Chippewa Falls is fine Yellowstone Trail excursion destination
The Yellowstone Trail, which runs coast-to-coast through Stevens Point and whose ostensible purpose is to take visitors to Yellowstone National Park, has plenty of fine intermediate stops – including Chippewa Falls, the destination for my second brief camping trip of the summer.
Last week’s tiny introduction to the trail took Gazette readers to Danube, Minn., the site of my first seasonal camping trip, a two-night jaunt in Minnesota. Because the kids were still in school and my wife working, my travel was solitary.
I’ve promised myself, however, that most of my outdoors activity will be as family-centric as possible. I’ve fussed at my wife for her good intentions in registering the kids for too many summer activities, whatever they may be, because they tend to lock us into a schedule that seems immutable when it really isn’t.
School ended June 3 and the first “free” week rolled around with the kids already committed, but I wanted to set the tone for the summer and invited my son, Sam, to accompany me on a second Yellowstone Trail foray. It would be even more abbreviated, but he was up for it, so I threw together a little gear and away we went June 6 for a single night at Lake Wissota State Park, along with other diversions.
No shortage of fun in Chippewa County
When the Monday of our trip rolled around, Sam’s enthusiasm had diminished slightly from his original weekend stance, so I let that dictate our travel speed. We left Point shortly after 11 a.m. and traveled straight to Chippewa County on Interstate 39 and Wisconsin Highway 29, eschewing the portions of the Yellowstone Trail that diverge from 29 and encourage a more sedate pace.
It was a good move, as any suggestions for activity before we hit Lake Wissota (like touring Leinenkugel’s Brewery) didn’t move Sam’s meter. Then we saw a sign for Loopy’s Grill & Saloon west of town, which offers canoe and kayak rentals and a shuttle service. Sam was game, so off we went.
Our shuttle driver, James, warned us that the river was running about 3 feet above its normal stage of 8 feet at the Chippewa Falls gauge and that we might have to work to prolong our canoe trip, which normally takes folks in the range of two hours to cover the three miles from downtown to Loopy’s.
As it turns out, we covered that distance in just under an hour, and that was with a concerted effort to paddle back upriver for about 10 minutes. Our failure to delay was the result of the June 6 water flow of some 21,000 cubic feet per second from the dam downtown, about 16,000 cfs higher than the June 6 median of the previous 124 years.
It sprinkled on and off during our trip, and the clouds looked threatening as we approached Loopy’s landing. We’d paid $45 for the longer, six-mile route to Wheaton Landing, but James had said we could pull out at Loopy’s and just pay for the shorter route (but still $35).
We opted to take out – and did so just before what seemed like another 21,000 cfs poured out of the heavens. We rewarded ourselves by applying our savings toward a shared order of cheese curds, a couple of fish tacos and some excellent 1919 draft root beer from New Ulm, Minn.
We then drove around town exploring a bit and stumbled across Olson’s Ice Cream, whose homemade product is a local favorite. A brief visit there preceded our drive around the Northern Wisconsin State Fair Grounds and the excellent city park – good-sized Irvine Park, which is on the Glen Loch flowage and boasts a small zoo, currently undergoing major renovations.
Then it was off to the state park, which was lightly visited, as might be expected for the first Monday in June. We had our choice of most sites and ultimately took one in the second campground loop, along the lake side.
Wissota’s campsites struck us as generally larger than the average state-park offering. We chose No. 75. Like most others, it had plenty of mature trees to cut the stiff breeze coming off the lake and provide scenic screening from other sites, but still a bit of a view toward the water.
The park’s Lake Trail runs just behind each of the lakeside campsites, offering easy access to a scenic walk southward toward the park’s swimming beach.
Not far from the beach is the trailhead for Wissota’s well-regarded trail system, which provides a number of scenic hikes. The system isn’t particularly well marked or signed, however, making some of the hiking a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition in terms of both finding key points like the trailhead and staying on course for your destination, whether it’s the beach or one of the nature trails.
We walked both the Staghorn Trail (a two-mile loop) and the Eagle Prairie Trail (a half-mile connector that joins the Staghorn with several other trail sections). The sun was in its golden-hour decline and had broken through the impressive banks of white and gray clouds, making for a picturesque evening walk.
We saw a rainbow over the prairie where the Prairie Wildflower Trail loops and generally agreed that Wissota’s trails deserved their stellar reputation, although we did find ourselves besieged with ticks.
Having purposefully avoided bringing our cooking gear, we headed out for a late dinner, then went back for a quick tent set-up, a bit of time around a campfire, and a good night’s sleep.
I’ve been planning Sam’s summer tasks, which we hadn’t yet discussed, so I let him read next to the rekindled fire the next morning while I broke camp. No need to ruin his summer so early, I thought.
Sam’s mood for dawdling on the way back home was perfect, so we took County X – which makes up most of the Yellowstone Trail in Chippewa and Clark counties before the trail turns south on Wisconsin 13 at Abbotsford.
We both enjoyed the billowing clouds, sharply blue sky, rural scenery and our gas-saving 50-mph pace on the Yellowstone Trail’s back route. Sam gazed contentedly out the window for much of the trip, indicating that it had been a great start to our summer, however short both the trip and our summer might be.
Miscellaneous trip notes
On the recommendation of the downtown Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center’s receptionist, we ate dinner at The Edge, a small marina on a narrow arm of the lake just west of the park at the County S Bridge. We sat on the deck and enjoyed a fine view, as well as fried haddock (Sam) and a jerk chicken sandwich with teriyaki and provolone. We both recommend it.
Tuesday’s breakfast came from Goodie’s on County X southeast of town, a local bakery with excellent sticky buns. I also had an espresso shot and bought the last small, but very tasty, apple fritter, which Sam will not normally turn down. It wasn’t hard to talk him into splitting it. Again, recommended by both.
Yellowstone Cheese, named for the trail, makes a pleasant stop just west of Cadott on Chippewa County Highway MM, just off of County X. From Wisconsin 29, westbound travelers can take exit 87 and double back east on X to the junction of X and MM; the factory is just off of the junction.
We got some Nitro Jack, one of several peppery Yellowstone cheeses that’s not quite their hottest but definitely a heat-step above standard pepper jack. There’s also maple-sugar candy, Olson’s ice cream and plenty of other ways to spend any money that might have survived your Chippewa Falls visit. Good stuff!
Our final stop was the Blue Heron Brew Pub in Marshfield, where our late lunch included Sam’s “Nest” burger – bacon, fried egg, onion rings and Sriracha cheese sauce on a choice of patties (he took elk). He’ll be mowing the lawn to work off the calories and the bill. I had the Ultimate Grilled Cheese, with Swiss, pepper jack, cheddar, bacon and tomato on sourdough, along with the pub’s honey blonde ale, a nice light accompaniment to offset the heavy damage to our budget this trip had been.
Our overspending probably guarantees that the remainder of the summer’s camping trips will have much more campsite cooking, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.