Willow River State Park Review

Willow River State Park is a 2,891 acre park located near Hudson, WI.  It is best known for Willow Falls, a multi-level waterfall in a 200 foot deep gorge.

Willow Falls

Willow Falls is a pretty impressive multi-level waterfall that attracts photographers, rock climbers, vacationers, and people looking to cool off on a hot day.  It is one of the few waterfalls with full access to the water.  People wade in all levels of the waterfall or tan themselves on the rocks below.

Willow Falls at Willow River State Park

Willow Falls at Willow River State Park

 

People wading in the falls

People wading in the falls

Lower Willow Falls

Lower Willow Falls

 

Campgrounds

There are 3 campgrounds within Willow River State Park, with each getting progressively more wooded. 

The 100 Loop Campground is mostly open prairie with a few trees here and there.  It is well suited to large RV’s and campers.  This campground is the closest to the park entrance and office.

The 200 Loop Campground is slightly more wooded and is suited to RV’s, campers, and if you don’t mind frying in the morning sunlight, tents.

The 300 Loop Campground is the oldest and is quite heavily wooded.  The sites are generally separated by 20-40 feet of trees and thicket.  The Willow Falls trailhead is located in this loop near site 312.  This campground is the closest to the boat launch, swimming beach, and picnic area.

300 Loop Campground

300 Loop Campground

 

Swimming Beach and Picnic Area

The swimming beach is located on the south shore of Little Falls Lake.  It is a nice sand beach with a playground nearby.

Swimming beach at Willow River State Park

Swimming beach at Willow River State Park

There is a large picnic area in Willow Falls State Park.  There is a picnic shelter (also home to restrooms and showers for the swimming beach), many very nice picnic tables, plenty of shade trees and lots of grass.

Picnic Area at Willow River State Park

Picnic Area at Willow River State Park

 

Trails

There are several hiking trails and one biking and rollerblading trail within Willow River State Park.  Due to the terrain, some trails are tougher hikes than others.  The willow falls hill trail, while only three-tenths of a mile long is very steep, making the walk back from Willow Falls quite tiring.  The trails go along Willow Lake and through woods and prairies.  Some stretches are flat and easy, others are hilly.

  • Hidden Ponds Nature Trail (hiking, handicap accessible): Guides are available at the head of this paved loop around a wetland (0.6 mi).
  • Little Falls Trail (hiking, biking, rollerblading): Follows the shoreline from the campground to the Little Falls dam (0.9 mi).
  • Willow Falls Trail (hiking): Follows the shoreline from the campground to Willow Falls (0.9 mi).
  • Willow Falls Hill Trail (hiking): A steep shortcut to the falls from a separate parking lot (0.3 mi).
  • Trout Brook Trail (hiking): A level out-and-back route along the river below the dam (1.1 mi).
  • Oak Ridge Trail (hiking): A forested path between the lake parking and the campground (0.9 mi).
  • White Tail Trail (hiking): A loop off the Oak Ridge Trail through forest meadows popular with white tail deer (1.6 mi).
  • Knapweed Trail (hiking): Passes through fields being restored into prairie and forest (0.9 mi)
  • Pioneer Trail (hiking): Leads past the gravesite of the William Scott Family from 1849 to an overlook of Willow Falls (0.9 mi).
  • Burkhardt Trail (hiking): A network of trails above the falls with several overlooks (3 mi)
  • Mound Trail (hiking): Follows the Willow River in the undeveloped northeastern part of the park, past a glacial mound (1.1 mi).

For a PDF map of Willow River State Park from the Wisconsin DNR showing all of the trails, click here!

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is available on the north side of the Willow Falls gorge.  Climbing rules and hours have been established.  A handout is available in the park office.

Rock climber at Willow River State Park

Rock climber at Willow River State Park

 

Nature Center

There is a Nature Center at the head of the Hidden Ponds Nature Trail near the swimming beach.  It features exhibits on plant and animal life.  There is also a gift shop in the nature center.

Lake

Little Falls Lake is a 172-acre reservoir created by Little Falls Dam, a former hydro-electric plant.  Only non-motorized boats are permitted on the lake.  It is very picturesque and well-suited to canoes and kayaks.

Little Falls Lake from the swimming beach at Willow River State Park

Little Falls Lake from the swimming beach at Willow River State Park

Boat Rentals

Canoes and kayaks are available to rent from the park office.  They are rented on a first come, first serve basis starting at 8am.  There are 4-hour and full day rates.

Canoes and Kayaks for rent at the boat launch

Canoes and Kayaks for rent at the boat launch

There is a nice boat launch to put your own or rented canoes, kayaks and rowboats into the lake.

Kayakers on Little Falls Lake at Willow River State Park

Kayakers on Little Falls Lake at Willow River State Park

 

Wildlife 

There are many different forms if wildlife to be seen.  We had deer cross by our campsite a few times a day.  We also saw an eagle, some frogs, plenty of butterflies and dragonflies, and other animals.

Two fawns on the Hidden Ponds Nature Trail

Two fawns on the Hidden Ponds Nature Trail

 

Tiny frog on the Willow Falls Trail

Tiny frog on the Willow Falls Trail

 

Dragonfly on Willow Falls Trail

Dragonfly on Willow Falls Trail

Visit Willow River State Park for the day, weekend, or the week.  You won’t run out of things to do!

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About Raun Lauterbach

Optimistic realist, life enthusiast, outdoor cook, Midwest traveler, husband, father... Follow me: Twitter | Facebook | Get updates in your email
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  • http://backyardlifeblog.com/2011/07/i-just-took-a-month-long-vacation/ I just took a month long vacation! | Backyard Life Blog

    [...] month, I’ve made 2 trips to visit family in Southeastern Wisconsin (8 days), went camping at Willow River State Park (3 days), took a day trip along the Saint Croix and Mississippi rivers in Southeastern Minnesota [...]