Friday, November 3, 2017

Hiking Wisconsin's Mountain-Bay State Trail

It's one of the longest rail trails in the state - 83 miles from Weston near Wausau, to the west side of Green Bay.  It surely has one of the longest boardwalks for a rail trail.  Shown above, this 1/4-mile crossing of a deep bog was a major challenge for the original railroad builders.

Of course this is not pure foot-trail in the woods.  Its greatest use is by snowmobiles in the winter.  But it sure beats road walking.  I'm hiking the Mountain-Bay Trail to avoid a lot of Ice Age Trail road walking and to pursue the most 'Scenic Route' to my next destination -- my birthplace in Madison.  The Mountain-Bay Trail makes a bee-line toward the eastern end of the Ice Age Trail, which is much more developed, with much lower percentage of connecting road walks.  I'll resume the Ice Age trail at its Eastern Terminus and take it the 'long way around' to Madison.  That will give me the chance to do a substantial portion of this great state trail.  This route will also take me through areas of the state where my family roots run deep--places where I'm likely to be related to more than half the people I meet.

This report covers fifty miles of trail--all that I managed to hike before winter sent me migrating south.

These gigantic wet, sloppy snowflakes were accompanied by a clap of thunder.  It snowed hard for about an hour.  I took shelter under the dense cover of a thicket of hemlock trees.  That night it snowed some more and the salt trucks were out treating the roads.  The next morning the local Rib Mountain Ski Area (the mountain that the trail is named for) was in full snow-making mode, with the temperature hovering in the low 20's.  Winter comes fast and without warning in northern Wisconsin.

Sights of note along this former railroad grade include the obligatory 'infinity' shots, such as this 'green tunnel' view with wild turkeys

and this one that also features the highlight of the new season -- crunchy fresh-fallen leaf season.

There was only one paved section--a couple miles through the County Seat of Shawano.  Here the trail was enhanced by the biggest concentration of winterberries I've seen in ... well ... maybe forever.

Most trees and shrubs have gone bare now, revealing a distinctive twig pattern on this one.

Other sign of the season: a leaf-speckled pond ...

... and the way the perennial plants that are holding on to their leaves are hunkering down--turning dark-colored and hugging the surface in order to stay out of the cold wind and to absorb every last bit of heat that the weak winter sun offers.

The big, noisy Sand Hill cranes were gathering in flocks, which they only do when they're preparing to migrate.

Every five miles or so this trail provides a nice picnic pavilion.

Judging from the growth of weeds, most of these appear to get little or no use.  One of the reasons for that may be the $5 per day (or $25 annual pass) user fee that is required of bicyclers.  At every trailhead, such as here at the Eland rail depot, there are these green signs and payboxes.

The logic of charging bicyclers a fee stems from the dominance of Snowmobile users.  Wisconsin requires them to pay a registration fee to use the trails, and the State justifies these fees as necessary to maintain the trail system; so it seems that Snowmobilers took offense at the idea that bicycle users would get free use of the trail they are effectively paying for.

There aren't many places where the trail offers scenery other than nice remote wetlands and quiet woods, but it did pass this lakeside park in the town of Norrie, with its huge old willows.

And in Sturgeon Park in Shawano, the wooden sturgeon--exact replica of the biggest fish ever captured (for tagging)--stands beside the Wolf River where it lived.

So that's it for my Wisconsin adventures for the season.  I'll pick up where I left off in spring.  Here's an overview of the route I've taken to this point.  Zoom in to the NW part of the map to get a closer look at my most recent travels.

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I've loved hiking Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  The people here talk with my 'native' accent.  Unlike in other areas of the country, here I just crave listening to the locals speak, just for the sake of hearing the sound of 'home'.  One local gave me the highest compliment when he told me "You talk like we do.  You sound like one of us."  Honestly, I don't want to leave.  But like the Sandhill Cranes, I'm migrating south for the winter.  Don't worry, Wisconsin, I'm not finished with you yet.  Lots of Ice Age Trail to hike.  Maybe all of it.  Can't wait to get back.


  1. I love your posts and your beautiful photos. Look forward to more adventures from you in the spring.

    1. Thank you, Susan. Such kind words - they mean a lot.