About this Itinerary
Occupying 83 miles of the former Chicago and Northwestern Railroad’s corridor, the Mountain-Bay State Trail is one of Wisconsin’s longest rail-trails. Beginning on the outskirts of Green Bay, the trail heads west toward Wausau, a city located on the banks of the Wisconsin River and under the protective, ancient watch of Rib Mountain. As the name suggests, this pathway connects the bay to the mountain, traversing three counties, numerous communities and a varied landscape of farmland, forests and wetlands. The Mountain-Bay State Trail also connects with the northern segment of the Wiouwash State Trail in Eland.
The trail is maintained by Marathon, Brown and Shawano counties and each has a slightly different set of rules and regulations. Across the board, however, is the requirement that cyclists and equestrians of 16 years and older purchase and carry a Wisconsin State Trail Pass for use of the Mountain-Bay State Trail (MBST). This can be obtained at trailheads and pay stations along the route. Horseback riding is allowed in Shawano County only, while snowmobiles are allowed on the trail in Marathon and Shawano counties. Expect gates at most road crossings in Marathon and Brown counties and be prepared for a short gap in the trail in the city of Shawano near the Wolf River, where local roads are utilized.
We suggest a four-day, round-trip itinerary beginning and ending in Green Bay. Either before or after riding the Mountain-Bay State Trail, you may be curious to learn more about central and northern Wisconsin’s history. If so, you are in luck! Green Bay is home to the Neville Public Museum, a general museum housing exhibits on art, history and science; railroad enthusiasts will be interested in the displays, educational programming and train ride offered by the National Railroad Museum; and, of course, a visit to Green Bay would not be complete without a self-guided walk or Trolley Tour of the Packers Heritage Trail - a commemoration of Green Bay Packers with its trailhead at the Neville Public Museum. These few suggestions are just the icing on Green Bay’s cake. Visit the Green Bay Visitors Center for more information about area attractions, restaurants and outdoor recreation.
The Mountain-Bay Trail’s eastern terminus is in the village of Howard, Green Bay’s neighbor to the west and less than 10 miles north of Austin Straubel International Airport. Bike rentals are available at Joe Bikeler’s Bike Shop, near to the trail in Pulaski. AmericInn Lodge & Suites Green Bay West is conveniently located less than a mile from the trailhead in Howard and there are plenty more options for lodging in Green Bay’s downtown district, including the Astor House B&B, St. Brendan’s Inn and Hyatt on Main Green Bay.
Finally, though there are towns and communities along the route, this is a rural trail; begin each travel day with a good supply of water and snacks as well as your bike repair kit. You will weave in and out of shaded and open segments of the trail so protection from varying weather conditions is also useful.
Day 1: Howard to Shawano (33 miles)
Begin at the eastern-most trailhead, off of Lakeview Drive in Howard, where there is a parking area and toilets. The first 13 miles of the trail are in Brown County with trailheads and nearby restrooms roughly every 3-5 miles. You begin by traveling through residential neighborhoods and greenbelts and can expect numerous road crossings in the 3 miles to Spring Green Park. Beyond the park, MBST cuts through a swathe of forest and woodlands, a peaceful and secluded 2-mile stretch.
After crossing White Pine Drive, the landscape opens up to showcase farm fields and the agricultural landscape that surrounds much of the MBST. You cycle through the small farming community of Anston at mile 6.5; there are toilets but no other service amenities. Today, Anston is mainly residential with just a handful of businesses. For a while, however, after the railroad built a depot in 1906, the town was a thriving center for commerce. Imagine the town in its heyday, the streets lined with multiple establishments including kraut, cheese and pickle factories, lumber yard, potato warehouse, blacksmith shop, coal and cement sheds and a grist mill. The railroad owned Anston’s stockyard, frequently shipping cattle and bringing in broncos from out west to be used by area farmers.
The railroad pulled out of Anston and the area in the early 1990s and the right-of-way became, of course, the trail you are now riding. The mix of rural subdivisions and pastoral land continues for the next 5.5 miles to Pulaski (mile 12). If you are in a hurry to replenish your food and water supplies, there are several places for this on the southern edge of town. At Crest Drive, take a right to Super Ron’s Food Center or a left to several fast food chain establishments (from Crest Drive take a left on Mountain Bay Drive). There are more options in town, just continue on to Pulaski Street and take a left, particularly if coffee and made-from-scratch baked goods sound enticing; you’ll see Smurawa’s Country Bakery which specializes in mouth-watering Polish pastries. Speaking of Polish heritage, riders who are also dancers will want to know that Pulaski hosts the annual Polka Days, a four-day festival generally in July and considered to be one of the largest Polish and polka fests in the Midwest.
Continuing northwest from Pulaski, the MBST enters Shawano County, known for its dairy farming, forests and abundant lakes and streams. After crossing Highway 32, the remaining 21 miles to Shawano are rural and provide ample of time for serene reveries. In 8 miles, the trail crosses Pensaukee River and the small community of Zachow. Much like Anston, Zachow was founded with the expansion of rail and farm industries during the late 19th to early 20th centuries. The town was named after a successful businessman, W.C. Zachow, who ran a cattle, land and farm equipment business. In 1905, he sold acreage to the Chicago & North Western Railway which quickly built a depot, section house and stockyard. Today, little of Zachow’s earlier industrial life remains, though just a couple blocks off the trail is Graf Creamery, founded in 1926 as a simple cheese factory and still in operation today as a large production facility.
By the time the trail intersects with Highway 117, about 4.5 miles from the river crossing, you are passing through the northern edge of Bonduel and nearing Cedar Park (where there are bathrooms, picnic tables and open shelters). The end of today’s journey, Shawano, is only 8.5 miles farther. The MBST cuts under the southwestern curve of Shawano Lake, the county’s largest lake covering more than 6,000 acres and home to very sturdy (200 pounders aren’t unheard of) Lake Sturgeon. It is believed that the lake, city and county are named after a Menominee chief, Sawanoh, who lived here with his people when the countryside was still covered with dense forests of pine and hardwoods. By the mid-1800s, lumber mills and trading posts were rapidly shaping a new history of the region.
When the trail crosses Highway 22 (to parallel it for a short stretch), you are roughly two miles from Shawano’s downtown. If you are ready to get off the saddle, Quality Inn & Suites is along the trail near the Shawano Municipal Airport at Airport Road. You can also continue another mile to the intersection with S. Waukechon St and take a right to Super 8 Shawano. There are a number of resorts, cottages and campgrounds near Shawano Lake, though they can be several miles outside of town and off the trail.
As it continues west toward Wolf River, the MBST crosses Shawano’s Main Street and enters the historical downtown district; for a substantial sampling of shops, restaurants and markets, simply head north on Main Street. Farm Inn on Main, Luigi’s Pizza & Pasta and Angie’s Main Cafe are a few of the local eateries. For bike repairs, fishing and river trips or rentals (and coffee tomorrow morning before hitting the trail again), Mountain Bay Outfitters and the Coffee Depot is the place to go. Make sure to look for the Spirit of Shawano Sculptures on Main and Green Bay Streets, two statues commemorating Shawano’s lumber and agricultural industries.
You might also want to explore Shawano’s Heritage Park, a museum complex consisting of numerous historical buildings and operated by the Shawano County Historical Society (they also host the annual Rhubarb Festival). This complex is on Sunset Island, a 3-acre park on the channel between Wolf River and Shawano Lake, with a fishing pier, boat dock and picnic facilities. Spring can be an exciting season to be in Shawano to catch the annual sturgeon run. Locals suggest that Sturgeon Park (adjacent to the MBST at Wolf River) is the place for viewing; it has a canoe portage, paved trails and access for fishing as well. In the fall, all eyes are likely to be on the stunning, colorful autumn foliage. It is also the time for the Miles of Art Fall Festival, a celebration in Shawano and Menominee counties featuring murals, barn quilts and local artists; ask the Visitor Center for the studio/gallery location of Shawano’s artists.
Enjoy your time in Shawano but make sure to get supplies for tomorrow’s ride (there are two markets north of the trail on Main Street). The route is very rural with few service amenities easily accessible along the trail.
Day 2: Shawano to Weston (50 miles)
Leaving downtown Shawano, you cross the Wolf River to ride off-trail for roughly 2 miles (after a right on County Road MM, take lefts on Poplar Road, Oak Avenue and Maple Avenue). Today’s cycle takes you through four small farming communities on your way to Weston. For the next 20 miles to Bowler, the MBST continues to loosely parallel Highway 29, weave in and out of dense forests and open farmland and cross creeks numerous times. The Menominee Reservation lies to the far north and the Jung Hemlock-Beech Forest—a Wisconsin State Natural Area of old-growth hemlock, American beech and sugar maple—stands two miles south of the trail at Kroenke Creek Road. You shoot through the village of Bowler pretty quickly to cross over the North Branch of Embarrass River.
In 9 miles, the trail crosses US 45 and eventually joins with the Wiouwash State Trail to veer north as it enters the town of Eland (mile 66). Platted by the railroad in 1888, Eland was originally called Eland Junction. The rail depot still stands and is under restoration by the Eland Area Historical Society. After crossing Cedar Street, the MBST heads west, splitting off from the Wiouwash State Trail which continues northward. There are toilets at this trailhead.
Norrie, another small village, is 2.5 miles beyond Eland. You are now in Marathon County and on the final stretch of the Mountain-Bay State Trail. Look for interpretive signs along the route illustrating the early history of this county and, if inclined, stop at Norrie Lake for a quick swim. The 6.5 miles between Norrie and Hatley are primarily forested wetlands and offer a reprieve from roads, homes and farm fields. Enjoy the diverse flora and fauna of Wisconsin’s woodlands. When you get to Hatley, consider leaving the trail (0.5-mile detour) and hopping off the bike to enjoy locally-handcrafted wines. Mountain Bay Winery features wine made from local fruits, like cranberries, cherries, blueberries and, though not a fruit, rhubarb. Nearby are the eateries Subway and Freddy’s Mexican & More (head south on Emmonsville Road to State Road).
Between Hatley and Ringle, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail joins with MBST for a couple of miles before shooting north toward the Dells of the Eau Clair River State Natural Area. Continue to Ringle and sail over Ringle Marsh on a quarter-mile train trestle. The bulk of the marsh is south of the trail and Highway 29, but you can still enjoy the beautiful canopies of hardwood, aspen and pine trees.
The end of the trail is in Weston, a town in the Greater Wausau Metropolitan Area 7 miles from Ringle. Once at the trail’s end, however, you have more riding to do unless you have arranged for a pick-up. The closest accommodation is Weston Inn & Suites, a half-mile away on Schofield Avenue. Holiday Inn Express and AmericInn are about 1.5 miles south toward Highway 29. Once you get your bike serviced, if needed, at Sprocketz Bike Shop, you have a variety of dining options relatively close by: Razz’s Breakfast Bar & Grill, Basil, Brews Brothers Pub and Vino Latte, to name a few.
Finally, if you have the time and energy for more riding, there are over 100 miles of designated bike routes throughout the metro area (see these printable bike maps). Schofield, Rib Mountain, the Eau Clair and Wisconsin Rivers and Wausau are all west of the Mountain-Bay State Trail terminus. But don’t forget: you have to turn around, set your sights east, and do the whole thing over again in reverse.