Sand Barrens Bikepacking Overnighter

Tucked along the eastern banks of the St. Croix River is an area known as “The Sand Barrens". It’s where outlaws such as Al Capone would escape to in the prohibition era due to its isolation and unwelcoming nature. The glaciers deposited huge amounts of sand, and the barrens have primarily become a space for hunters and equestrians. The unusual landscape, with its sandy terrain is also a perfect place for an overnight bikepacking trip. Last weekend Zimm, Frank and I drove up to St. Croix Falls to set out on Zimm’s first bikepacking experience.

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The first part of the trip is pavement, taking us to the Wolf Creek Bar.

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The Wolf Creek Bar is the cultural epicenter of the Trade River area. It is gritty, rough around the edges, and full of rural character. Pulling in here on our loaded down mountain bikes always involves a fun exchange with the locals. When we tell them we are riding straight into the woods on the horse trail behind the bar we are met with a mix of curiosity and disbelief. A few years ago I did this same trip carrying my camera gear in an Evoc backpack and a guy asked me if I parachuted out of an airplane to get there. This time the man sitting next to me was eager to show me pictures of the fat bike he painted camouflage and mounted his crossbow to. It was a delight to find connection with someone who lives a very different life than me.

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While we were having lunch a hay ride rolled in, being pulled by a tractor. Classic. Everyone on that trailer was in high spirits. They brought the shenanigans inside.

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It was time to leave, so we headed out back where our bikes were parked and made our way towards the horse trail. Zimm had his Randy Savage glasses on. I could not pass up the opportunity to get a photograph of him passing under the American flag with those on!

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The horse trail was immediately gnarly. Churned up, loose sand had us struggling to keep the bikes going straight. The best part of the ride was just beginning.

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The Sand Barrens are adjacent to some local farms, where sand and more organic soils mix. Along the ride we would encounter several mud pits.

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Soon enough we were through the most challenging section of sand and mud, and back on gravel roads. The fall colors were near perfect.

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We got to our campsite at Sunrise Ferry Landing just before dark. There used to be a ferry landing here to shuttle cars across the river. Now it is used as a campground for people canoeing the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. It was quite chilly, so the camp booties went on and we had a campfire until we all crashed for the evening.

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Camp coffee is one of my favorite things on a cold morning. I carried my grinder and Five Watt Coffee on the trip with me. It was a perfect way to start the morning.

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In the span of an hour the temperature dropped 8-10 degrees, and it started snowing! It honestly raised the spirits and made the trip feel festive. We were excited!

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I had to be back to Minneapolis by the evening to make it in time for the Milo Greene concert at the Turf Club. We packed up and hit the road with the snow smacking us in the face.

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Another eventful bikepacking overnighter on the Sand Barrens was in the books, and Zimm had completed his first bikepacking trip, in the snow!

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These two fellas were great riding partners. Looking forward to the next snowy ride with them!

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