Far-western Wisconsin

A few weeks ago we visited far-western Wisconsin, the region vaguely stretching from Eau Claire north to the lake and west to the MN border. We’ve lived in Milwaukee for four full years now but have never made it that far west until now. That’s mostly because the journey is really only possible by way of long car journeys and it’s hard to find a weekend when we can spend 14 hours in the car just getting there and home.

(Something something … rail connections between different parts of the state would really help take the driving burden off even if we have to rent a car on the other side…. This isn’t a transit blog post; stay focused, Boone!)

The point is we had a great time, our friends, the Franciscos, came out from MN and we spent a few full days with them. Our kids got to play, and we got to see a different part of the Ice Age Trail than what we normally get to see.

Lake Wissota State Park

Our first night in we camped at Lake Wissota, a state park just outside Chippewa Falls, WI. We slept three in our family tent and, wouldn’t ya know it, László doesn’t fit on the same camp air mattress as us anymore. Note to future us: We need to pack a separate mat for him.

Wissota’s is a lovely campground, with a ton of sites for all kinds of camping equipment. It was nice to get everything set up and slept in because this may end up being the only camp trip we take this year. Might as well make it a good one! I’d love to come back and spend a full day exploring the campground, especially one where there’s not air quality advisories lingering around us the whole time.

Eau Claire Children’s Museum

One of the best Children’s Museums I’ve ever been to? Maybe? I was certainly not expecting it to be this good based on Eau Claire’s size alone. In fact, just about everything about Eau Claire was pleasantly surprising. It’s a lovely city on the confluence of two rivers, one I’ve driven past many times but never made it very far off the I-94 exit ramp. The Children’s Museum was all we did here but it was worth the stop. Also, if you’re a member of any other children’s museum in the region, check to see if your membership has any benefits for visiting others. We got free admission here through our Discovery World membership.

Ice Age Trail Visitor Center

If you aren’t from Wisconsin, you probably aren’t familiar with the Ice Age Trail, a long through trail that crosses the entire state over more than 1200 miles. It roughly traces the maximum extent of the glaciers that once covered and carved the modern landscape of the Great Lakes region. That glacier system only covered so much of the state, and the so-called “Driftless Area” is marked more by rolling hills, prairies, and dramatic riverfronts. Sites like this visitor center rest right on the edge of the Driftless area and serve a useful exposition of how these two landscapes and their symbiotic relationship.

This Ice Age Trail visitors center is also the headquarters for the Chippewa Moreaine State Recreation Area. The rangers here had a scavenger hunt for the two four year olds in our group who found animals like forest raccoons, turtles, snakes, and bears. László even got to touch a real snake.

From there we took the 0.7 mile Mammoth Nature Trail through the woods to see some real examples of the glacier-driven landscaping that happened thousands of years ago. The trail passes by three lakes, one of which was a “perched” lake, a new term to me. This is a lake that has its entire lakebed above the water table, with a clay bottom compressed and cemented together with other elements to become impervious. They usually hang between two “hummocks” and other features carved by the glaciers.

We’re a little low on pictures for this adventure, but it was a ton of fun and gorgeous.