As you navigate the winding paths through the corn maze, you hear the wind rustling the stalks of corn behind you. At least, you hope it's the wind and not something more sinister. But you press on, a little more quickly, past the strobe lights and fog machines, hoping that you find the exit before a chainsaw-wielding lumberjack or the ghost of a humorless SAT proctor finds you.
Shafer Corn Maze's Stalkers of the Corn is just one way to experience the three corn mazes spread across 12 acres. The mazes feature a Paul Bunyan–themed design that was cut into nearly half a million corn stalks by professional maze designer MazePlay. The largest maze winds through 3.1 miles of paths and the smallest maze winds through 1.1 miles of paths.
Families with young kids or those who don't want to outrun ghouls and goblins can check out the mazes during the daytime. Both the largest and smallest mazes have six checkpoints where explorers can punch a ticket to mark their progress.
After finding their way out, guests can head to the petting zoo, straw-bale jump, or obstacle course.
In the early 20th century, trains chugged along the St. Croix Valley Railway, rolling over scenic bridges and past rolling waterfront vistas lined with trees. Today, an old-fashioned locomotive still runs from Osceola, Wisconsin to Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota—a 10-mile route that transports passengers across state lines and into the past. Inside the period-accurate passenger cars, Minnesota Transportation Museum staff relay facts about area history and refute the wildly inaccurate science in The Little Engine That Could. Regular round-trip rides run twice every Saturday and Sunday from May to October, but special-event trains and rides with dining service often round out the schedule.
The story of Wineries and Grille in St Croix Falls began at a picturesque Wisconsin orchard. Former owners Linda and Mike Welch were busy crafting delicious apple wines from the fall’s harvest when the phone rang. "I’ve got 20 pails of ripe grapes,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “What do I do with them?" Out of the goodness of their hearts, Mike and Linda sprung into action, blending the grapes with their apples to create unique local wines. Their process evolved, as did their humble orchard, which now encompasses Wineries and Grille. Though they have since sold the orchard, they continue to produce apple and grape wines. They also market and sell wines from other local makers who have a talent for making outstanding vintages but struggle with the vagaries of marketing, sales, or convincing customers that some bottles contain genies.
Linda and Mike have a knack for tracking down Wisconsin’s best wines, partnering with producers such as Seven Hawks Vineyards to spread forward-thinking drinks. They sell new wines crafted from cold-weather hardy grapes at the University of Minnesota. They also carry national labels, such as Canyon Road from California, which is specially crafted for dining, and international labels from Spain, South Africa, and elsewhere. But even stronger than Linda and Mike's love for ambrosials is their love for St. Croix Falls and its local produce and game. Their son Greg uses these local ingredients to create hearty entrees with elk, rainbow trout, and hand-cut steaks. They pair smoked pork chops and crisp salads with bricks of homemade fudge and cheesecake, for meals that highlight the subtle flavors in their wines and leave diners yearning for more.
The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad whisks passengers away on food-filled excursions through the scenic forests surrounding Spooner. A lineup of vintage train cars ensconces guests in antique luxury, starting with the 1918 mahogany-lined dining car that plays host to elegant five-course dinners, leisurely brunches, and kid-friendly pizza feasts. Overnight guests sidle into the retro comfort of the 1950s sleeper car's double-decker single beds and individual climate controls. Those seeking deluxe accommodations can book the opulent Dianne Marie, a 1914 private car complete with such railway luxuries as a full-size bed, private washrooms with showers, and emergency speakers set to play flapper-repelling waltzes. A lounge with a full bar accompanies most trips, lubricating pleasant conversation as each trip wends its way past quaint towns, shimmering streams, and towering trees.
While stationed in Germany with the U.S. Air Force, Troy Chamberlin and his wife Laura developed a love for wine at the wineries of the Rhine Valley. Upon returning home, they set about creating a European-style vineyard to share the joy of their days abroad without having to hurl their fellow countrymen across the Atlantic. Thus Chateau St. Croix Winery & Vineyard was born, a 55-acre plot complete with stables, a fishing pond, and an art gallery. The heart of the vineyard, though, is its 2.5 acres of grapes, nearly five tons of which are grown in six varieties for use in their award-winning wines. Visitors can sample Chateau St. Croix's sundry varietals and blends after a half-hour tour, pairing each sip with chocolates, cheeses, and crackers.
At Wild Mountain Winery, everything is local, right down to the grapes and the process in which they're grown. Surrounded by the green hillsides of the St. Croix River Valley, Wild Mountain Winery utilizes the methods of Elmer Swenson—a pioneering breeder who revolutionized grape growing in regions plagued by cold, short seasons, and undomesticated snowplows. Having been perfected over the years, those time-tested processes now result in hardy varietals that represent the local climate, soils, and vines. Travelers along the Upper St. Croix Wine Trail can explore Wild Mountain Winery's territorial flavors in a number of ways, including during weekend tastings that come with a souvenir glass.