Posts Categorized: Driftless Trails

Creek Check: Exploring the Backwoods of Winneshiek County’s Bear Creek and Pine Creek Areas

By Lauren Kraus

Printed in the September 2008 edition of Inspire(d)

This is the third in a series of articles that serves as a tribute and tutorial of the amazing hiking, biking, and walking trails in the Driftless Area, a region in the Midwest lacking “glacial drift.” By escaping the glacier’s path in the most recent Ice Age, the Driftless Area was not flattened out like much of the Midwest. Thus, the trails and scenery are supreme.

September has arrived and I can hardly believe it. After the commotion of the June (08) flooding in Decorah, I hope the summer brought relaxation and rejuvenation for everyone. I spent a good portion of my summer traveling to different stretches of the country including Utah’s Lake Powell. This man-made reservoir sits at the bottom of a tall, expansive canyon with several narrow fingers jetting off taking a boater or canoeist deep into sandstone crevasses. After days of dry heat, blue water and red rock, my return to the green Decorah landscape was intoxicating. The dense, lush wooded sprawls never cease to amaze me.

As summer slowly transitions into autumn and temperatures fall, the time to get out and hike, walk, bike, or run in the woods is prime and precious. Heading north of Decorah toward Highlandville offers a couple of tremendous treks I strongly suggest hitting up on a free Saturday or even one evening after dinner. Also, keep these places and the other areas I have written about in mind as the winter rolls in for some great snowshoeing and cross country skiing opportunities.

South and North Bear Creek Public Access Area:

South Bear Creek offers a gentle, winding creek side path with incredible rock formations along the water to view. Who knew there were such rocks in this area? This path is a bit shorter in length and stays near the road for easy access.

North Bear Creek is a rugged two-track road with creek crossings and good fishing. Expect some good backwoods running or walking for a potential seven miles total out and back. The water is higher now, so take caution when tromping through the creek (wear shoes that can get wet and muddy).

To reach these beautiful spots, head north on Locust Road leaving Decorah. Take a right on Big Canoe Road then a left on Highlandville Road heading toward the town. Go right on Quandahl Road in Highlandville. South Bear Creek is accessible by any of the three parking areas on the right hand side that you’ll hit soon after you have turned onto Quandahl Road. Continue on Quandahl for roughly three miles to reach North Bear Creek. A parking area will be on the left hand side of the road before a bridge. (Cross the bridge and head a bit further to get to the home of yummy Bear Creek Honey or the Bear Creek Inn.)

Pine Creek Wildlife Management Area:

Pine Creek is a rugged, thick hillside with awesome wildflowers. Hiking here is less guided by any paths and more rough country tromping – more adventurous if you ask me. Wear long pants and you’ll be set. Approaching the area, you will start in a field with the bluff on your right side. Walk in a bit until you see a clearing on the hillside. It is at this point where you can access an old, two-track road that is pretty overgrown. (This is why it’s bushwhacking-hiking.) Put on your safari hat and have some fun. Definitely remember this spot for some killer snowshoeing.

To access Pine Creek, head north on Locust Road leaving Decorah. Take a right on Big Canoe Road and continue on until the pavement ends, gravel begins. Take a right on Balsam Road, go down a large hill. Before you cross a bridge, you’ll see a parking area on the right and a sign that reads “Pine Creek Wildlife Management Area.” Enjoy.

Lauren Kraus, Colorado native and lover of Decorah, spent the summer jet setting and definitely seeing some sweet sights. Three travel highlights include: cliff jumping in Lake Powell, sleeping under the Montana night (big) sky and hiking amongst the glaciers and ripe blackberries in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.

Get Outta Town: More Great Trails to Explore North of Decorah

By Lauren Kraus
Printed in the June 2008 edition of Inspire(d)

This is the second in a series of articles that serves as a tribute and tutorial of the amazing hiking, biking, and walking trails in the Driftless Area, a region in the Midwest lacking “glacial drift.” By escaping the glacier’s path in the most recent Ice Age, the Driftless Area was not flattened out like much of the Midwest. Thus, the trails and scenery are supreme.

The time is better than ever: the weather is inviting and the rugged Driftless Area landscape offers much more beyond the city limits of Decorah. I hope you got a chance to check out a couple, or all, of the tremendous trails accessible in Decorah that I highlighted in the May issue of Inspire(d). Isn’t this town packed with great get-away spots right out our backdoors?

This month my focus has moved north of Decorah a bit to thoroughly explored two phenomenal areas that I insist you take an afternoon, an evening or a Saturday to tromp around. You will leave tuckered out and energized all at once as these prime wilderness spots offer a variety of terrain and way more beauty than Iowa is stereotypically deemed to have. Enjoy.

Pine Bluff 4-H Camp:

This densely forested area chock full of Black Oak and Basswood, White Ash and Hackberry isn’t just for 4-H campers. An easy 15-minute drive from Decorah promises lush landscape, a very cool swinging bridge rebuilt in 1994 after a flood and a supposed magic tree. Although I never came across this “magic tree,” I was in awe of the mixed woodlands that the rolling trail traveled through. Next to the swinging bridge, my favorite part of the 115 acres is the thick groves of White Pines that will surely leave you feeling like a five year old on a playground. Bring a good book or a picnic lunch as friendly wooden benches line parts of the trail. To get to this little refuge, take a left of Hwy 9 on to Trout Run Road, a right on River Road and head toward the Oneota Country Club through Freeport.  After driving a little bit and crossing three bridges, you will see the entrance to Pine Bluff on the right side of the road.

www.cs.luther.edu/~winnco/pinebluff/index.html#

Coon Creek:

An amazing area of Iowa DNR land, Coon Creek could suck you in for days. I have entered the space from two different points and am sure there are several other ways to tap into this hiking haven. The Coon Creek winds through an incredible rolling plot of thick forest, compressed limestone and farm patches. A thin tire-track road treks back, over and deeply into this countryside providing virtually endless access to more natural wonder. Go see for yourself:

Southwest side- left on Trout Run Road, right on River Road heading toward Oneota Country Club through Freeport. Pass by Pine Bluff 4-H Camp and go right on 143rd. After crossing a bridge, take a left on Coon Creek Road. Beware of a black and white dog that likes to chase cars. Soon enough you’ll notice a small parking space on the left side of the road. If you miss this one, there is yet another parking area about a half mile up the road. Have fun.

Northern side- go north on Locust Road, take a right on Canoe Ridge Road or A38. Stay on Canoe Ridge and you’ll pass two white churches, Canoe German Methodist and Canoe Ridge Lutheran. After the second church, veer left on Lundy Bridge Road. Take this road for a bit and you’ll start heading down into a valley. Stay right on Lundy Bridge Road until you reach a rusty, one lane bridge. Cross the bridge and park. The trail begins on a small path above the bridge. And have fun… you’re outta town!

Lauren Kraus loves her family and friends, is stoked about the transition into warmer weather, and was most definitely a mountain goat in a previous life. This is evidenced by her need for climbing steep surfaces and maybe a correlation to her frequent cravings for chèvre. Goats don’t ride bicycles though.