Grocery. I was transported back 50 years. (or what I imagine life to be like 50 years ago).  Two older gentlemen were standing in the business enjoying a conversation and a coke.  It was the most refreshing, simple moment they were sharing.  They didn’t have cell phones out, they weren’t distracted by anything but what the other person was saying.  It truly warmed my heart.

One thing that always catches my eye when I’m in town is the Meyer Company Sign (Carhartt, Levis, shopping).  It again, takes me back to a time before modern technology.  And while I don’t know the history, I imagine it was put up in the early years of Jc Penney, Montgomery Wards, Sears Roebuck Co.  Just the lettering takes me back to flipping through catalogs at grandmas house.

 

As you find your way out of town, take a minute to see the beautiful new bridge that was built in 2014.  It’s stunning at night and beautiful during the day.

Hastings is only a short drive from the Twin Cities on Highway 61 South, and about 45 minutes from Western, WI.  I love any excuse to get down here to shop and eat!  (and there may or may not be a casino stop or a stop at Ellsworth Creamery on the way! Pretty sure we’ll be checking out Ellsworth in the near future so I can go back for more fresh cheese curds!)

I hope you are able to seek out new adventures in Hastings or any of the towns I mention along the way.  It’s such a fun journey for me to check out new places and bring friends along for the ride!

XOXO

Kristen

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Exploring: Downtown Hudson, WI

I have always loved where I grew up and am proud to call Hudson, Wisconsin my hometown. Although we now live twenty minutes away (in Woodville, WI), I am still completely enamored with Hudson.  (And I’m not the only one!  Hudson was just named #1 out of the 7 best places to live in Wisconsin – here)

What is it about Hudson that makes it so special?  For me, there was nothing like coming home, crossing the river and seeing the bluffs.  That’s how I always knew I was home.  One of the most spectacular things about Hudson is you can go atop the bluffs and sit in peace and quiet and admire the views of the St Croix River in Birkmose Park.

St Croix River – Looking towards MN
St Croix River – Looking South

 Another thing that makes Hudson so special is all the wonderful shops and restaurants.  And it’s not just that they have great food or an incredible location, the people who own these shops go out of their way to support the community.

Some of these are simply my favorite places to visit, some have special meaning.

 

The Subhouse. Always my first stop after coming home. They have some of the best sandwiches in town!  Fresh baked bread daily, managers specials, eat in or take it to go for a picnic in Lakefront park.

A Northern View of some of the shops of Main Street (Viva VoceSirona SpringLa Rue Marche)

Let the talented (and gorgeous) ladies at Viva Voce Salon pamper you.  My favorite salon in town!  I usually walk in looking slightly homeless and walk out with hair that belongs in a magazine.  Jayme Mees, the owner, is one of the most wonderful people you will meet in town!

Agave Kitchen.  Not only do they have AMAZING food, but they have one of the most giving and humble owners in town.  Paul Rode is a class act.  He heads up truck drives to bring food, clothes, etc to those in need during disasters, organizes flag waving across the bridge on 9/11, as well as many other community fundraisers.  And my favorite, the sign. Promoting the awesome food, other local businesses or saying something clever.   Simply put: Eat here.

 

Ellies on Main.  While I haven’t been here since 2010, it is where Adam and I met, so has a little sentimental value.

Knoke’s Chocolate.  Knoke’s is a sweet little candy shop tucked on a side street in Downtown Hudson. While it is possible to spot a celebrity in Knoke’s on occasion (Martha Stewart and John Boehner have been here to name a few) the real reason to come here is the chocolate or the ice cream, or the taffy or the…. I could go on. Simply delicious!

The 715.  One of the newer shops in town that features home decor (Industrial/Rustic), clothing and more.  The 715 is named after the local area code.   One of my favorite pieces in the shop is a solid piece of redwood that was made into a table top. It is absolutely stunning!

Just one shop down from the 715 is Urban Olive and Vine.  Last fall, I bought a Groupon to do a olive oil tasting with a bottle of wine and I am so glad I did!  The different flavors of olive oils combined with vinegars is endless.  They also serve food – try the Caesar Salad (topped with truffle oil) and one of the homemade soups!

 

Another pic for sentimental value.  I worked at Dick’s Bar and Grill in high school/college.  It’s the bar where you’ll find popcorn on the ground and the same folks sitting around the horseshoe bar that were there when I was there in 1998.  (Slightly joking). However, they do have EXCELLENT food and a great drink special on the weekends!  ($1.75 bloody Marys and mimosas – just get a double mimosa, you’ll thank me later).

Also serving up great food and drinks is Pier 500.   One of the best places in town to sit out and enjoy the St Croix River Views.

And last… take a walk along the River Dike and check out the boats along the river.

Hudson truly is an incredible little city!  The downtown area has several bars, restaurants and shops. I couldn’t even begin to photograph and write about them all.  (BarkersSan PedrosMallory’s (the newest in town), Smilin MooseThe Postmark Grille (in the old Post Office), Brick’s,  Dragon Pearl just to name a few restaurants).

I hope you fall in love with my hometown and love it as much as I do!

XOXO

Kristen

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Free Meal Planner and Grocery List Printable

Meal Printable

We are a pretty busy household and the only way I’ve managed to not go completely crazy is because of planning.  A few years ago, I created a meal planning and grocery shopping planner.  Plan your meals, scan your cupboards for ingredients and update your list to take with you to the store.  I removed the customization from the top of the document but ours has “Adam, Kristen & George”  and then I date the week as well.   Since I’m new to printables, I thought I would share this one first and see what people think!

I’d love to hear your feedback and what you like/don’t like and what would make this better.  If you also have other ideas for printables that would make your life easier, let me know as well!

XOXO
Kristen
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