|Trail map courtesy of Wisconsin DNR.|
A former rail line, the 20-mile trail links Chippewa County’s two state parks – Brunet Island in Cornell and Lake Wissota near Chippewa Falls. It winds through farmland and forests, past historical sites, and along the Chippewa River shoreline. Though a bicycle trail, it also is open to hikers.
Old Abe Lake
A pleasant 6-mile round trip segment of the trail to day hike is near Jim Falls. To reach the trailhead, in downtown Jim Falls look for the trail parking lot off of County Road S between Barber Drive and 139th Avenue. An access trail heads southeast from the lot to the trail.
Head north on the Old Abe; houses and a county highway sit between the trail and Chippewa River if you go south. While the same is true as heading north through Jim Falls, the built-up area give way to countryside upon crossing County Road S.
Once north of the county road, the trail passes a transmission substation, which pulls power from the hydroelectric dam on the Chippewa River to the east. In short order, the trail comes alongside Old Abe Lake (Some maps refer to it as the “Old Abe Flowage.”), a reservoir created by two dams. The first backs up a side channel of the Chippewa River at County Roads S and Y while the other is farther north on the main channel. The Chippewa River’s main channel rambles across several cascades.
As the lake narrows, the surrounding land grows swampier. On the opposite shoreline, bluffs rise over the lake and river, offering a scenic backdrop of fall leaf colors each autumn.
Flat and a wide, the Old Abe Trail is a former Chicago and Northwestern rail line. The trail is named for the eagle that served as mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. Soldiers purchased the eagle from a tavern owner in Jim Falls and took it into many battles across the South.
A good spot to turn back is about three miles into the hike, just after the trail curves northeast toward the 2 o’clock position (with north at noon). Following the spring snow melt, the water can be high here, and the elevated trail forms a causeway over a finger of the lake.
Alternately, you can continue north to Cobban, which at 5 miles from Jim Falls makes for a great point-to-point trail in which someone picks you up at your destination. Just before arriving, the trail crosses another causeway over the river’s side.
Other trailheads for the Old Abe include:
• Lake Wissota – A lot is off of Elks Club Road immediately west of the County Roads S and O intersection.
• Cornell – Park at the Cornell City and Visitors Center off of Wis. Hwy. 64 west of Park Road.
• Brunet Island State Park – The trail runs south from the lot for the park headquarters on Park Road.
Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.