What's that you say? You'd like to get outside and enjoy this amazing mid-march thaw? You'd like to suck some fresh spring air right into your lungs? Well, OK, then. Here're some great places to do that. And some of them are right in Eau Claire. (Just make sure to check if the trails are thawed and open!)
1. Eau Claire River Route
Downtown Eau Claire to East Side Hill
Start at the paved trailhead hidden across from L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library’s underground parking entrance on South Dewey Street. The trail brings you across to the north side of the river on an old railroad trestle S bridge, then across the footbridge into Boyd Park. Take an immediate left after the Boyd Park Bridge and go along a wood-chipped hiking path. Before the trail ends, you have to catch a left turnoff into the woods near the end of the clearing, onto a trail that eventually reaches Archery Park.
2. Trip Falls & Devil’s Punchbowl
From Menomonie, go west on Hwy 29, turn left after crossing the Red Cedar River, and left again on Rustic Road. Pull over when you get to a small bridge with metal guardrails; path will be on right.
The trail is not too difficult and it is short (about 1/2 mile), but requires some agility to climb up the small cliffs alongside three waterfalls. The gully widens and the path gets easier after about 500 yards. Check out the Devil’s Punchbowl, where you can take four flights of stairs down into the ravine, or walk around the rim.
3. Tower Ridge Recreation Area
From Eau Claire, go east on Hwy Q and take a right on Hwy L, and go south about a mile to the ski area parking lot
The Tower Ridge trails are wide and wind through the oak forest, around and over a number of steep hills. Several spots even have wooden benches to stop and admire. Although the trails at Tower Ridge can be a bit maze-like, just follow the signs and you’ll get back to your car.
4. Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area
10 miles out of Menomonie near Hwy E
Hoffman Hills has nearly nine miles of hiking trails, chosen based on length and difficulty (lengths vary from 1.7 to 4.4 miles). At the north end of the park is a 60-foot observation tower. It’s almost never crowded, so pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the three picnic areas.
5. Putnam Trail
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
UW-Eau Claire warns hikers to stay on the Putnam trail’s wide dirt path as everything else that’s natural is studied for scientific research. The trail starts where the Little Niagara flows into the Chippewa River, marked with a gorgeous arched stone bridge. A semi-steep climb on newly constructed steps takes you above the river for some photo ops.
6. Big Falls County Park
10 miles east of Eau Claire off Highway Q
Big Falls is the site of considerable summer activity, though pleasantly devoid of such for the next half-year. The trails, though not extensive, cut through forest on either side of county roads Q and K. Broad sand beaches and stout granite outcroppings make for good picnicking.
Bonus! Other Great Hikes to Check Out
Hickory Ridge Trail • This nine-mile trail, located in northern Chippewa County in the County Forest, begins in a parking lot off of 225th Ave. (Bob Lake Rd.).
Irvine Park • This two-mile trail is a gently rolling path for bikers and hikers. The trail is located in Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls on Bridgewater Avenue.
Lowes Creek County Park • Lowes Creek’s 11 miles of multi-use trails appeal to runners, walkers, and bikers. Located off S. Lowes Creek Rd. Parking pass required.
Old Abe Trail • Twenty miles of paved, multi-use trail from Chippewa Falls to Cornell, winding through agricultural and forest land. One of the trailheads is northeast of Chippewa Falls on 97th Ave.
Red Cedar Trail • A 15-mile trail connects Menomonie to Dunnville and shadows the steep walls of the Red Cedar Valley. Wildlife includes woodpeckers, songbirds, turkey, grouse, pheasants, fox, and deer.
Willow River State Park • From I-94, take Exit #4 and go north on Hwy 12. Then straight onto Hwy U to Hwy A. Continue north for 1.5 miles. The park entrance will be on the left. With more than 13 miles of trails, this is a natural playground for any nature lover. Trails offer plenty of riverside panoramic views and scenic overlooks of gorgeous waterfalls.