6 Wonderful, Family-Friendly Chippewa Valley Hikes

V1 Staff, photos by Mary Mihajlov |

Big Falls County Park Photo: Mary Mihajlov
Big Falls County Park

The air conditioner can make staying inside all summer an attractive option. But do not let its icy blast lull you into being a summertime couch potato. It’s up to you to get the family outside and loving the natural beauty that makes the Chippewa Valley such a great place. And here are a few places to do just that.

1. Eau Claire River Route

Downtown Eau Claire to the Eastside 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 & The 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, then 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

UW-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 Hwy. 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.