Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cattail State Trail rambles along old rail line

Cattail State Trail in autumn
Active railroad lines once crisscrossed northwestern Wisconsin’s beautiful countryside, but the advent of highways made many of them obsolete. A number of those old tracks fortunately have been converted to hiking trails so that modern day walkers can enjoy a plethora of scenery from woodlands to rolling pastures.

Among them is the Cattail State Trail, which runs for nearly 18 miles on an old Soo Line rail line between Amery and Almena with access in Turtle Lake. Its location is perfect for a number of cabin-goers in Polk and Barron counties.

To reach the trail, take U.S. Hwy. 8 to any of the above mentioned communities. The trailhead is on Keller Avenue South (Wis. Hwy. 46) near Baker Street West at Soo Lake Park’s trailhead pavilion in Amery, behind the village hall (where you can park) in Turtle Lake, and on Alma Street in Almena.

As a point along the trial, Turtle Lake serves as a great starting point, since you can break the trail into smaller sections by going either toward Amery or Almena. The Turtle Lake access also is a block from Railway Park, which includes a picnic shelter. Head west toward Amery for wetlands and a thick woods, both of which teem with wildlife, including white-tailed deer, otter, mink, fox, eagles, osprey, a couple of hundred bird species, and even black bear. This five-mile section of the trail running to the village of Joel also is open to horses.

If starting in Amery, the trail begins in woodland then passes through farmland and prairie. Beaver Creek runs alongside the trail as closing on Joel.

In Almena, a 16-mile extension heads east to Cameron. Though pretty, this direction generally is not great for hikers, as three miles into the extension is an expansive area popular with ATVers. The extension also closes around mid-October for hunting and then becomes a snowmobile trail in winter.

Crushed stone covers the main trail, and the old rail line is smooth with the most gradual of elevation gains. The trail boasts six bridges. It does cross several roads, however, so be careful at these intersections, especially if with children.

The trail also is open to dogs, which is great for many families. Dogs must be on a leash 8 feet or shorter at all times, however.

Read more about day hiking Barron County in my Hittin’ the Trail: Day Barron County, Wisconsin guidebook.