Spend a winter weekend along the snowy banks of the St. Croix River, and you'll find a mix of holiday bustle and time-honored traditions.
Stillwater, Minnesota, and Hudson, Wisconsin, the busiest towns on the St. Croix, have a sugarplum-magic to them in December. Visitors flock here from the Twin Cities (just a half-hour southwest) to peek in shop windows, curl up in cozy bookstores and linger over holiday feasts. People eager to slow down even more take a wintry drive along the silent St. Croix, a 165-mile-long waterway traveled by fur traders and Scandinavian settlers, Chippewa and Sioux.
Click ahead for highlights of a winter visit to the St. Croix River. Pictured at left: Stillwater tucks into the valley like a toy town in a model railway.
A Swedish-garbed Santa sometimes greets visitors at the Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia, Minnesota. Gammelgarden, which means "old farm" in Swedish, is just that -- an old farm and museum paying tribute to the area's Swedish heritage.
The museum's five historic buildings close mid-October, but the delightful gift shop, Scandia Butik, remains open through late December. Stop by for a wealth of gift ideas -- woolen clothing, Swedish rugs and traditional welcome lights used by Swedes during Advent (651/433-5053;
Click to the next slide for information on the museum's annual Lucia Dagen service.
In mid-December, the Gammelgarden museum hosts Lucia Dagen -- Lucia Day, which is all about celebrating light during dark December. The day begins with a predawn, candlelit church service (entirely in Swedish) inside Gammelgarden's 1856 log church, followed by a breakfast of traditional foods such as lefse, lucia katta buns, pickled herring and spritz cookies. It's an amazingly peaceful, moving way to spend a frigid winter morning.
Lucia Dagen 
Many families make a trip to St. Croix Valley Trees a holiday tradition. This family-owned farm in Somerset, Wisconsin, offers cut-your-own trees and much more -- wreaths, ornaments, covered-wagon rides, shopping, snacks and children's activities. Grab warm fried cookies, watch the dancing puppets or the train in the barn, explore the enchanted forest trail, check out the antique tractors, and listen to the player piano (715/247-5500; stcroixvalleytrees.com).
The St. Croix Festival Theatre in St. Croix Falls is community theater at its best. Founded in 1990, this nonprofit theater, featuring local and professional actors, has produced more than 110 plays. The theater boasts a volunteer roster of more than 100, a significant number in a town of just over 2,000 residents. The building was built in 1917 as a vaudeville house and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Check the website for the current play schedule (715/483-3387; festivaltheater.org).
The 123-mile St. Croix Scenic Byway follows the Minnesota side of the river. North of Stillwater, open fields and pine forests cradle tiny towns of buttoned-up houses. Relax and enjoy the scenery along the river and at towns such as Marine on St. Croix, where the Christ Lutheran Church (pictured at left) looks as if it inspired a postcard (byways.org).
Parts of the St. Croix are a designated National Scenic Riverway. Popular winter activities on and along the river include ice fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. In St. Croix Falls, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Visitor Center (open only weekdays in winter) features interactive exhibits about area history and geology as well as an 18-minute film, St. Croix: A Northwoods Journey (715/483-2274; nps.gov/sacn).
Grecco's In St. Croix Falls, this gourmet restaurant offers creative dishes such as coconut-crusted scallop with tomato pico and butternut squash (pictured at left; 715/483-5003; greccos.com).
Aprille's Showers Tea Room This fabulously frilly Stillwater tearoom hosts a popular Victorian Christmas Tea. Reservations required (651/430-2004; aprilleshowers.com).
The Kitchen Bistro-style fare at this Stillwater newcomer includes pan-roasted smoked salmon with apple julienne and bacon jam (651/342-1556; thekitchenstillwater.com).
Rocky River Bakery Get a fritter and hot cider for under $3 at the Taylors Falls, Minnesota, bakery (651/465-7655; rockyriverbakery.com).
San Pedro Cafe Caribbean fare adds unexpected spice to the Hudson dining scene (715/386-4003; sanpedrocafe.com).
The Kitchen 
Rocky River Bakery 
San Pedro Cafe 
Seasons on St. Croix Gallery This Hudson art gallery showcases 160 artists, most of whom are regional. Choose from clay, glass, jewelry, sculpture, metal, mixed media, fiber, wood, watercolor, pastels, oil, acrylic and photography (715/381-2906; seasonsonstcroix.com).
The Chef's Gallery Check out thousands of types of cookware, bakeware, utensils, gadgets, dinnerware and gourmet food at this Stillwater kitchen supply store (651/351-1144; thechefsgallery.com).
Kathe Wohlfahrt The Stillwater Christmas store is one of just four U.S. locations of the German ornament-maker (651/275-1236; christmas
La Rue Marche In Hudson, this stylish boutique features trendy, upscale clothing and accessories (715/386-1969; laruemarche.com).
Luhrs/Bjornson Artworks This lovely St. Croix Falls gallery and gift shop features the work of a husband and wife team; he works with pottery, she paints (715/483-9612).
Mara-Mi In Stillwater, this boutique is a parchment heaven for all who love paper, stationery, and paper-minded gifts (651/689-1730; mara-mi.com).
Valley Bookseller This stellar independent bookshop on Main Street Stillwater offers a large inventory in a bright and friendly atmosphere (651/430-3385; valleybookseller.com).
Pictured at left: Glass trees twinkle at Seasons on St. Croix Gallery in Hudson.
The Chef's Gallery 
Kathe Wohlfahrt 
La Rue Marche 
Valley Bookseller 
Rivertown Inn (pictured at left) Chef-prepared breakfasts (plus wine tastings and dinners) make this Stillwater's most memorable B&B. From $175 (651/430-2955; rivertowninn.com).
Ann Bean Mansion The cozy Tower Room offers sweeping Stillwater views. From $119 (877/837-4400; annbeanmansion.com).
St. Croix River Inn On a residential street in Osceola, Wisconsin, this peaceful spot offers river views and private breakfasts. From $135 (800/645-8820; stcroixriverinn.com)
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® November/December 2010.)
Rivertown Inn 
Ann Bean Mansion 
St. Croix River Inn