Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Trail passes through zoo, along creek, cave

Rock formations are about 500 million years old along
Irvine Park's Duncan Creek.

Loop cuts across park's heart

Day hikers can enjoy a pleasant walk alongside a creek, through a tiny zoo, and past a cave at Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

Irvine Park heralds back to the day when cities set aside large swaths of land for multiple recreational purposes. It feels a lot like a miniature Central Park or Griffith Park.

Multiple walking paths run through Irvine Park, but the popular wooded ski trail often listed as a hiking trail tends to be overgrown by late summer. A good alternate is a paved 1.1-mile loop through the park’s southeast corner.

To reach the park, from downtown Chippewa Falls head north on Wis. Hwy. 124. Turn left/west onto Bridgewater Avenue. Go right/north onto Bear Den Drive and pull into the parking lot on the left/west.

Tigers, bears
Map, Irvine Park Loop,
courtesy City of Chippewa Falls
From the parking lot, angle northeast past the restrooms. At Bear Den Drive, walk left/north along the sidewalk.

Formed in 1906 by Chippewa Falls resident William Irvine, the park now covers 318 acres. Irvine envisioned a park that preserved the area’s natural history for all area residents to enjoy at no cost.

At Wolfe Drive, go left/northwest. A bridge crosses Duncan Creek and in short order enters the tiny zoo. Among the features are a duck pond, an exhibit including Bengal tigers, and a black bear exhibit.

As leaving the zoo, the trail follows Duncan Creek, offering various views of it. Starting several miles north of the city near New Auburn, the stream in the park offers a number of small cascades before flowing into the Chippewa River.

Go right/southeast onto Irvine Park Drive and cross the creek. When the trail curves south alongside the creek, it becomes Bear Den Drive.

Cave, ancient rocks
This portion of the hike focuses more on the area’s natural setting. Duncan Creek runs on the trail’s right/west side while sandstone walls line the left/east side.

Along the way is a small cave that can be entered. To the cave’s south are a set of 60-foot high tiered rocks that can be scrambled up.

The rock is Mt. Simon sandstone, which formed about 495 million to 500 million years ago as Wisconsin rose from the sea. Most of the rock layers were created by sediment, as tidal currents reclaimed Wisconsin for the ocean.

Upon reaching the restrooms, angle southwest back to the parking lot.

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