We at Franconia Sculpture Park love our neighbors; we are surrounded by engaged and supportive communities, nestled in the haven of the northern St. Croix River Valley. The communities of St. Croix Falls and Taylors Falls are to the east, Osceola is to the south, and the towns along Highway 8 (Lindstrom, Chisago City, Shafer, Center City) are our neighbors to the west.
At only an hour north of the metro, the surrounding St. Croix River Valley area is a hidden gem that many people have not yet explored. If your summer weekend calendar looks anything like mine, your free weekends are most likely booking up fast, so quick(!), before anything else comes up, set aside one weekend to be a wanderer, take a gander at our lovely sculpture park, and explore the many sites and activities this area has to offer.
Because there is so much to do we are breaking our suggestions down into three regions: St. Croix/Taylors Falls, Osceola, and Highway 8. Today our focus is St. Croix and Taylors Falls. These two towns straddle the river, and belong to Wisconsin and Minnesota, respectively. Although the waterfall is no longer visible it is still there, beneath the hydroelectric dam. It was the potential power of the falls that drew settlers to the area, and it is the oldest town in the St. Croix Valley region.
For you history buffs out there, this a great place to visit. The Folsom house is great for a rainy day, or if you tend to prefer indoor activities. The 160 year old house built by lumber baron W.H.C. Folsom and located in the Angel Hill historical district of Taylors Falls is now operated by the Minnesota Historical Society and furnished with original belongings.
Also very historically relevant is the quaint Old Jail Bed and Breakfast, located in Taylors Falls as well. Operated out of two adjacent buildings, the old jail and the Schottmuller building, this B&B has four suite options. Each suite has its own private entrance, kitchen amenities and living room sitting space with great views overlooking Taylors Falls. If you are looking for a more traditional form of sleeping, and especially if you are traveling with children, the St. Croix Holiday Inn is a great option. They have a large pool and fitness center in a great location close to everything.
Are you one of those humans that eat food? If so, there are plenty of great eats in this area. For cheese lovers I would highly recommend taking a trip out to LoveTree Farmstead. This small farm surrounded by glacial lakes is known for its unique sheep milk cheese and dry aged, grass fed organic lamb. Every Sunday they host Pizza by the Pond, where wood fired pizzas are made from their cheese, organic veggies, herbs, and meat on a fermented cave-aged pizza dough. I don’t know about you, but my mouth is watering already! Just north of historic Taylors Falls is a classic Drive-In, hosting standard fare of burgers, fries, malts, homemade root beer — the works! With a pleasant open air dining space that maintains the retro feel down to the car-hops poodle skirts, this is a perfect food option if traveling with kids. For a great breakfast place with delicious fresh pastries made daily, The Dalles House is the place to go. Romaynes on the main drag of Taylors Falls is a Sports Bar and Grill. A favorite local hangout, this place always has a lively atmosphere and great outdoor seating. Other places to eat in these two towns include The Vegetarian, Tangled Up in Blue (amazing food but very limited hours, be sure to get a reservation), Bistro on the St. Croix, and Coffee Talk, a wonderful coffee shop located in a restored Victorian house.
On a sunny day you could always pick up some food and make a picnic at Franconia or sites elsewhere in the area. Just past the Drive-In on 95, you’ll find North Lions Park, a wonderful city park and pro-picnic-ers dream come true that offers terrific view of the St. Croix River. The Falls area is ripe with opportunities to be outside and soak up the beauty of the river. Interstate Park, a well-know rock-climbing destination is immediately south of the two towns and boasts many camp sites and a small lake with a swimming beach. It is also home to the worlds deepest natural potholes; formed by melting glaciers, sheets of water were streaming by so fast they created whirlpools laced with sand and gravel that drilled cyndrillical holes into solid rock. On the Wisconsin side of the park is Pothole Trail where you can check out these wonders of nature. The 1,100 miles Ice Age National Scenic Trail also starts here. In addition, there is an extensive network of bike trails, starting with the Gandy Dancer trail, throughout both Wisconsin and Minnesota, which will allow you to see more of the countryside and catch glimpses of all the little towns and lakes that populate the region.
Wild Mountain is to the north and has many great summer activities, especially for a family. They have a waterpark, go-karts, an alpine slide, and this crazy thing called Freefall XP where you jump off a platform onto a giant blow-up pillow. Wild Mountain is also your one-stop-shop for canoe and kayak rentals, and the place to go if you want to take the famous riverboat tour of the falls. Don’t forget to stock up on fireworks at Fireworks Forever to add some spark to your favorite summer celebrations. Pleasant Valley Orchard is a nearby orchard with all the standard apple picking and fall activities, but they also have strawberry picking in the summer! These super friendly neighbors of ours are always ready to show visitors around their beautiful property. PS you can get a freshly baked turnover every day.
We like to support our neighbors and hope you will too. This coming weekend- June 12-14th- would be a wonderful time to come visit! It is Wannigan Days, a summer celebration for the two towns on the river, with music, food, a parade, and fireworks! And in our humble opinion we also think you’d have an amazing weekend if you came up in conjunction with one of our Music @ Franconia series taking place June 27th, July 11th, and August 15th. Take a hike, listen to some music and explore the sculpture park, grab some dinner and take in the views of the river.