Thursday, October 22, 2015

Trail parallels, offers view of Chippewa River

River Road Ski Trail. Map courtesy of Chippewa County, Wis.
Families can hike rolling, wooded terrain alongside the Chippewa River on the River Road Ski Trail near Cornell, Wis.

The 3.5-mile cross country trail rambles through the 270-acre Harold Walters Memorial Forest and can hiked when snow isn’t on the ground. A segment of the trail with the gentlest terrain changes runs about 2.1-miles round trip and offers some views of the river.

To reach the trailhead, from Wis. Hwy 178 in Cornell, drive north on County Hwy. CC. In 2.2 miles, turn right/northeast onto 239th Avenue; a parking lot is on the road’s left/west side.

From the parking lot, go around the gate on the trail that heads northwest. At the first junction, turn right/northeast.

The trail parallels the Chippewa River, which runs for 183 miles, rising out of Lake Chippewa in Sawyer County, and flows into the Mississippi River. Where the two rivers meet, the sediment backs up the Mississippi to form Lake Pepin. The trail moves away from the northern tip of the Cornell Flowage, a section of the Chippewa.

In 0.4 miles from trailhead, the route reaches junction 1; go right/east. Within 200 feet, you’ll come to junction 2; continue going straight/east.

From there, the trail heads up a steep hill, offering vistas of the Chippewa below. It’s particularly scenic in autumn when the leaves of the forest’s northern hardwoods turn color and the understory clears away to give views of the blue river.

The Chippewa sits in a wide river canyon, formed more than 18,000 years ago when ice sheets began to melt and retreat in this area of Wisconsin. It has been a major trading route since prehistory, and during the late 1800s was a main riverway for moving cut logs from the Wisconsin Northwoods to mills in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire.

The river garnered its name from an anglicization of “Ojibwe,” the name for the native American tribe who controlled much of the upper Chippewa Valley during the early 1800s.

After walking 0.2 miles, go right/northeast at junction 3. In 0.4 miles at junction 6, turn back, retracing your steps to the parking lot.

Learn more about Chippewa Valley day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of the Chippewa Valley guidebook.