Family Hike to Willow River State Park
Updated: May 21
Throughout quarantine, I have tried to plan at least 2 activities per week for my bonus kids...that could be anything from making or baking something, to going on a "field trip." Each week, my I try to choose something fun and frugal. This gives us all something to look forward to and changes up the monotony of quarantine. Since things are slowly starting to open back up here, I decided we needed to get OUT! It definitely did us all good. We chose to go to Willow River State park in Hudson, WI, as the governor reopened state parks (at a limited capacity) a couple weeks ago.
This park is only 30 minutes away from our home by car, and I love hiking. I also knew there was a waterfall there, which I was excited to explore. I grew up near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in TN, so hiking is in my blood!
I am usually a big planner, but this time, I decided to be more spontaneous and see what things were like once we got there. As a burgeoning travel blogger, I know it's important to be present and observant when visiting a new spot. Sometimes OVER planning prevents me from doing just that.
I did check to see if I needed to buy tickets online. The main park is open, but many of the buildings (including restrooms and campground) are still closed. We were able to buy a yearly pass online (around $40) and put the receipt in our windshield as they mail you a car sticker...and that can take a bit. Daily passes are still not available for purchase at this time.
I am excited to get lots of use out of our park pass this summer. We also recently bought a second tent so we can do some camping and canoeing trips over the summer. I am SO excited to explore Wisconsin state parks with my family.
After a brief stop at Starbucks drive-through, in Hudson, we were caffeinated and ready to HIT THE TRAILS! When we arrived, I decided, "I am going to let the kids navigate us." LOL partly because I don't enjoy reading maps and partly because it is a fun bonding experience to find our way together. We figured out where to park and where the waterfall trail was located. We had packed a picnic lunch, but decided to hike first. When we walked about 1 mile to the waterfall, the park wasn't very crowded so we enjoyed hearing and seeing the falls and taking pictures.
After we had experienced the waterfall and the kids did a little exploring and rock crawling, we decided to choose a trail. It seemed that the waterfall was like the hub for the park. There were many trails that went out as "spokes" from that central point. We chose the pink trail and off we went...
We were on the trail for at least an hour...maybe a little more. There was a good amount of variation and hills. We all got a workout and clocked over 5,000 steps! We passed some people on our way, but it didn't seem overly crowded.
As we were trying to navigate our way back down to the central point of the waterfall, we did get turned around a few times. There were signs and maps posted along the trails, and we managed to figure it out!
As we made it down to the falls from the pink trail a second time, a LOT more people had shown up. It was challenging to maintain social distancing, so we took a few more pictures and then decided to head back to the car and our picnic lunch. Honestly, the hardest part of the whole hike was on our way out. As you enter the waterfall trail, you are going steeply downhill. On the way out, that become steeply UPHILL. If you have health issues or injuries, just be aware this is a challenging exit. There are other exits to parking areas on other trails, so you may want to consider using them.
We made our way to the car and hopped in to drive around the park a little more. We looked for signs for a picnic area. Even though the campgrounds are still closed, picnic area was OPEN! We all enjoyed the beautiful weather and our picnic lunches. This was a fun and VERY frugal family day. It was also excellent for our mental health to be in nature and exercising. I would highly recommend this park to visitors of all ages, and I can't wait to return.