Here are some of the best trails in central Wisconsin, as listed in the Wausau Daily Herald and Stevens Point Journal's weekly Outdoor Recreation Guides:
The Trail of Reflections in the Schmeeckle Reserve is roughly a 1/2-mile trail that is wheelchair accessible. The trail, which consists of crushed granite and three boardwalk segments, highlights Wisconsin’s conservation legacy. It includes a reflection pond and a tree house, and is a great place for wildlife viewing.
Schmeeckle Reserve, a 275-acre natural area on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus, offers five miles of trails in addition to serving as the trail head for the Green Circle.
The Lake Trail, located in the 275-acre Schmeeckle Reserve on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus, is a one-mile trail. The Lake Trail, which loops around 24-acre Lake Joanis offers wildlife viewing, small beaches and water access for fishing. The trail can be accessed from Maria Drive or Michigan Avenue. Parking is available at the Schmeeckle Reserve Visitors Center, off of Northpoint Drive.
The Granite Parkway, in the 275-acre Schmeeckle Reserve on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus, is an easy half-mile hike. It begins off Maria Drive, and winds past ponds and under towering pines, and provides access to additional trails in the Schmeeckle Reserve. Prior to 1975, this is where Reserve Street ran. Parking is available along the street on Maria Drive or Michigan Avenue.
Green Circle Trail
The Riverfront Trail, a segment of the Green Circle Trail, is a 1.3-mile trail that connects two city parks along the banks of the Wisconsin River. Try starting the trail by the Riverfront Arts Center in downtown Stevens Point and head north to Bukolt Park. The asphalt-paved trail makes it accessible for hiking, jogging, biking and strollers. The trail passes along many opportunities for fishing, swimming and a number of playgrounds.
The University Trail, another segment of the Green Circle Trail, is a 1.5-mile trail with crushed granite, wood chips and paved roads. This trail is a diverse habitat of forest, prairie, wetlands and an oak savannah. Ample wildlife viewing opportunities are available along the trail designed for hikers and joggers. No pets are allowed on this segment of the trail. Try starting at the Schmeeckle Reserve Visitor Center or the Green Circle Trailhead off of North Division Street.
The West Side Loop is a 2.4-mile trail with crushed granite and sidewalks. This trail winds along the west side of the Wisconsin River, from the Clark Street Bridge (Highway 66) on the northern side to Sherman Avenue on the southern side. The trail offers distinct views of the paper mill and adjacent dam, as well as meandering through a number of wetlands and woodlands. Try starting at KASH Playground at Mead Park and follow the river south.
The Stagecoach Trail, a segment of the Green Circle Trail, is a 2.3-mile trail that is paved. This trail winds from Bukolt Park to Zenoff Park, along the Wisconsin River. The trail is named for the stage line that once ran between Stevens Point and Wausau. Once you reach Zenoff Park, be sure to explore the new trail in the Stevens Point Sculpture Park, which is adjacent to the Green Circle Trail.
Tomorrow River State Trail
Try exploring the Tomorrow River State Trail, from the Plover trail head, just north of Highway B near the Hoover Avenue Green Circle Trail spur. The 18-mile trail, once a railroad bed, cuts through the rural landscape of eastern Portage County, linking Plover to Scandinavia. Outdoor recreational enthusiasts can use the crushed limestone trail throughout the year, from snowmobiling, dog-sledding and cross-country skiing in the winter to biking, hiking and horseback riding the rest of the year. Trail passes are required (state trail passes are valid). Passes are available on the trail or at the Portage County Parks Office. (Note: The horsebacking riding trail is a separate 18-mile trail.)
The Eau Claire Dells Park
The Eau Claire Dells Park has more than five miles of hiking trails along both sides of the river that offer an up-close view of the Eau Claire River corridor. The west crossing bridge spans 120 feet of the river near the rapids, and the over bridge is on the dam near the beach area.
The trails south of the river and west of Highway Y vary from steep terrain to relatively flat sections along the river. Parking, a small shelter and restrooms are available. Take Highway Z east of Wausau, then turn left on Highway Y to find the park.
The Buena Vista Grasslands
The Buena Vista Grasslands, in southwestern Portage County, is a 11,300-acre natural area. Offering one of the most extensive grasslands east of the Mississippi River, it is home to the Greater Prairie Chicken. April is an ideal time to get out and explore the natural area, which is part of the Great Wisconsin Birding & Nature Trail. From Stevens Point, go south on Interstate 39, to Highway W about 7.7 miles to the west, to the Historical Kiosk near the intersection of highways W and F.
Each year, the Prairie Chicken Festival provides a closer look at grassland conservation and the bird. This year’s Prairie Chicken Festival will be held Friday through Sunday. For more information, go to the Web site at www.prairiechickenfestival.org.
Ice Age Trail
Relive the past by hiking a path once shaped by glaciers on the Ice Age Trail. Portions of this 1,000-mile footpath travel through eastern Portage County, linking history, cultures and geological features. Explore the 7.6-mile Belmont, Emmons-Hartman Creek segment. Begin near the Emmons Creek State Fishery, located in southeastern Portage County. Parking is available near Stratton Lake Road in the fishery. From Stevens Point, take Interstate 39 South to Highway 54 West. Then south on Highway D, which becomes Stratton Lake Road, parking will be on the right.
Sixteen miles of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail run through Marathon County and 7 miles of the trail run through the Dells of Eau Claire County Park. The park features a 65-foot-deep gorge with water cascading into a series of pools formed among the rock ledges.
Eastern Portage County is known for its rolling hills, which are remnants from the glaciers in the area. The Ice Age Trail, a 1,000-mile footpath, travels through far eastern Portage County, linking history, cultures and geological features. Try hiking the 5-mile segment just south of the Little Wolf River Fishery Area. Parking is available off of Highway Z, just east of Sunset Lake Road. (In 2010, a new segment was added between Highway Z and Sunset Lake Road.) From Stevens Point, take Highway 66 East to Highway Z, and parking will be on the left.
Mountain-Bay State Park Trail
Marathon County is home to 18 miles of the 83-mile Mountain-Bay State Park Trail. The Mountain-Bay Trail in Marathon County begins at the trailhead in Weston, adjacent to the Weston Municipal Center, at 5550 Municipal St.
The trail, which is made of crushed limestone and travels over generally flat terrain, meanders through the countryside near several small rural communities. Along the way, there is the opportunity to enjoy wetland flora and fauna.
George W. Mead Wildlife Area
The Audubon Prairie Nature Trail is an easy trail along wetland boardwalks and grasslands in the George W. Mead Wildlife Area in Milladore. The Mead Wildlife Area, the third largest state wildlife area, offers more than 80 miles of trails, including dikes, that explore portions of the expansive 33,000 acres. Travel west from Stevens Point on Highway 66 West to Highway HH West (the old Highway 10) to Milladore. Take Highway S North to enter the wildlife area. The Mead Education & Visitors Center, is on the right hand side.
The Berkhahn Rookery Bicycle Loop is a great trail that winds along the Berkhahn Flowage and the Little Eau Pleine River in the George W. Mead Wildlife Area in Milladore. The Mead Wildlife Area, the third largest state wildlife area, offers more than 80 miles of trails on its 33,000 acres. Travel west from Stevens Point on Highway 66 West to Highway HH West (old Highway 10) to Milladore. Take Highway S North to enter the wildlife area. The Mead Education & Visitors Center is on the right side.
The Jordan Park Nature Trail
The Jordan Park Nature Trail is located just two miles northeast of Stevens Point in Jordan Park. The non-surface trail, cuts through the woods winding through pines, wetlands and an oak/maple forest. Try starting the trail at the Nature Center at Jordan Park. Brochures for self-guided nature walks are available at the Jordan Park Nature Center (open Memorial Day through Labor Day).
If you are looking for a great place to paddle, try navigating from Jordan Park off of Highway 66, east of Stevens Point, to Iverson Park along the Plover River. Jordan Park offers camping as well as a Nature Center that is open in the summer. When you are ready, begin this route at the canoe ramp on the south side of Highway 66 in Jordan Park. The route will meander through generally flat water, and is an excellent trip for bird watchers in June and July.
Once you reach Iverson, enjoy a dip in the water at the swimming beach or walk a short segment of the Green Circle Trail that winds through the park. Two cars or additional transportation is necessary to complete this trip.
Stevens Point unofficial art trail
Explore downtown Stevens Point on an unofficial art trail, linking eight completed historic murals. Start on Clark Street, just east of the Clark Street Bridge, near the “Rivermen” mural, completed in 2004. Head east to the square to take in the “Market Day” mural and several “Windows to the Past” murals, before continuing east to the Stevens Point post office to see “The Old Post Office” mural. Brochures highlighting the murals and where they are located are available.
The Bitzke Waterfowl Refuge
The Bitzke Waterfowl Refuge was designated as a waterfowl refuge in 1985 by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. It has five major earthen dams that provide open water for a host of songbirds, waterfowl, deer, turkey and beavers.
The trail system is about 2 miles long and follows the waterfowl flowages. There are six interpretive displays along the trail, and an observation tower, to give you a full overall view of the refuge. The trails are open year round. From Wausau, take Highway 29 east, turn north onto Highway J, turn east onto G to Rocky Road and drive north to parking lot.
Standing Rocks County Park
Standing Rocks County Park, located in eastern Portage County, offers a wide variety of off-road bike trails from beginners to expert cyclists. To access the trails, parking is available off of Tower Road and Standing Rocks Road. Trails are closed when wet conditions exist. A daily or seasonal trail fee is necessary. For more information, go to the website at www.stevenspointarea.com and click on the “What to Do” section.
Lake Emily County Park
Just east of Stevens Point on Highway 10, Lake Emily County Park is a great spot for hiking. Several nature trails cut through the 143-acre park, which includes one of Portage County’s largest lakes. Running just to the north of the park is the Tomorrow River State Trail. Lake Emily County Park also offers camping, swimming, picnic areas, a playground and excellent fishing. Take the Lake Road exit off of Highway 10 to access Lake Emily Park.
Stevens Point Sculpture Park Trail
One of the newest trails in the Stevens Point area is the Stevens Point Sculpture Park Trail. The trail, about a 1⁄2 mile, links to the Holiday Trail Segment of the Green Circle Trail, just south of Zenoff Park. Along the trail are the first five sculptures for the 20-acre Stevens Point Sculpture Park. Parking is available along Second Street North or in the Zenoff Park parking lot. For more information, go to the website www.stevenspointsculpturepark.org.
Enjoy the varied rural landscape around Sunset Lake in northeast Portage County. Begin your trip in the parking lot of Sunset Lake County Park, near the Central Wisconsin Environmental Station. The country roads surrounding Sunset Lake are lightly traveled and offer a wide variety of terrain. Circle back to your starting point and take a dip in Sunset Lake, with a beautiful sandy beach. The clear crystal waters of this glacial lake offer a perfect spot for a picnic after your ride.
Sources: Melissa Sabel is communications specialist for the Stevens Point Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Marathon County Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department
For more information on the Stevens Point area trails, go to www.stevenspointarea.com and click on the “What to Do” section.