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101 Things To Do: Willow River State Park

The view from the boarded overlook to the lower portion of Willow Falls and the bridge over Willow River on October 12, 2018. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 5
Little Falls Lake, shown on October 12, 2018, has been drained until 2020 while crews make repairs to the dam. Steve gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 5
Willow Falls in Willow River State Park can only be reached by hiking one of several trails within the park. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 5
Steep stairs lead to a boarded overlook giving excellent views of Willow Falls, the Willow River, and the currently dry bed of Little Falls Lake. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 5
One trail to Willow Falls leaves from the 300 campground and gives good views of the Willow River above Little Falls Lake. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 5

Editor's note: This is the latest stop in the series 101 Things To Do. Each week through December 2020, we will select one place or activity around the region to highlight. The stories are compiled at www.rivertown101.com. 

More than 1 million visitors per year stop at Willow River State Park, five miles northeast of Hudson, Wis., according to Aaron Mason, park superintendent. Most of those visitors have plans to hike to Willow Falls.

"We have a spectacular waterfall inside the park," Mason said, "and that is what drives most people to come here. We get a lot of people that come here to camp, hike, and go to the waterfall."

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Seeing the waterfall requires hiking in on a choice of two popular trails. The first, the Willow Falls Hill Trail, is slightly less than half a mile, but requires hiking over a steep hill, according to Mason.

The second, the Willow Falls Trail, is longer but flatter. It starts at Campground 300 and follows the edge of Little Falls Lake and south bank of the Willow River. It is one mile each way.

"It is definitely worthwhile to get out there to see the waterfall," Mason said. "There are a lot of people that venture out there everyday."

The park has 16 miles of hiking on a dozen trails and offers visitors a color-coded trail map to make navigation easy.

One of the busiest state parks in Wisconsin, Willow River State Park features a traditional campground with 150 campsites and a group camping area, a picnic shelter, playground, and swimming beach. Campsites and the shelter may be reserved by calling 1-888-WIPARKS (947-2757).

The park is open for hunting in the fall Nov. 15 to Dec. 15.

Pets are allowed, but must be on a leash. Drones are not allowed.

Normally the park offers boat rentals for canoeing and kayaking, however, Little Falls Lake has recently been drained to allow crews to work on the dam. When the lake is refilled, boat rentals will resume.

"That is a big project going on here," Mason said. "We are hoping to have the lake restored by 2020. During the summer of 2019, the lake will be drained, but the river still runs through the park."

If you go...

Name: Willow River State Park

Address: 1034 County Highway A, Hudson, Wis.

Phone: 715-386-5931

Website: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/willowriver

Hours: The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Admission: An annual vehicle admission sticker for Wisconsin plates is $28 and for out-of-state plates is $38. A daily pass is $11 for in-state and $13 for out-of-state.

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

(651) 301-7872
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