Outdoor fun is passion No. 1 in West Central Wisconsin
There’s water, water everywhere in West Central Wisconsin, and many a mile to hike. Combined, it creates a four-season playground for outdoor enthusiasts, with ample opportunities for such activities as boating, fishing, biking and cross-country skiing.
You can start in Eau Claire, where the Chippewa River slices through town and creates a picturesque setting for the city, along with numerous recreational possibilities. There is an extensive hiking/biking trail system, including the Chippewa River Trail (which can be used for snowmobiling) and the Red Cedar Trail (which is groomed for cross-country skiing). Ice skating is available during the colder months at no less than six public parks.
Many rivers run through West Central Wisconsin, including four in Rusk County alone. Some of the best whitewater paddling in the Midwest can be found on the Flambeau River. The Thornapple and Jump rivers provide more relaxing canoeing and swimming options, while the Chippewa River is a popular fishing location.
Fantastic fishing also is available at Red Cedar Lake, which covers more than 1,800 acres and reaches a maximum depth of 53 feet, as well as 1,009-acre Lake Menomin. Anglers flock to the region to catch walleye, bass, panfish and northern pike.
The Apple River is the pick for tubers, with outfitters offering leisurely rides of more than three hours, while sailing and river cruises are available on the lovely St. Croix River, an official National Scenic Riverway.
There also is plenty to do on dry land. Hikers and bikers can enjoy the various trails in the Blue Hills, named for the misty color that envelops the ridges during the early-morning hours. Choices include the Perch Lake Nature Trail and the striking Ice Age Trail, featuring distinctive rock structures that were sculpted by ancient glacial ice.
Lake Wissota State Park attracts hikers as well, enticed by more than 1,000 acres of rich forest and open prairie surrounding a 6,300-acre lake with a 285-foot swimming beach. Meanwhile, the rustic Willow River State Park has more than 200 miles of snowmobile trails and is home to Willow Falls, one of the most scenic waterfalls in the state.
Finally, for something a little different, you can take a tour of Crystal Cave, the largest commercial cave in Wisconsin, with paved pathways extending 70 feet beneath the surface. Crystal Cave just shows that the outdoor recreational opportunities in West Central Wisconsin extend for as far as you can see, as well as some places you can’t see.
Four Prime Spots to Get Outdoors in West Central Wisconsin
Lake Wissota State Park (Chippewa County)
Grab your helmet for mountain biking in Lake Wissota State Park, which features 11 miles of off-road trails. Also gracing the park is a lake and 116 campsites, and activities that include boating, swimming, paddling, hiking and water skiing.
Flambeau River (Rusk County)
Make a splash by paddling along the Flambeau River, a beautiful waterway that offers adventures from leisurely paddling to whitewater excitement. As the river flows into the city of Ladysmith, paddlers have access to several wilderness campsites.
Maiden Rock Bluff (Pepin County)
On a limestone cliff high above the Mississippi River and overlooking Lake Pepin is Maiden Rock Bluff, which provides a gorgeous setting for hiking and soaking in fall colors. Visitors can often see perched eagles, falcons and red-tailed hawks.
Kinnickinnic State Park (Pierce County)
Kinnickinnic State Park offers world-class fly fishing and other outdoor activities, incuding swimming, boating, paddling, hunting, trapping and 9.2 miles of hiking trails. A 2.8-mile snowshoe trail opened in 2018.