Path-ematics

Menomonie author explores area trails in new guide

Caleb Gerdes, photos by Andrea Paulseth

HIKED UP. Rob Bignell, shown on the trail at Beaver Creek Reserve, has written numerous books on hiking.
HIKED UP. Rob Bignell, shown on the trail at Beaver Creek Reserve, has written numerous books on hiking.

The Chippewa Valley, it turns out, is an excellent place to live. It also turns out that the Chippewa Valley is an amazing place to hike. Local author Rob Bignell, a Menomonie native, has released a new book that highlights the region’s extensive day hiking options.

Having grown up on a farm outside of Menomonie, which butted up against the school forest, Bignell spent his youth perambulating over roots and under branches. This idyllic childhood experience led to a deep-seated love for nature and the joy of being awash in the sights and smells of the natural world. Bignell’s love for nature and his love for the written word developed into the path he now treads: Writing hiking guidebooks.

Day Hiking Trails of the Chippewa Valley is the most recent in a long list of hiking guidebooks he has penned; it is a part of his Hittin’ the Trail series. Another book in the series is called Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks, which came out last January and provides the top sights of 55 of America’s 59 National Parks. (The book is No. 1 on Amazon’s Travel>Mountain bestseller list.) Bignell has also written books specific to Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, and Polk counties.

When you lace up your hiking shoes and head out with Day Hiking Trails of the Chippewa Valley, you will be given the knowledge and expertise of a tour guide without the guide walking backwards in front of you the whole way. Bignell spends his hikes checking off a list of the most important elements of a particular trail, and he makes a point of calling out the fascinating as well as the vital. Bignell’s own love for history, geology, geography, and biology is seamlessly added to the entries alongside directions and cautions about dangerous plants or slippery river stones. These hiking trails are paths of the Valley’s history as well as a great way to access the Valley’s flora, fauna, and geology.

Bignell’s guidebook career began when he brought his young son, Kieran, out to hike in a local park outside Los Angeles. While preparing to head into the woods a man stopped him and inquired about the child’s backpack. During the ensuing conversation, Bignell shared his extensive knowledge of hiking with a young child. The man thanked him, commented on Bignell’s knowledge, and said he should write a book about hiking with children. Bignell liked the idea and wrote his first hiking books, creating the Hikes with Tykes series. The guidebooks only grew from there.

“Now that I told everyone how to hike with kids, I needed to tell them where to hike,” he said. In order to provide the “where,” Bignell will spend as much time as necessary on the trails, building a significant amount of knowledge up in order to confidently provide the direction needed in a guidebook. Day Hiking Trails of the Chippewa Valley was five months worth of hiking for Bignell and his son, who is 9 years old now. It’s a process that is welcomed by both. 

Bignell’s favorite hike was the very first one he ever took with his son. He said he’d done more challenging and impressive hikes, had stood overlooking greater vistas, and had walked beneath larger trees. However, his first hike with his son trumped it all. At four and a half months old, Kieran rode on his father’s back as they walked beneath the redwoods of Northern California. Bignell remembers how Kieran spent the entire three-mile trek staring up at the eternally tall trees. They both still hike together often, and Kieran has spent many weekends hiking with his father.

Bignell just wants to provide people with the knowledge necessary to avoid the many misadventures that can happen in the woods. There is also the hope that the confidence instilled through the knowledge of the trails will create a deep appreciation for nature within prospective hikers.

Day Hiking Trails of the Chippewa Valley is available at The Local Store and on Amazon.

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