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The 47-mile Gandy Dancer State Trail: Southern Section, between St. Croix Falls and Danbury, commemorates gandy dancers, those hardworking section crews who manually restored the railroad tracks in alignment to prevent train derailments. While dancer probably referred to their rhythmic motion of working in unison to tamp down ties or adjust rails, gandy comes from the fact that the tools were made by the Gandy Tool Company of Chicago (according to the website for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources).
The northern and southern sections of the rail-trail roll for 98 miles from St. Croix Falls north to Superior. Along the way, it crosses into Minnesota for 32 miles and then returns to Wisconsin.
The crushed-limestone trail follows an old route of the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad, which became the Soo Line Railroad after a 1961 merger. Wisconsin Central Ltd. gained control in the late 1980s, disusing this branch. The states of Wisconsin and Minnesota acquired the right-of-way, and Wisconsin surfaced the southern section with limestone in 1995.
Beginning in St. Croix, you can set off on the Interlink Trail that leaves the Polk County Information Center. With 15 trails for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing, the town on the St. Croix River has earned its nickname of “City of Trails.” Meeting up with the Gandy Dancer Trail as you leave Riegel Park, you’ll be passing through forests and farmland for the rest of your journey.
This area is sparsely populated, but you’ll find small towns with services every 4–8 miles. The first of these is Centuria, which you’ll reach in less than 5 miles, where the trailhead has a library.
Another 10 miles up the trail, after passing through Milltown, you’ll arrive in Luck. The town earned the title “Yo-Yo Capital of the World” after Duncan Toys opened a yo-yo factory here in 1946 to take advantage of the area’s hard maple forests. You’ll find Frederic in another 6 miles where the circa-1901 Soo Line Railroad Depot has been renovated and serves as a museum.
After visiting Lewis, in another 5 miles you’ll arrive in Siren, named for the (misspelled) Swedish word for “lilac.” The town also has a vintage railroad depot, privately owned, and a park on the shores of Crooked Lake next to the trail just north of town. ATVs and UTVs are permitted on the trail from Siren to the northern terminus. North of Crooked Lake, the trail passes the Amsterdam Sloughs State Wildlife Area, where bald eagles and blue herons make their homes.
More services are available in Webster in 6 miles, after which the final leg to the trailhead in Danbury is the longest, about 10 miles. The trail crosses the St. Croix River on a 520-foot trestle into Minnesota here.
Snowmobiles are allowed the entire length of the trail under snow conditions, and ATVs and UTVs are allowed in the winter (check local conditions) north of Tewalt Road in Burnett County, just south of Siren.
NOTE: A State Trail Pass ($25 annually/$5 daily) is required for bicyclists ages 16 and older. Snowmobilers and ATV/UTV users must display either a Wisconsin registration or an ATV/UTV or snowmobile State Trail Pass. For information, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/trailpass.html.
St. Croix Falls is about 25 miles east of Minneapolis–St. Paul. To find parking at the Polk County Information Center from US 8 in town, exit onto southbound SR 35/S. Vincent St. In 0.5 mile, with the entrance to Wisconsin Interstate State Park on your right, make a U-turn to return north on SR 35. In 0.4 mile, turn right at the sign for the information center into the parking lot.
A connector trail that leaves the information center heading southeast meets and then follows little-used Old Highway 8 for a short distance to Industrial Parkway. Turn left at Industrial Parkway and then, with a fast-food restaurant on your left, veer right onto the pathway to head southeast underneath SR 35 and then north to Pine St. Turn right onto Pine St., and go 2 blocks to where the rail-trail begins, curving left and heading north.
To reach the northern trailhead in Danbury from I-35, take Exit 183 eastbound on MN 48 in Hinckley, Minnesota. Go 27.2 miles—the road becomes SR 77 at the state line, across the St. Croix River—and look for parking on the right about 300 feet past Glass St., immediately after you pass the trail.
I just ran the Gandy Dancer Trail Marathon relay the weekend of October 15, 2016 and it was absolutely beautiful. The leaves were changing and falling on the trail as we ran. My section was from Luck to Frederic and I am already planning on a weekend trip for next years run!!
My husband and I have ridden almost every Rail Trail in Wisconsin but had not hit the Gandy Dancer. We rv camped in InterState State Park, which is conveniently close to this trail and easy to access. We have cyclocross bikes for trails, which I usually prefer over road bikes for any trails that are gravel. The trail was wide and clean and we did about 50 miles of it. Compared to other trails like the Great River Trail, it was kind of boring. Just farm fields, very few places to stop and rest and almost no places to fill water bottles next to the trail. We don't typically go into the little towns so that might have added to the experience, but there are plenty of other trails that enable you to at least fill up on water. Well maintained but ho-hum. LOVED the camping and hiking at Interstate tho! The Stovell 7 lakes trail nearby is WELL WORTH SEARCHING OUT and a lot prettier!
My wife and I rode from Saint Croix Falls to Luck and back the first day. Then we rode the Stower Seven Lakes Trail to Amery. This made it a 59 mile ride for day one. On day two we rode from Luck to Danbury and back. This was a 69 mile trip. We have touring bikes (not skinny tires and not wide tires). The Burnett County portion of the trail had a much better surface than the Polk County section. Burnett County used more limestone than Polk County. When you cross over a gravel road be careful because some have soft sand on each side. The horseflies were awful. Bug spray is a must. We stopped in Danbury and bought some Off at the grocery store. That made the ride back much better. A storm went through the night before our trip to Danbury. We had to lift our bikes over fallen trees seven to eight times. The trees were cleaned up by the time we came back through, so good job to Polk County workers or DNR or whomever cleaned them up. Amelia's Cafe in Danbury was a nice spot to stop and eat. Turn left when you come to end of trail and go about one to two blocks. We have been traveling Wisconsin the past ten years and riding bike trails. This one was okay, but nothing spectacular that would draw us back to it.
I love this trail a lot and anticipate going back often. Every time I go I see something new and every time I enjoy the ride. I did a very early AM ride today and just loved every moment with a beautiful sunrise, Palliated Woodpeckers up and down the trail, Egrets and so much more. Seriously put this trail on your to do list as you just can not go wrong with it.
Yesterday the family and I hit the last stretch of the southern Gandy Dancer. We made it from Siren to Danbury and then a little further to the gorgeous bridge that crosses the St Croix as you pass into Minnesota (32-33 miles round trip). I have probably snapped 500 photos in total of the entire trail. I would strongly suggest this trail to any one. Well maintained, cleaned quickly after storms and just a fun ride all the way for great scenery and wildlife. Go as early as you can in the morning to see the most of the trails great wildlife.
We rode from St. Croix Falls to Milltown. We're planning to go farther but my bike blew a tube 2 miles out of Milltown so we had to change our plans. Milltown was a very friendly place but also lacking in basic supplies as there is no drug store or grocery store. So it took us longer than anticipated to get the tire taken care of and we turned back at Milltown. We are anxious to return and explore more of the trail soon!
What a gorgeous trail so far but we have a lot to still cover. Saint Croix Falls to Centuria is just as beautiful as it gets. From the state building where you buy the passes to Centuria and back is a nice 14 mile run. Once on the crushed rock trail it is easy going and steady. I have now rode this part of the trail 3 times. If you mountian bike you got the Wooly trail along the Gandy. Well worth trying out!
In May 2015 a friend and I rode the Southern Section rail from St. Croix Falls to Danbury, then returned the following day. Although it had rained the prior day, the trail surface was in good shape with no puddles and rarely soft. (There was shallow standing water in the short tunnels.) The only surface issues were where the trail crossed a road, and our tires sunk in several inches at times.
The trail is wide enough to ride two or three abreast the whole way. It is partly shaded, more so to the south, and has mileposts. Most towns the trail passes through have covered picnic tables or benches by the trail.
We parked our car by the building shared by St. Croix Falls police and Polk County Tourist Information. The latter has a useful Southern Section trail map and list of restaurants in towns on the trail. We liked Northwoods Bakery Cafe in Frederic and Fresh Start Coffee Roasters in Webster (they roast their own coffee).
Earlier posts mention the rough trail gravel south of Webster near milepost 33 by the airport fence. The gravel can be avoided by riding west on Airport Road, north on Old 35 and east on Midtown Road (roads are signed). We encountered no traffic on the roads, which parallel the gravel trail.
I read the previous reviews and find a few updates/corrections may be helpful. Rode south from Danbury to St. Croix Falls Sunday 10/13/13. I agree this is a top 10 limestone trail especially at the peak of fall colors. I just missed peak colors that required riding through 6-10" of downed leaves---made for a smooth ride. Areas of the trail are covered completely by beautiful green moss---be careful this stuff is slick especially after couple days of rain. There is a diversion in the trail south of County Road D (between Webster and Siren). After calling DNR,towns and counties (there are no signs I could find identifying the >15 ft fence that extended for miles)I learned the fenced in area is the Amsterdam Slough Wildlife area. The gravel road around this area is not for narrow tires. See a previous review about going around an airport (I never saw an airport). I rode my Mtn bike successfully around this road but could see tire prints that turned around. Since I am bent on crossing the USA on trails only, taking the hiway was not an option but I recommend it for the non anal folks. The important thing to know is that as of this date there are many trail approaches to crossing roads that have loose pea sized gravel that can cause a wreck if speed control is not appropriate and even with 2" tires.
This review applies to the trail between Danbury and St. Croix Falls. While I did meet three bikers and a couple of hikers the trail does not appear to be heavily used. For most of the trail road bikes should have no problem. The exceptions of the portion of the trail from the parking lot in Danbury to the St. Croix River bridge and the portion of the trail that bypasses the Burnett County Airport. The trail to the bridge is very rough and sandy. I would not recommend it for anything other than a mountain bike with 2+ inch tires. If you have no other option walk to the bridge. It's only a half mile and the views are well worth the trouble. The trail around the Burnett airport is softer than than rest of the route and might give road bikes some problems. My ride was from North to South. The trail markers showing the distance to St. Croix Falls are accurate. There were facilities open in each of the towns along the trail. All-in-all it's highly recommend ride, pretty country all the way.
There's a great co-op grocery in Luck, two blocks east of the trial in downtown.
Take the road around the Siren airport. The trail is paved with grade 5 here, and the aggregate is too large.
The middle of the trail actually has alot of great amenities and the towns are quite close together. Luck, Fredric and Siren is a great 15 mile ride one way and then back the next day. There are restaurants and lodging in both Luck and Siren. Siren has alot of stuff, including a very cute place called the Forgotten Times Retreat. It holds alot of people each with your own bed and is only 1 1/2 miles from the trail.
The Gandy Dancer trail is fantastic starting out in Danbury then heading south. It's a little more rugged heading north of Danbury. Which is fine for the ATV enthusiast or horseback riders. ATV's and horseback is only allowed north of Danbury. That was a great idea though, to allow atv's to the north and keep hikers and the bikers separate from the atv's.
It gives everyone a chance to enjoy the trail
There's a place to park your car and unload your bikes, or you can just hike south, then come back to get your car. The view is pretty enough so you wont see the same things twice. Plus there's a nice little park right there, at the start of the trail in Danbury.
It's an extremely nice, wide, groomed trail with crushed limestone and fantastic views of Yellow river right when you first start out. They even keep up the sides or shoulder of the trail by mowing it frequently. That helps keep bugs down and makes the trail seem even wider.
We noticed right before the big 4th of July weekend of 2008, they were right on it, grooming it so it would look nice for the Holiday weekend!
We bike and hike it alot. It's so peaceful and we've seen our fair share of deer and other wild life while hiking the trail.
Having biked and hiked other trails in many other states, we think the Gandy Dancer is right up there near the top. There are also nice places to stop and eat or shop in the towns along the trail too, though Danbury has the most character.
If you want a nice, long, well groomed scenic trail, try the Gandy Dancer. You wont be disappointed!
We rode the southern 10 miles or so of this trail in the spring of 2008. Frankly, it was a bit disappointing. The first two miles were a nice asphalt surface, but this whole section is one enormous uphill as it climbs out of the river valley. Scenic, but we're not super hill bikers and found it pretty exhausting. After that, the surface changed to crushed limestone and the trail became pretty much a tour of the local cornfields with a very thin line of small trees along the trail. This part was flat enough, but the trail surface was poor. The downed tree branches and puddles were no doubt due to a recent storm, but the deep tractor ruts had clearly been there for a while.
Other reviews mention the the frequent small towns as a plus, and from what we saw this is the case. We very much enjoyed our beer and burger at the Glass House Bar in Centuria. We're from Minnesota, and appreciate the welcoming and ever-available taverns that you find in small-town Wisconsin! And of course, the two miles of hill was a lot more fun when we were coasting down it on the way back to our car. But overall, this trail is not going to be one of our favorites.
"I rode this trail in August of 2004. The temperature was nice, although it did rain off and on. The surface of trail was good and there were small towns with facilities that are no more than 10 miles apart.
For more info and pics of this trail and others we've ridden go to Randy & Nova's Biking Adventures."
You can camp at Interstate Park and ride your bike to the trailhead. But watch out. The hill out of the park goes up 600 feet in about two miles.
The trail is nice. We rode to Milltown and back. The ride back to camp is a blast. Nice family ride with food available in Milltown and Centura. It's 16 miles from Interstate park to Milltown. You can also park at the KFC off of Highway 8 in St. Croix Falls. From there a city trail connects you to the Gandy Dancer. In either case you get to go through a tunnel built under Hwy 8.
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