Savoring the Seven Lakes Trail
A bike ride in western Wisconsin yields scenery, serenity and ice cream.
Most people think bicyclists ride for exercise. But really, it's for the ice-cream stop.
In western Wisconsin, the Stower Seven Lakes between Dresser and Amery, has everything you'd want on a bicycle trail. It's got scenery. It's got beaches and picnic spots.
And in Amery, it has the soda fountain of your dreams. Just look for the place with all the people.
We started on the west end of the trail, just a mile from Trollhaugen ski area in Dresser.
Two other couples who pulled into Lotus Lake County Park about the same time told us that they'd planned to ride the Gandy Dancer State Trail from St. Croix Falls, but the folks at the Polk County visitor center recommended they try this one, instead.
It's all countryside, all the way. Between Lotus Lake and Horse Lake, we were swiveling our heads to take in views of meadows and bogs lined with cattails.
At Dwight Lake, we stopped to watch little kids play from a small sand beach and run off a low dock into the waiting arms of a dad.
The raised former railroad bed is surfaced with finely crushed limestone, which will spray your legs with white grit. These trails are messier and slower than paved trails, but they're better for social rides.
For miles, I'd been riding double-wide with my husband but reflexively looking over my shoulder for racers, who zoom up fast on paved trails. Then, I realized there weren't any-only folks out for a leisurely ride in the country, like us.
So I relaxed and started taking in the scenery. Sunflowers, Joe Pye weed, thistle and bee balm grew tall along the trail.
We passed Big Lake, tiny Wanderoos and then Deronda, where we stopped hopefully at a bakery that turned out to be closed. Kinney Lake shimmered in the distance, and we caught just a glimpse of Bear Trap Lake through trees.
Then we were riding between North and South Twin Lake in Amery. At trail's end, we rode an extra block to the Apple River, then doubled back to buy sweet corn from the bed of a pickup.
Then it was time for our treat. We could see a Dairy Queen and A&W, but we went downtown to see what was there.
It was easy to find Ellie's, because it was the busiest place in town on a Sunday. Named for Ellie Johnson, who helped her husband run Chet Johnson Drugs from 1932 to 1970, it's a tribute to a 1930s soda fountain.
With the drug store next door, it's owned by her grandson, Matt, who displays old photos and memorabilia of the small-town meeting spot.
We had a Brown Cow and strawberry-watermelon cone on the wrought-iron bench outside, watching people stream in and out. We returned for a second root-beer float and were thinking of trying an orange-cream float, until we came to our senses.
Afternoon was waning and the horse flies came out, so we rode faster on the way back. We'd like to see this trail in early fall, when the sumac turns scarlet, and in late fall, when the many oak trees will provide a pop of color.
But we're guessing the Stower Seven Lakes is beautiful any time. For bicyclists in Minnesota as well as western Wisconsin, it's bound to become a favorite.
Trip Tips: Bicycling the Stower Seven Lakes Trail
Getting there : The western trailhead near Dresser is six miles south of St. Croix Falls, the southern trailhead of the Gandy Dancer State Trail.
From Wisconsin 35, take County Road F through Dresser, then County Road MM to 90th Avenue. Park a third of a mile past the trail at Lotus Lake County Park.
In Amery, the trail starts downtown. Bicyclists with mountain bikes or cross bikes can continue east on the 18-mile Cattail State Trail, which has a coarser surface.
Trail passes : They're $5 daily, $25 annually, and are good for all Wisconsin state trails. You can buy them at businesses along the trail.
In winter, the trail is open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Swimming : There's a beach at South Twin Park in Amery and at Dwight Lake, 3½ miles from the western trailhead.
Dining : In Amery, Ellie's is open until 10 p.m. daily.
Along the trail in Wanderoos, UW Wanderoos Bar & Grill serves chicken and burgers in an old brick schoolhouse.
Bird-watching : According to the trail map, bicyclists can see sandhill cranes just east of Wanderoos and trumpeter swans near Kinney Lake, 2½ miles west of Amery.