Menomonie’s Hidden Natural Gems

get outside the city for pristine beachways, geological wonders, and backyard getaways

Eric Christenson, photos by Taylor Smith

The view at Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area.
The view at Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area.

If you know where to look in and around Menomonie, you can find all sorts of cool outdoor hangs. From the city’s heart in the Red Cedar Valley, trails wind around the countryside toward gushing waterways, and you can find your perfect spot for hiking, fishing, relaxing, and taking it all in. See if you can find these spots and soak up the rest of summer, Menomonie style.

Devil’s Punchbowl
410th Street, Menomonie

The Devil’s Punchbowl is a surreal geological rarity just outside the city carved by glacial meltwater 10,000 years ago. The bowl itself is made of sandstone where water trickles down to the center. In the summer, it’s a cool shaded place to hang out, and in the winter it becomes so magical, you might not even think you’re in Wisconsin. The falls freeze into a wall of icicles and it’s really something to behold, especially when the light hits it just right. The Punchbowl is preserved as a publicly accessible scientific and natural study area, but it’s surrounded by private property, so please respect the fences. And, as a plaque in the parking lot states, the Punchbowl is a fragile place, so take care not to harm the plants, animals, or the landscape itself.

The Bottoms
524th Street and Dunnville Road, Menomonie

If you’re looking for a pristine beachscape, or a chill secluded place to camp, nothing beats The Bottoms. Once you make your way along the dirt path toward the water, the beach stretches for about a mile along the Chippewa River in the shadows of a walking bridge from the Red Cedar Trail. The sand is soft, the water is cool, and half the fun is in finding it. Once you’re there, it’s the ultimate oasis for a sun-soaked getaway right here in the Valley.

Hoffman Hills
740th Avenue, Menomonie

The Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area offers 700 acres of preserved and restored wooded hills, wetlands, and prairie landscapes – absolutely perfect for hiking and cross-country skiing. It’s a versatile area, where hikers of all experience levels can enjoy a fulfilling jaunt through the area. Make your way to the 60-foot-tall observation tower – one of the highest points in Dunn County – for a breathtaking view of the surrounding scenery, especially in the fall.

Crystal Cave
W965 State Road 29, Spring Valley

A bit of a hike from Menomonie, but still a very cool place to check out if you haven’t. Crystal Cave was discovered in 1881 by local farm boys, and transformed into a public destination in the mid-20th century. Nowadays, you can do an hour-long tour with expert guides through a maze of well-lit passages among the glistening stalactites and stalagmite 70 feet underground. (The cave is closed for the 2020 season, but plans to reopen in April.)