Approximately 6,000 years ago, when Sumerian scholars were devising some of mankind's first mathematic systems, a mile-thick sheet of ice began to melt half a world away in the region known today as Minnesota. Slowly, the glacier shrank and poured gallons of water into the land around it, leaving behind gorgeous rock formations dotted with artistic ridges and eye-catching striations. Perhaps most notable of these formations is a structure that resembles a cross, which inspired settlers to name its surrounding river St. Croix, or "holy cross."
Today, modern humans can catch a glimpse of these awesome sights thanks to Wild Mountain. Seasonal activities include skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, where snow-goers explore 100 acres of hills encompassing 26 runs, bunny slopes for newcomers, and four terrain parks for the seasoned veterans. Wild Mountain also holds daily lessons, youth and adult programs, as well as racing competitions and camps run by knowledgable and trained northerners.
Ever since the Fawn-Doe-Rosa Wildlife Educational Park's opening in 1963, the deer inside have had terrible manners—no matter how many times they've eaten out of a visitor's hand, they refuse to say "thank you." Most people don't hold it against them, though. They're too busy wandering the woodland yard, petting its free-roaming occupants and keeping an eye out for other species. Aside from deer, the park houses elk, ducks, farmyard animals, and even predators in separate enclosures, including a grizzly bear and a mountain lion.
Many of these animals were hand-raised by the park's owners, who work with conservation organizations, rehabilitation experts, and the USDA to ensure the critters' comfort. By allowing visitors to get up close to their friendly, four-legged residents, they hope to make each trip a learning experience, one that connects humans with nature and sparks an interest in its preservation. They also host group tours that touch on wildlife facts, as well as pony rides for children training for a 21st-century revival of the Pony Express mail service.
Peruvian paso horses travel with a smooth, four-beat, lateral gait, instilling every step with a certain grace and dignity becoming of the Midwest. At Hiddenbrook Farm, breeders have sought out these particular horses to lead elegant trail rides through the Central Minnesota woods. Whether walking through leafy trails, streams, or snow-dusted routes, the horses keep a steady pace without bouncing up and down like most horses or club bouncers do when you attempt to ride them.
The Dead End Hayride rumbles into the dark, eerie expanses of Pinehaven Farm on a trail that seems to lead nowhere. In the middle of the woods, guests are evicted from the wagon and must rely on their own feet, wits, and ouija compasses to make it back safely. Wandering the Departed Oaks Trail, which outcast creatures and spirits call home, hikers confront the Site 66 cornfield, where a 28-foot tower casts an ominous shadow over the surrounding expanse. Screams and explosions set the stage as lost souls fight their way through the winding paths and fend off creatures more terrifying than a killer whale jumping out of a hall closet. DJs and bonfires await survivors each night.
For two to three hours at a time, the bustle of the city recedes into memory as bird song replaces the abrasive honking of car horns, and pine trees—those ancient predecessors to skyscrapers—cast their shadows over the banks of the St. Croix River. Riverwood Canoe’s owners spread their enthusiasm for the great outdoors with visitors, who come from all over to experience the beauty of St. Croix National Scenic Riverway as it snakes through the wilderness. After arriving at the Osceola landing, participants take a shuttle up to the heart of the park and hop into a canoe that can fit up to three passengers, depending on weight. Thanks to the river’s gentle flow, participants can expect a smooth ride suitable to all levels of experience.
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.