11 August 2009

State Park of the week: Afton

We've been a bit remiss bringing your highlights of the state parks. Afton is close, its terrain is varied and scenery quite nice. As you drive through the gates (no need to stop with a daily rate HOURCAR) and down the road, you go from farmland to prairie to deep, green forest, and then back up to prairie. From the parking lot, there are miles of trails for hiking, running, and cross country skiing (and horseback riding, but I don't think you can carry a horse in an HOURCAR).

The main trail goes down to the beach on the Saint Croix. It's nice for swimming, and the water is temperate, although it is a bit choppy with lots of boat traffic on the river. There are buoys which keep the boats out of the swimming area (and yes, if you want to reenact the lyrics of a song which we can't print here, we do climb buoys instead of trees), though, so it's perfectly safe. The trails further along the river see fewer users, and while solitude can't be found on a summer weekend, a quiet walk through the woods is definitely in the cards. Up above the swimming area are a few dozen hike-in campsites, some in the woods and some up on the prairie. A word to the wise about these: they're all uphill, both ways.

Come fall, the colors will come to Afton, and in the winter, if the snow flies, the trails will be groomed (although they generally need a bit of snow to open). And the best part is that the park is only half an hour from Saint Paul, so it's an easy day trip (daily-rate HOURCARs can, of course, be rented by the hour) if you just have a couple hours to spend and want to get away from the rush. And, yes, you could bike there, too, although it'd be a bit of a haul; after 25 miles each way on a bike, all you might want to do is take a dip in the river.

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