Trout Lily’s Ice Dam


River Bend Nature Center’s Trail map; Trout Lily is highlighted above in Pink. Copies of trail maps can be found at the Interpretive Center or online at

Trout Lily is one of my favorite trails to hike at River Bend; the meandering Straight River creates the perfect pal to hike along side.  The sound of the river gently flowing by eases my soul. It also provides a beautiful backdrop to gaze at with a steep slope opposite the river filled with trees. After the sun sets, it is a wonderful place to star gaze being so far from the lights of the city.


A Stunning view overlooking the river from the Trout Lily Trail

However, being so close to the river provides its challenges for the Trout Lily trail.  This prime location for hiking is also a prime location for flooding and water damage. This last fall, when southern Minnesota was experiencing flooding from the excessive rain, Trout Lily flooded.  The close proximity to the river closed the trail down for a few weeks while the river rose, crested, and finally fell, and then a short while after the flood so that the trail could be restored.

Winter creates a whole new problem for Trout Lily: ice dams.  Ice Dams occur when many pieces of floating ice are carried along the current, accumulate, and obstruct the stream flow.  These ice jams usually are created when temperatures cause alternate freezing and melting of water surfaces. They commonly develop near bends, mouths and slope decreases in rivers. In our Straight River, the river bends right along Trout Lily, giving an ice dam a perfect home, especially with this winter’s fluctuating temperatures.


The start of the ice dam on the Straight River

This winter, we have a great example and a wonderful view of it along the Trout Lily trail. The ice dam was so large and powerful this winter that it moved part of the ice dam on top of the trail.

This ice dam truly provides an excellent display of how powerful water can be. Some of the pieces of ice that have accumulated are 5 times my size, and heavier than big boulders. The river easily carries the weight of these ice chunks and seemingly gently sets them on the river banks. In some cases, the river can pile multiple ice chunks on top of each other with ease.  This winter, the Straight River decided to set the ice on top of the Trout Lily Trail, obstructing the trail for skiers, snowshoes, hikers, and even our trail groomer.  About 50 feet of the trail was obstructed by this ice dam.


One of the many huge ice chunks that has been heaved onto the river bank right along the trail.

One afternoon when I went hiking on Trout Lily, after I had hopped over the ice chucks, I came across a large buck. He had found a spot where the river had made a small drinking pool. I scared him and interrupted his drinking, so he took off…across the river! He was able to walk over the congested ice dam safely without even cracking the ice. The ice dam is packed so tightly that it creates a surface thick enough to support the weight of the deer.

The warm weather has since melted a majority of the ice dam as well as the ice that was obstructing the trail. However, you can still see many of the large ice chunks that were heaved up onto the river bank.


Thousands of chunks of ice gather along the bend in the Straight River to create this massive ice dam.

They are much smaller than they started out due to the melting, but it is still easy to see how large and powerful they can be. River Bend and all of our visitors are very lucky because the ice dam did not cause too much damage to the actual trail; Trout Lily is still accessible to hikers. I would highly recommend taking a jaunt along this trail to check out the remaining ice chunks from the nature-created ice dam, listen to the sounds of the cracking ice, and to enjoy a beautiful hike though River Bend.



The Trout Lily trail gets so close to the river at some points, especially here where you can see how the trail was impeded by the ice dam.


What is your favorite winter activity? There are so many to choose from: snowshoeing, animal tracking, kicksledding, skiing, star gazing, making S’mores over the bonfire, and so many more.  Luckily, I know just the right place to do all of those activities: Winterfest at River Bend Nature Center!

We have been busy here at River Bend getting ready for our winter fun day, Winterfest.  Come join us this Saturday, January 21 from 1-4pm. Winterfest is a great opportunity to get outside, explore River Bend, and learn about or do something new and fun.  There will be three “Snakes and Lizards” live animal shows and three “Stars in the Sky” shows which will be packed full with fun facts about animals and constellations.  Grab a pair of snowshoes and learn how Native Americans were able to effectively walk in the snow without exhausting themselves, and give it a try yourself.  Then grab a kicksled and experience how Scandinavians made traveling easier and more fun.  You can even put your game face on, pretend you are in the Nordic Games, and have a kicksled race with your friends and family.  

We will also be removing some of the invasive buckthorn found around the interpretive center to make walking sticks for you to bring home. Then, take your walking stick to the trails and explore two self-guided hikes; one about animal tracks and one about the history before the nature center was established. Start or end your hike at the amphitheater, where you can warm up by the fire, eat some S’mores, and drink some hot chocolate. One of the St. Olaf choirs will also be joining us and providing some wonderful winter themed melodies. In addition to all of that, there will be crafts, goats, games, popcorn, and more.

This is truly an extraordinary event. What makes it extraordinary? You! Your family! Your friends! So come out and join us. Challenge us to a kicksled race. Learn something new. Experience something amazing.  Eat some delicious s’mores.  Most importantly…have great winter fun at Winterfest!