Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series spotlighting Stillwater, Minnesota, the historic Birthplace of Minnesota. The following Trail Town profile was written by Sydney Schoeberle from Minneapolis based Bellmont Partners on behalf of Discover Stillwater.
With a population of around 19,000, the charming town is nestled right on the scenic St. Croix River just minutes from Minneapolis and St. Paul and just across the Wisconsin border. The lumber industry made Stillwater famous at the height of the log boom, and Stillwater’s rich and vibrant history is evident everywhere you look with restored historic mansions, more than 100 owner-operated shops and restaurants in downtown alone, wineries and breweries, paddlewheel cruises, antiques, art galleries, live music and more. Stillwater’s ample running, hiking and biking trails include easy access to these unique dining spots, shopping and lodging.
There is no place better to enjoy the trails than Stillwater, which features more than 30 miles of connected multi-use trails to choose from. The Brown’s Creek/Gateway trailhead is located right in downtown Stillwater and runs 20 miles to St. Paul, Minn. Enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings of the river valley on the St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail, accessed in downtown Stillwater, or across the historic lift bridge at the trail’s head in Houlton, Wisconsin. The 4.7-mile loop trail goes over the new St. Croix Crossing Bridge as well, offering amazing riverside views and Instagram-worthy lookout points during your run.
Additional trail options near Stillwater include:
- William O’Brien State Park – A 20-minute drive from Stillwater and directly off the St. Croix Scenic Byway you’ll find William O’Brien State Park, with 12 miles of unpaved running trails winding through wooded areas, wetlands and restored oak savanna areas.
- Pine Point Regional Park – Gateway State Trail and Loon Lake Loop is a 1.8 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Stillwater that features a lake and is good for trail runners all ability levels.
- Willow River State Park – Willow River State Park is just across the Minnesota border in Wisconsin and has 13 miles of unpaved running trails that vary in difficulty. Run to Willow Falls and enjoy scenic overlooks of the river valley.
Parking and Transit
If you are planning to hit the trails, park in either of the lots on the Wisconsin side of the loop trail or the lot near the St. Croix Crossing Bridge and bike into downtown! There is plenty of free parking in downtown Stillwater, as well as the Stillwater Ramp (small daily fee of $3 weekday/$5 weekend) located on 2nd St/Commercial St. next to the Lowell Inn and only one block from Main Street. For complete details on directions and parking, visit the Discover Stillwater website.
Based in nearby Minneapolis the Endless Summer Trail Run Series is organized by Rocksteady Running and directed by John Storkamp. This series was created to provide low-key, low-pressure trail running / racing opportunities for people of all ages, abilities and levels of experience. Their race distances range from an approachable 3 miles to 7 miles. Also in Minneapolis the Loppet Foundation hosts an annual 5K trail race and the 12 hour Loppet Loppet.
The running community in Stillwater – and throughout the nearby Twin Cities – is strong and active. Run Stillwater produces five premier road races throughout Stillwater and the St. Croix river valley – the Stillwater Half Marathon, Lift Bridge Road Race, St. Croix Crossing Half Marathon, Gopher to Badger Half Marathon and Stillwater Boom Site Log Run. The Ragnar Road Minnesota also runs through Stillwater on a 200-mile journey from Duluth to St. Paul.
History & Culture
Stillwater has been voted a “Top 5 Midwest Towns to Visit Now” and is rated one of the top 10 “Prettiest Towns in America” by Forbes Magazine. Visitors and locals alike enjoy the natural beauty of the St. Croix river valley, the historic architecture and the vibrant downtown. While it’s quaint and charming, Stillwater is an active town – there is always something to do. All year long you’ll find festivals, events, live music, culinary classes and more. It’s a perfect location for a romantic getaway, girlfriend getaway or family vacation.
Treat yourself at one of Stillwater’s local coffee and sweets shops. Green Bridge Coffee, connected to Herman Electric Bike Rental, is a popular spot for runners and bikers alike since it’s just steps from Stillwater’s historic lift bridge and trails. Located a few blocks from downtown Stillwater, Coffee Paw Café features a full-service cafe specializing in local, sustainable foods and pastries, as well as house roasted coffee and espresso. Refuel with their rich Nitro Cold Brew coffee which is kegged in house.
Stillwater ranks with some of the best beer cities in the country, and is home to several breweries, including Lift Bridge Brewing Company, offering tours, events, and a welcoming taproom with live music open year-round. Lift Bridge’s taproom selection goes beyond their regular line up and includes limited release and experimental beers. Maple Island Brewing is a craft micro-brewery and taproom located in the Maple Island Hardware Building in historic downtown Stillwater, offering up creative brews that use unique, and often local, ingredients. Maple Island’s flagship brews include Cup of Joe Freakshow, Burlesque Kolsch and Maple Island Bockbrews, and they’re sold in pints and flights on-site and in growlers to-go. Hand-crafted, locally sourced cocktails also await downtown at new Forge & Foundry Distillery – check out the St. Croix Lemonade made with in-house distilled vodka.
From rooftop restaurants to casual sidewalk cafes, Stillwater’s food and beverage scene has plenty of outdoor dining options, perfect after a run on one of the many trails. Run the adjacent trails and get a bite to eat at the Gateway Trailside food truck. Grab a PB & Jay burger and a refreshing wine slushy at Brick and Bourbon and soak up amazing views of the St. Croix River on its rooftop. Or sip a Mai Tai and chow down on a delicious slice of vegan cheesecake at the Tilted Tiki while enjoying live music.
Check out panoramic views of the St. Croix River in historic downtown at Papa’s Rooftop atop the newly remodeled Water Street Inn. On top of the best views in town, the rooftop restaurant is serving up delicious wood-fired pizza. Right off the loop trail, Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop will open its renovated patio and sun deck in June 2021 and will now be serving Gloria’s To Go soft serve ice cream, hot dogs, sandwiches and salads.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, Nelson’s Ice Cream Parlor, located just a few blocks from downtown, has been in business since 1923 and offers 46 ice cream flavors served in mammoth portions. Or grab a boba tea, Thai rolled ice cream or seasonal cupcake at Mai Little Cakes, located right off the historic lift bridge. Stillwater was also named a “Best Small Town Food Scene” by USA Today in 2020.
Check out the Stillwater trails map in the Stillwater Visitor Guide or pick up a paper copy at one of Stillwater’s downtown businesses. Lake and Company opened on May 1 and has all the best adventure gear for your outdoor exploring. If you’re interested in taking a break from running and want to bike the trails, you can rent bicycles right in town at Herman Electric Bike Rental, offering electric bike, pedal bike and fat tire bike rentals, or a self-rental station through DIRO Outdoors.
Gateway Brown’s Creek Trail Association (GBCTA) donates approximately 1,600 volunteer hours every year collecting trash, removing graffiti, helping with special projects, advocating for the trail at the State Capitol and more.
On the trails nearby Stillwater, you’ll find events including O-Brien Trail Races held in September in William O’Brien State Park, the Afton Trail Runs – Ultra with 25K and 50K distances – on a hilly trail loop around Afton State Park. The popular Night Owl Races are run on wide grass trails in Lake Elmo Park Reserve. To find more local races, visit the Run Stillwater or Discover Stillwater’s events calendar.