I had marked my map of Banning with a boat launch near the Kettle River on highway 23 near the east edge of the park. I figured it would be frozen as well, but wanted to check it first before digging into the trail structure of the main park. This proved fortuitous as just a few hundred yards past the entrance a few birds flushed from the road shoulder into the trees. They looked large enough to be above Redpoll size so my curiosity was piqued. The boat launch was just a half mile away and the only safe turn about available. One glance at the river from the bridge said the current was not strong enough to maintain open water, but it might be a smart place to stop in the future to listen for birds.
I zipped back up the road and pull onto the widening shoulder near the local school complex and across the road from the flushed birds. Fortune smiled as they were still present and I was able to get a good look at a few of the 6 Pine Grosbeaks grabbing berries off some trees just a few feet into the woods. Another great bird species to pick up randomly and another excellent reminder of why I was doing this bird watching year the way that I was.
My mapping had me taking the left hand fork in the road knowing that any trail heads did not provide parking near the campground of the park. (I would later find specific signage at the campground indicating day use traffic was not welcome in the campground itself.) I had potentially figured on hiking the Skunk Cabbage Trail based on it's proximity to the river and potential woodland habitat. When I arrived at the parking area I saw the signage for the Teacher's Overlook and figured I'd take a look. The Kettle river could be heard over all else running strong over the rocks and narrow valley. Any remains of highway noise at this point were drowned out and it was just the river and myself in an empty lot. When I crossed the Skunk Cabbage trail I noted the relative snow depth and lack of travel thinking my snow shoes might need to come out. With the day getting on though I figured perhaps I would look at the Quarry Loop Trail of just about 2 miles total. I'm grateful that I did as the hike was outstanding and beautiful in the blistering hot 6 above temps that had crept in since the early morning.
I started learning a great deal about the area on this interpretive trail showing a wonderful past as a rock quarry with building shells still present along with the main quarry showing dramatic rock ledges and frozen water. In several locations the snow was interrupted with hoarfrost likely from the water vapor in the air and extreme cold. Every twist and turn was a wonder showing dramatic views of this unknown to me gem.
A short stone staircase leading to the lower portion of the Quarry Loop.
Remnants of the past.
Marked as the main quarry location this entire wall was a waterfall frozen in time. A special sight one could not get during the other seasons.
I even found a lone Hairy Woodpecker and pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches enjoying the slight warmth during this hike. My pictures show a large shift from Moose Lake just up the road with the Kettle River defining the park in a dramatic way. Many trails and a waterfall down river await a future hike that I greatly look forward to taking.
Hairy Woodpecker giving his best pose.
After exiting I had a couple map points that still touch State Park property, but were reached by heading to the city of Sandstone. Both of my selected locations did not pan out however as one was down a dead end road that appeared to get less and less attention as snow fell eventually leading to a single track without signage that I did not feel comfortable taking in a 2 wheel drive vehicle. This Big Spring Falls Trail area noted on the map is something I'll look at taking in the future. My second location was from a city park (Robinson) that acts as a southern route to approach Wolf Creek Falls, but this local park also seemed to get little attention and it wasn't obvious to me where to park and an additional single wheel track moved off to another section of the park I wasn't sure I should drive on or what. I'm sure if I were a local it would be obvious, but I'm so used to heavy signage at parks that it wasn't clear what proper protocol was beyond the signs indicating camping was not allowed north of that location. I'm sure the spring/summer would iron that out easily enough. I'll likely make an attempt on Wolf Creek Falls from the main body of the park during a future hike and perhaps leave Robinson park for some other unrelated effort.
The Great: Even wrapped tight to the highway 35 corridor, Banning State Park was it's own world. Driving a good distance to the first parking keeps a hiker well away from that commotion it seems. I see a lot of trails begging to be hiked and look forward greatly to that opportunity to see what beyond Pine Grosbeaks can be found in this area.
The Meh: Limited parking was interesting to me and seemed to indicate that if you are not prepared to stay in the campground then you will have extra distance to cover to see the map labeled water falls. In prep I read some hiking reviews that noted the same thing that you will have to combine a couple trails in order to get to the more distant locations.
The Verdict: This ended up less about birds and more about the river and quarry. It was a great education, while also being an outstanding hike with beautiful views. I'll gladly come back and hope to be able to bring my wife along for at least the Quarry Loop hike in the spring or early summer.