It’s a wilderness close to home. That’s how Gene Groebner, park manager, views Afton State Park.
That wilderness feeling is obviously appealing, because last year, 275,000 people stopped in the park to experience it.
“We do a lot of work on the resources here,” Groebner said. “Trying to keep things as natural and rustic as possible is a goal of ours.”
One of the most popular aspects of the park is the scenic views of the St. Croix River, according to Groebner. The trails also attract visitors with a growing interest in cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.
Hiking and trail running are popular in the summer and the annual Afton Trail Run, a race of 25K or 50K each July, celebrated its 25th year with more than a thousand runners.
“Every weekend it seems there are people out here doing their training,” Groebner said. “They really like to come here because of the hills and the condition of the trails.”
Afton State Park, about 11 miles south of Hudson, Wisconsin, and 12 miles north of Hastings, Minnesota, offers multiple walking opportunities. From the parking lot at the visitor’s center, a flat nature hike tours a one-half-mile loop in the prairie with interpretive signs to explain the vegetation, animals, and birds of the area. Other walks of varying distances travel north from the visitor’s center and give views of the St. Croix River, the open prairie, and the wooded habitat. It is possible to hike down to river level.
Campsites and cabin rentals are also in demand.
“We have a backpack campground,” Groebner explained. “It is a mile walk in, and that generally fills up a week or two in advance. We also have four camper cabins and yurts that are 85-90 percent booked a year in advance. It’s really tough to get into those on weekends.”
All campsites, cabins, and yurts can be reserved online or by phone.
Groebner is proud of “the fact that you can come out here and the parking lots might be half full, but you can get out on the trails and hardly run into anybody is something that I think is neat.”
If you go...
Name: Afton State Park
Address: 6959 Peller Ave. S., Hastings
Hours: Daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Admission: $7 per day or $35 per year for a state parks vehicle permit.