MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Red Cedar ride 'n' glide

Along a popular trail in western Wisconsin, a hardy tourist can take in the sights by water and by land.

A bicyclist rides along the Red Cedar River.

© Beth Gauper

The trail follows the Red Cedar River between Menomonie and the Chippewa River.

There are certain bicycle trails that inspire loyalty in those who ride them.

For many, itís the trail thatís closest to home. For others, itís the trail that runs by a really fine restaurant. And for some, itís the route with the most wildlife.

One of my favorite trails, the 14Ĺ-mile Red Cedar State Trail out of Menomonie, WIs., has all of these things and more. Itís one of the least crowded trails, because the crushed-limestone surface keeps some people away.

And itís one of the longest, counting the 30-mile Chippewa State Trail, which takes up where the Red Cedar leaves off and continues on to Eau Claire and Durand.

This trail even has nightlife a few blocks from the trailhead, at the imposing 1890 Mabel Tainter Memorial Theater in downtown Menomonie, once the company town of the worldís largest lumber operation.

But the Red Cedar State Trail has yet one thing more: a fast-moving river, once used to float giant rafts of lumber down to the Chippewa, before the Milwaukee Road line was built. 

One September, a friend and I decided to canoe down the river, then bicycle back.

It was a complicated plan: Drive to the end of the trail, lock the bikes near a bridge, drive back to Menomonieís Riverside Park and launch the canoe. Paddle to the end of the trail, lock up the canoe, ride the bikes back and then go pick up the canoe.

We put in at Riverside Park, where a fisherman sat under a tree, three lines radiating from his lawn chair. The river was low, and we soon learned to train a suspicious eye on any kind of ripples that could betray boulders.

A few bicyclists wove along the trail, and they all waved when they saw us; in the 90-degree heat, we were comrades.

After a stretch of whitewater, we paddled in peace, past canyon-like walls of gold sand, with ripples down their sheer faces that mirrored the river.

We passed Downsville, a picnic table marking its canoe take-out, and went under a trestle bridge, one of 11 along the trail.

On a sandbar we stopped for a swim, fighting to stay abreast of the current. Getting out, we traced the tracks of raccoon and sandpipers on the sugar sand and looked at the lacy leaves of dune plants.

A bicyclist on the Red Cedar passes the Ice Wall.

© Beth Gauper

Just south of Menomonie, a bicyclist passes a rock wall that's famous for its blue ice in winter.

As we paddled on past wooded bluffs, a bald eagle wheeled overhead. The oak barrens and bottomland forest along the trail are good places to see wildlife; in the spring, eagles, osprey and red-shouldered hawks often are spotted, along with blue and green heron.

It took us 3Ĺ hours to get to the bridge at Dunnville and County Road Y. Then, on our bikes, we rode through the Dunnville Wildlife Area to the Red Cedarís confluence with the Chippewa.

There, we paused on the 860-foot trestle bridge high above the wide, pancake-flat bottomlands, through which the Chippewa carved a looping path into the horizon.

The trail looked tempting; itís seal-coated, a step up from crushed limestone. But it was getting late, so we turned around and headed up the Red Cedar. The stretch from Dunnville to Downsville was shady and intimate, through woods and small meadows.

Once, our approach alarmed a flock of a dozen young turkeys, who ran helter-skelter along the path before fleeing into the forest on sticklike legs.

We passed an old cut-stone quarry and crossed the river at Downsville. By the time we got to the Devilís Punchbowl, a dripping rock wall that looms above the trail near Menomonie, we were sharing the path with runners and dog-walkers.

At Riverside Park, a boy was pulling a silver bass from the water.

Then we retrieved the canoe and hurried to a local restaurant, where we gratefully plopped into comfy chairs and had cold ales while contemplating the daily specials of pasta and grilled meats and fish.

It was good to spend a day in the tracks of 1800s riverpigs and gandy dancers, but it was also good to get back to civilization.

Trip Tips: Red Cedar Trail and Menomonie

Getting there: Drive through downtown Menomonie on Wisconsin 25 and, on the south edge of downtown, turn west on 29. The trail starts in Riverside Park, on the west side of the river.

Menomonie is an hour east of the Twin Cities and just south of I-94.

Where to eat: Menomonie has many good places to eat, include the Acoustic Cafe and Zanzibar Restaurant & Pub on Main Street downtown.

Red Cedar State Trail: The crushed-limestone trails runs 14Ĺ miles south of Menomonie to the Dunnville Wildlife Area.

There, it connects to the Chippewa River State Trail, which runs 6Ĺ miles southwest to Durand and 23Ĺ miles northeast to Eau Claire.

On the south side of the Chippewa River, the 6.7-mile Rustic Road 107 parallels the Chippewa River State Trail.

Menomonie: There are many interesting shops on Main Street, including Marion's Legacy chocolate and bake shop.

Stop by the ornate Mabel Tainter Memorial Theater, built in 1890 by Andrew Tainter, one of the founders of the Knapp, Stout Co., in memory of his 19-year-old daughter.


Last updated on October 8, 2015