About this Itinerary
Traveling along the Chippewa River from Eau Claire south to Durand, the Chippewa River State Trail (CRST) offers an almost 40-mile route that traverses prairies, sandstone bluffs and wetlands. The trail is part of the Chippewa Valley Trail System that includes the Red Cedar State Trail, with which the CRST intersects west of Meridean, and the Old Abe State Trail, which lies north of Eau Claire, but which does not currently connect to the CRST. In the future, the entire system will be linked and will offer an approximately 70-mile network of uninterrupted off-road trails.
The CRST follows the route of the fabled Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific railroad branch line known as the ‘Milwaukee Road.’Built in the 1880s, the section the trail follows was known as the Chippewa Valley Line and was used to haul timber, a once booming industry in the region. By 1980, the rail line was abandoned and eventually became part of the excellent network of Wisconsin state trails. The flat route has an asphalt surface between Eau Claire and mile marker 11 (near Caryville). From there to the juncture with the Red Cedar State Trail the surface is an oils-based chip sealed asphalt emulsion, which can be a bit bumpy. The remaining 6.5 miles to Durand is asphalt covered. Along the route there are several trailheads as well as water and rest stops, but amenities beyond this are scarce.
In Eau Claire, stay at the Best Western Plus Trail Lodge Hotel & Suites. This location of the reliable chain hotel is less than a half mile from the trail near the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, and south of the downtown. The hotel features complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and an indoor pool. To reach from the Eau Claire airport, which is located less than 20 minutes away, follow Starr Avenue south and head west on WI-312. Take the Clairemont Avenue exit toward US-12E, take a right onto Menomonie Street and a quick left onto Ferry Street before turning left onto Short Street. Cross the Chippewa River and the CRST before finding the hotel on your left. Taxi service as well as rentals cars are available at the airport. For those interested in more unique accommodations, try the Otter Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast. Located about 4 miles from the CRST’s endpoint in Eau Claire, this highly regarded inn offers six private guestrooms, each with private bath, a whirlpool, Wi-Fi, and a gourmet breakfast, and is set amongst lush grounds.
The total length of the CRST is 38.5 miles. For the purposes of this itinerary we will break the itinerary up in to two days of round-trip riding. The first day begins and ends at the hotel for a round-trip of 38 miles, while the second day requires driving 15.5 miles to a trailhead in Meridean for a round-trip of 22 miles on the trail. Note that while water and restrooms are located along the CRST, there are no restaurants or shops to stop purchase food between Eau Claire and Meridean. Be sure to pack food as well as a bike repair kit, as the only local bike shops are in Eau Claire.
Bike rentals are available in downtown Eau Claire at Riverside Bike & Skate. This full-service shop offers rentals and repair services, as well as sales. Be sure to call ahead to reserve a bike. In addition to this shop, also find Eau Claire Bike & Sport and Anybody’s Bikeshop, both of which offer repair and sales, but do not have rentals. These three shops are located within a few blocks of one another just off the CRST near Market Street.
After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, with full water bottles, food and all other supplies needed for the day, depart for the trail directly from the hotel. Take a right on Mondovi Road outside of the hotel and a right on Short Street. Go one and a half blocks and find the trail intersecting with the road. Here you will find a self-pay box where you can obtain a pass for the CRST if you have not already picked one up. (The Friends of the Chippewa River State Trail website has detailed information about other locations from which a trail pass can be purchased.) Turn left to head towards Meridean (turning right on the trail heads to downtown Eau Claire and is 2.5 miles from the trail’s end in Phoenix Park).
The trail initially follows the Chippewa River as you head west and weaves inland for periods of time before heading back alongside the river. Experience a pastoral landscape of fields and prairie in addition to stunning river views. The route passes through the small town of Caryville, but no restaurants or shops are available trailside (although the trailhead here does have a restroom and water fountain). In Meridean, which also offers no restaurants or shops trailside in town, the trailhead features a restroom but no water fountain, so be sure to fill your bottles in Caryville. This is the turnaround point for day one of the itinerary.
On the return, before heading back to the Best Western, continue on to downtown Eau Claire and the trail’s end at Phoenix Park. Located on a former brownfield site at the confluence of the Chippewa River and the Eau Claire River, the park is stretched out along a half mile of riverfront and offers a walking labyrinth, an amphitheater, a year-round farmer’s market, and a summer concert series. A prime spot on a nice summer’s day, this is a great location to rest and people watch. Also consider heading over to a local favorite, The Eau Claire Fire House. Known for their menu of 40 rotating craft beers on tap and superb sandwiches, this is the place to go to relax, play some darts or listen to local music. Once a functioning firehouse, when the weather cooperates the firehouse door is raised at this unique bar and restaurant. To reach it, travel through the park and take a right on S. Barstow Street to cross the river. On the other side, take the first right and follow the road around the bend to find the restaurant. Retrace your steps to return to the Best Western.
If you want to experience fine dining, head to Mona Lisa’s Restaurant. Located in the historic Water Street business district in Eau Claire, this popular spot features an ever-changing menu inspired by the seasons. Featuring a lively yet upscale ambiance, Mona Lisa’s offers fresh foods with a wide range of options to appeal to a variety of taste buds.
Shanghai Bistro offers Eau Claire’s only sushi restaurant as well as featuring a variety of classic pan-Asian dishes. Enjoy fresh sushi, Szechuan duck, cashew chicken, moo-shu pork, noodle soup, or rice bowls at this casual yet stylish spot located close to the Best Western.
Another option is the Green Mill, which features pizza, pastas and other Italian-inspired dishes. This casual eatery is located close to the hotel and will satisfy any garlic cravings you may have. Also enjoy one of the large calzones, salads, wings, or try one of the delectable desserts. A variety of box lunches options, perfect for taking on the trail, are also available. Call ahead to order.
Drive 15.5 miles to the trailhead in Meridean. From the hotel turn left on to Short Road and take WI-37 S. After about 3 miles, turn right onto WI-85 and follow for about 7 miles before taking a right onto 150th Avenue. At the first cross street, take a right onto County Road O and follow for about 5 miles before turning right onto 730th Street in Meridean. Look for the trailhead parking lot on your left (if you cross over the CRST you have gone too far). As noted, at this trailhead you will find a restroom but no water fountain, so be sure to start the ride with full water bottles as the next opportunity for water refills will be at the trail’s end in Durand.
Head west on the trail for the 11-mile journey to Durand. About 4.5 miles along, find the intersection with the Red Cedar State Trail, This route travels 14.5 miles to the town of Menomonie. Venture just a short way onto the Red Cedar State Trail to cross the Chippewa River on a dramatic bridge, and find the Dunnville Wildlife Area, referred to locally as the “Dunnville Bottoms,”immediately on the other side. This 4,200-acre site features expansive sand beaches along the river, large floodplain forests, prairie, and oak savanna. Stop to explore this interesting habitat, and on a hot day be sure to bring a swimsuit for a quick dip from one of the sandbars. Head back to the CRST to continue on to Durand, where the trail ends just past Tarrant Park.
In Durand, find several different options for food. For a cold treat, turn left on Route 10 at the trail’s end and take the first left onto Prospect Street to find a Dairy Queen. Alternatively, from the trail, turn right on Main Street and continue down a few blocks where you will find several restaurants including Cell Block Lounge at 200 Main St., which serves a variety of burgers and sandwiches. Also along this stretch find other casual dining options, as well as Durand Bakery at 112 Main St., which offers fresh made donuts and other baked goods. After a hearty lunch, stop by the Old Courthouse Museum, just a block off of Main Street at 315 W. Madison St. The building, which was constructed in 1873-74 for $7,000, is one of the oldest wooden courthouses in the country and now serves as the county museum. Learn more about local history and explore this historical significant structure. Retrace your route to return to Meridean.
If you have an extra day, there is no shortage of things to do in the area. The Chippewa Valley Museum chronicles the region’s history including telling the story of local Native Americans, the logging industry, manufacturing, and more. This is the perfect place to go to learn more about the region during your stay in the area. Located next door also find the Paul Bunyan Camp Museum. This interactive museum transports visitor to an 1890s logging camp. Watch a short video, visit authentic buildings from the time period, and see various artifacts and memorabilia. Visitors in the summer may even be able catch the US Open Chainsaw Championship.
Wisconsin has a plethora of wineries and breweries, several of which are located in and around Eau Claire. In nearly Chippewa Falls, visit the well-known Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company. Take a tour of the facilities and learn about the nearly 150-year-old history of the six- generations run family brewery, and enjoy samples of the award-winning brews. Also in Chippewa Falls, visit the Autumn Harvest Winery to sample award-winning wines ranging from Pinot Noir to semi-sweet fruit wines. Open seasonally May through October, relax with a glass of wine on the patio and enjoy live music on Saturdays. Experience the old world charm of a European bier hall at Lazy Monk Brewery. Specializing in Czech and German lagers, this Eau Claire institution offers a wide selection of beers on tap.
During summer months enjoy something a little different by attending a performance of the Ski Sprites Water Ski Show. On Wednesday and Sunday evenings from June to Labor Day watch the free performance at Altoona Beach on nearby Lake Altoona.
Enjoy more biking on the Old Abe State Trail. This 19.5-mile asphalt route, which will eventually connect with the CRST, travels from Chippewa Falls to the town of Cornell. The route is flat and crosses through beautiful Wisconsin farmland.