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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.” This portion of the Gandy Dancer Trail also overlaps the western tip of the state's expansive Ice Age Trail; this National Scenic Trail spans 1,200 miles from here to the Lake Michigan shoreline.
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 just north of town. The trail passes through Veterans Park, in the heart of Siren. 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.
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