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A paddleboat floats down the St. Croix River through Interstate State Park near Taylors Falls, one of the most visited parks in Minnesota.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Midwest Traveler: Taylors Falls, the little town that could

  • Article by: Kelly Jo McDonnell
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 7, 2013 - 5:45 PM

When you travel into Taylors Falls, you’ll notice a sign that reads population 976. But don’t let this little village on the river fool you. The population swells to 5,000 plus during peak seasons — especially as the fall foliage puts on a show. What do all these people know that we don’t? The answer: Taylors Falls may be small, but what it offers is huge.

Taylors Falls sits right on the St. Croix River, surrounded by bluffs and high cliffs. The scenery is stunning, especially in the fall, and the area’s geology is intriguing. Geologists from all over the world come to visit the area; 10 lava flows are exposed in the area’s park, along with distinct glacial deposits. One thing is for sure: Mother Nature was busy in this area.

 

WHAT TO DO

This time of year, there’s one logical place to “leaf peep” in Taylors Falls — Interstate State Park. The park was jointly founded by Minnesota and Wisconsin in 1895, since it straddles the border. During early fall, the hiking trails resemble a postcard. While the visitors’ center is now closed for the season, the park recommends taking the 1.25-mile River Trail to the “Glacial Pothole” area, and it proves to be a good choice. Trails are well maintained, and have several lookout areas over the St. Croix. This time of year, the views offer their own beauty, with a palette of green, yellow and brown. On the return journey, try the Railroad Trail, which is a 1.5-mile hike along the path where the old railroad used to run. This trail ends near the Sandstone Bluffs Trail. If you’re not afraid of a few hundred stairs, it’s worth the 1-mile journey for the views. There is also canoe rental and rock climbing in this park. There’s a good chance you’ll spy some rock climbers during your visit (www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/inter state/index.html).

While the government shutdown briefly halted boat excursions in Taylors Falls, and the tours are now closed for the season, Wild Mountain’s Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours were up and running just in time for some fall trips. Owner Amy Frischmon, whose family owns and operates all the Wild Mountain properties, had to play catch-up once she got approval from the government to operate her boats again on the St. Croix. Weather-permitting, during the season there are daily excursions on both the Queen and the Princess. Visitors can also view the glacial potholes from the water, and a licensed boat pilot and tour guide point out rock formations, including the Old Man of the Dalles. A seasonal note: When the snow flies, the action switches over to Wild Mountain, the area’s ski and snowboard resort (www.wildmountain.com).

While it’s not located on a mountain, Wild Mountain Winery is picturesque, and located just 8 miles from Taylors Falls. It specializes in cold-hardy grapes from grower Elmer Swenson. All the grapes are locally grown, the wine locally produced, and the winery itself is also locally operated, which gives the scene an overall homey feeling. Wandering through the vineyards in the fall offers a chance to see the picking process. The vines, full and heavy with grapes, are being harvested all fall. The wine tasting room, which used to be the greenhouse, is cozy and offers samplings of Prairie Star, Frontenac Gris or the ever-popular Elmer’s White, which is wonderfully fruity and aromatic (www.wildmountainwinery.com).

Visitors can also just walk along the river and enjoy the charming shops in downtown Taylors Falls. The shops are locally owned, including the Newbery House, a gift shop that also doubles as an art gallery featuring works from local artists (www.delarosegallery.com). 

 

WHERE TO STAY

Why not spend the day in jail? No, it’s not what you think. And the Old Jail Bed & Breakfast, right in downtown Taylors Falls, is the perfect place to feel right at home — even if it used to be a jail. It’s the first licensed bed-and-breakfast in Minnesota, with three suites that have a private entrance, private bath and kitchen. The “overlook” room is just that — overlooking the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. To experience the “lock up,” book the “Jail Cottage,” complete with the original bars. But guests seem to clamor for the “Cave.” This former location of the town saloon is roomy, and has the original stone arch leading to a “cave” where there’s a full bathroom (www.oldjail.com or 651-465-3112).

 

WHERE TO EAT

If coffee or cappuccino is on your mind, be sure to hit the Coffee Talk in downtown Taylors Falls. It sits in a renovated Victorian house on the north side of town, and the locals who work the coffee bar are the perfect folks to ask about the best local stops. There are also fresh baked goods each day (www.taylorsfalls.com/coffeetalk.html). Rocky River Bakery, owned by Bill and Beth Hughes, is full of fresh baked pastries and breads, and this time of year a visitor can find the “Croixnut” — a cross between a doughnut and a croissant. But ask ahead, as the Croixnut tends to sell out fast (www.rockyriverbakery.com). While it has seasonal hours, Tangled up in Blue is worth the visit. The interior is simple and perfectly lit for either a dinner for two or a party of 10. The food is fresh, and the chef often visits your table to check on your dining experience. The beef Wellington is one of the house specialties, and for good reason — it’s a hand-cut filet topped with mushroom duxelle and enclosed in a puff pastry. Local wines from nearby vineyards are also offered (www.tangledupinbluerestaurantintaylorsfalls.com).

 

IF YOU GO

For more information about visiting the region, go to www.ci.taylors-falls.mn.us/ or http://fallschamber.org/

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