St. Croix Headwaters - Steven Sorensen

The St. Croix River begins just north of Solon Springs, Wisconsin. The Brule (or Bois Brule) River also begins just north of Solon Springs. The St. Croix flows south and eventually joins the Mississippi. The Brule flows north into Lake Superior. The sources of the two rivers are only a few hundred yards apart. A person can easily visit both in the same day using the Brule – St. Croix Portage, part of the North Country National Scenic Trail. The portage has been in use for centuries as a transportation link between the Lake Superior Watershed and the St. Croix River Watershed. The source of the St. Croix is in a swampy wood with moss, lichens, and fallen trees. The St. Croix starts as the St. Croix Creek. The creek flows less than a mile before entering Upper St. Croix Lake.


Well I don't care about my sorrows

And I don't care about my woes

I put my knees down in the sand

Down where that river flows

         -- Lyrics from the song Lift My Jug (Song for Hub Cale) by William Elliott Whitmore


I tried four times to find and photograph the source of the St. Croix.  The first time I started at the  trailhead on the North Country Scenic Trail just northeast of Upper Lake St. Croix on County A[?].  There were two trails that forked off just beyond the trailhead.  I took the fork to the left that led to a boardwalk across St. Croix Creek.  The creek at that point was only about four, at most five, feet wide.  To actually see the source of the creek, I would have had to take the other fork.  That trail leads to the source of the Brule and, I assume, St. Croix Creek.  The hike to the Brule would have been a four-mile out-and-back.  I was too tired to attempt four miles.

On my second attempt, I walked about 5.15 miles (as per my Fitbit) to the Brule Portage section of the North Country National Scenic trail.  I was disappointed by the lack of a trail segment to the headwaters of the St. Croix.  I made it to the headwaters of the Brule but not literally to the source.  I saw a part of the river just downstream from the  source that was ten feet wide at most and only a few inches deep.  The source was probably not more than a one or two hundred yards upstream.  I could see a saddle in a ridge that I am sure was the continental divide.  Another disappointment:  the divide was not marked.  The was a hard-so-see, rough trail that led along the bank of the Brule upstream.  I didn't try to follow it.  I needed all my energy for the return hike of 2.75 rough miles to the trailhead.  I could have searched out the source of both St. Croix and Brule if I had had a machete, hip boots, and a lot more energy.  I may return in late Autumn when the leaves are off the trees and no snow has fallen.  I may be able to try some bushwacking if I can see better the lay of the land.  At no time, for example, during the hike was I able to see the saddle that I think may be the divide.  If all the leaves were off I might be able to see the saddle and make my way to it.

Before my third attempt, I studied Google Maps and my Delorme Wisconsin Atlas Gazetteer (page 25 I think.)  I decided that if I parked on the side of Rifle Range Road, a dirt road northeast of Solon Springs, I would be only a few hundred yards from the source of the St. Croix. I drove, I parked, and I walked in on the trail I found which shortly ended at the North Country Scenic Trail from where I could easily see a small pond.  I knew I was in the right spot because I had seen the pond on Google Maps.  I had been in the same spot last year but had no idea that the pond and St. Croix Creek were only a couple hundred feet away.  The mid-summer foliage completely hid the water.  I walked to the pond and could see that a small stream choked by fallen logs entered the head of the pond.  That stream was the headwaters of the St. Croix.  I confess that I didn't get to the literal source.  Walking was like bushwhacking through jungle.  I didn't have the energy to go the extra 100 or so yards that would have put me at the source (water bubbling out of a spring perhaps.)  

The source of the St Croix is Upper St. Croix Lake that the river joins.  St. Croix Creek flows into the upper end of the long, narrow lake.  The river flows out the lower or southern end.  The creek is only about a mile long.  It starts right at the topographic divide between the Mississippi drainage and the Lake Superior drainage.  The source of the Brule (or Bois Brule?) is less than a mile from the start of St. Croix Creek.  As measured on Google Maps, the divide is about 1.22 miles from the mouth of the creek on the lake. This is from the Solon Springs web site (http://www.solonsprings.net/lakestcroix.html): "Upper Saint Croix Lake is a 828 acre lake located in Solon Springs. It has a maximum depth of 22 feet. Visitors have access to the lake from public boat landings, public lands or parks. Fish include Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Trout and Walleye. Headwaters of the Brule and St. Croix Rivers Near the northeast end of the Upper St. Croix lake a continental divide separates the watersheds of the Brule and St. Croix Rivers. The Brule flows north to Lake Superior and the St. Croix flows southerly to the Mississippi.  The Bois Brule River Valley and the uppermost St. Croix River Valley were carved by meltwater flowing south from glacial Lake Superior and the surrounding uplands. When the glaciers receded, a divide formed, It is this geographical phenomenon that causes the Brule and St. Croix rivers to flow in opposite directions."


I came very close to the source of the St. Croix yesterday.  There were two trails that forked off from the trailhead on the North Country Trail just northeast of Upper Lake St. Croix.  I took the trail that led to St. Croix Creek.  I hiked to the creek and back.  The creek at that point was only about four, at most five, feet wide.  To actually see the source of the creek, I would have had to take the other fork.  That trail leads to the source of the Brule and, I assume, St. Croix Creek.  The hike to the Brule would have been a four-mile out-and-back.  I was too tired to attempt four miles.  I will return someday with the sole objective of completing the hike. I explored the area around St. Croix Creek; the river between Solon Springs and Gordon, Lower Saint Croix Lake, Gordon Dam, and a bridge across the river just downstream from the dam.  Between Solon Springs and Gordon, there is a pedestrian bridge across the river at a spot where there was once a logging dam.  The St. Croix in that area is a small river meandering through marshland.  The upper half of Lower St. Croix Lake is similar.  Lower St. Croix Lake close to Gordon Dam is much more open and looks like a lake.


I walked about 5.15 miles (as per Fitbit) to the Brule Portage section of the North Country National Scenic trail.  I was disappointed by the lack of a trail segment to the headwaters of the St. Croix.  I made it to the headwaters of the Brule but not literally to the source.  I saw a part of the river just downstream from the  source that was ten feet wide at most and only a few inches deep.  I would not have been able to get my whole body underwater even lying flat on my back and even if I were not carrying big a stomach.  The source was not more that a one or two hundred yards upstream.  I could see a saddle in a ridge that I am sure was the continental divide.  Another disappointment:  the divide was not marked.  The was a hard-so-see, rough trail that led along the bank of the Brule upstream.  I didn't try to follow it.  I needed all my energy for the return hike of 2.75 rough miles to the trailhead.  I could have searched out the source of both St. Croix and Brule if I had had a machete, hip boots, and a lot more energy.  I may return in late Autumn when the leaves are off the trees and no snow has fallen.  I may be able to try some bushwacking if I can see better the lay of the land.  At no time, for example, during the hike was I able to see the saddle that I think may be the divide.  If all the leaves were off I might be able to see the saddle and make my way to it.