Day trip: Along the St. Croix

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 3, 2014 - 6:44 AM

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The average ticket price between Memorial Day and Labor Day for flights departing Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is $518.

That staycation suddenly becomes exponentially more attractive, doesn’t it?

Particularly when one of the Midwest’s great getaways lies just 25 miles east of downtown Minneapolis.

It’s the St. Croix River, and whether it’s the dramatic basaltic rock cliffs south of Taylors Falls, Minn., or the wooded gorges north of Prescott, Wis., the scenery is one restorative vista after the next.

For day trippers, the other good news is that the necklace of towns that ring Lower St. Croix are dotted with food and drink opportunities, including a top-rated wine bar, picturesque U-pick farms, a fanatic-worthy cheese shop and a world-class drive-in. That’s just for starters.

Your mini-vacation starts now.

A berry good time

The closest brush with agriculture for most Twin Citians is thumbing through the Mills Fleet Farm weekly ad. That is, until those few precious early summer weeks when thousands of city slickers make their annual pilgrimage to U-pick strawberry farms — including the St. Croix Valley’s Afton Apple Orchard, Natura Farm, Pleasant Valley Orchard and Demulling Farms — and happily risk mud, insects and sunburn to fill boxes with plump, juicy, fragrant and vividly red berries. One taste of a just-picked, locally raised strawberry, and their California- or Florida-grown counterparts will forever be second-best. (Find a showstopping strawberry cake recipe on page T6).

 

Raise your glass

When Lift Bridge Brewing Co. opened the metro area’s first taproom back in November 2011, it sparked a trend that is showing no signs of slowing down. Lined with timbered picnic tables, the knotty-pine refuge is the place for a taste of the brewery’s now-iconic Farm Girl Saison, but take advantage of the proximity to beer-brewing genius and tap into the ever-changing array of quirky, limited release batches, best accessed through four- and six-pour flights ($7 and $10). The root beer? Off-the-charts.

 

Taste of the past

The nostalgia emanating from Selma’s Ice Cream Parlour is so powerful that it practically forces passersby to slam on the brakes (the chalkboard sign on the front porch that read, “Keep calm and berry on” — a shout-out to strawberry floats, malts and sundaes — was another potent incentive) and check out the beyond-quaint landmark, now well into its second century. The scent of fresh-pressed waffle cones floats in the air, and a platoon of cheery teenagers work the scoop case. The ice cream isn’t made on the premises, although the powers that be have the good sense to import Mint Avalanche, Raspberry Rhapsody and 30 other flavors from the Chocolate Shoppe, a premium producer in Madison, Wis. Try the chocolate-dipped cone.

 

Stillwater, the rapid-fire round

The St. Croix’s day tripping epicenter is packed with dining and drinking options. Here’s a quick guide.

Patio, sunshine: Soak up rays and river views at the seemingly vast acreage outside the Freight House (runner up: P.D. Pappy’s).

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