Willow River State Park is one of the more popular among Wisconsin state parks, primarily because it has a large waterfall that isn’t likely to dry up as it’s so close to the river’s mouth which joins the St. Croix River about 5 miles downstream.
Getting to and from the falls can be quite the journey, especially if you take the shortest path, which we did.
I had read other visitors’ comments about the less-than-half-mile trail to the falls before we went there ourselves. Everyone said how steep the paved path was.
They were right.
Before I tell you more about that path, be aware that (as of this writing) you should not trust Google maps when it comes to driving to the parking lot near the falls. It times past, you could enter the lot directly from County A.
Not so anymore. It is literally blocked off.
I assume they did this because it was too dangerous to use that route as an entrance or an exit. (This path also bypassed the main gate where you have to pay, if you don’t have a sticker on your vehicle.) You now have to enter via the main road just to the south along County A.
By the way, if you don’t have a sticker, you have to pay a little more at Willow River State Park than at almost all the other parks. This shows how popular this one is. (Devil’s Lake and Peninsula are also as popular.)
From that lot – actually 2 lots, one paved, one not – it’s very easy to find the short trail to Willow Falls.
The steepest part of the trail is quite close to the beginning. It’s actually not all that easy to walk down it. It’s that steep!
There are two well-placed benches along the way. If you’re like us, you’ll use at least one of them on the way back up. This sturdy-looking bench isn’t the one we used, but I like the looks of it, so it’s the one whose picture I snapped. (Sorry, I forgot to try to capture the steepness of the trail, but depth and height in such circumstances don’t usually transfer well to the flatness of a screen anyway.)
On the way down, we saw this woodpecker rapping a tree.
At the bottom of the trail, there is a nice observation area and a footbridge that crosses the river. (You can also take advantage of the selfie station in the area. We did, but you won’t see the result here.)
Here is Willow Falls from the observation area. You can see that some people, who dressed for the occasion, actually walked out into the river. The water had to be quite cold though.
Here’s the falls from a slightly different angle – on the footbridge.
And here’s the footbridge itself from the far end, looking back towards the observation area.
There is also an observation deck high above the river. You can see it peeking out from the trees when standing on the lower deck (or the bridge).
To get there, you climb about 175 stairs.
The staircases are sturdy and well-made. The steps themselves are metal gratings. The rest of the structure is wood. Only one of the flights has a bit of a problem. I was not holding the camera at an angle here. Just hold onto the railing when you get here. (You probably will hold it all the way anyway.)
From the upper deck, you get a new perspective on the river, the falls, the lower deck, and the bridge. I just took shots of the lower deck and the river downstream.
This was our second park of the day (Kinnickinnic was the other) and the third in two days, so after the trek back up to the parking lot, we didn’t feel like hiking anywhere else in Willow River State Park. I think the main attraction is the falls, so I consider our short visit a success. If we’re ever in the area again in the future, maybe we’ll explore other areas and trails.
Hudson, Wisconsin (5 miles)
Nearest Emergency Facility
Hudson, Wisconsin (5 miles)
6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, year-round
Vehicle admission sticker required
Note that daily passes cost slightly more than at most other parks, except for those 65 or older.