Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Buffalo River State Trail offers rustic hike

Buffalo River State Trail. Courtesy Wisconsin DNR.
Topo map of trail's eastern terminus, Plate 1.
Topo map of trail's eastern terminus, Plate 2.
Topo map of trail's eastern terminus, Plate 3.

Old railroad grade
runs 36.4 miles
in Wisconsin

Day hikers can enjoy a pastoral walk past farm fields and through country woods on the Buffalo River State Trail in west-central Wisconsin.

The trail runs for 36.4 miles through the Buffalo River Valley between Mondovi and Fairchild while passing three other farm towns. Most of the way, the trail parallels either the Buffalo River or one of its forks. An easy to reach and rustic segment to walk heads 4.8-miles round trip from Fairchild to the North Fork Buffalo River.

To reach that trailhead in Fairchild, at Eau Claire County's southeastern corner, from U.S. Hwy. 12 go northeast onto County Road YY/North Street. After crossing Town Line Road, turn left/north into the Buffalo River State Trail parking lot. An access trail goes from the lot north to the main route.

Classic farm country
Once there, turn left/southwest onto the trail (Taking the trail the other direction heads into downtown Fairchild.). Built on a former railroad grade, the trail here and throughout its course is fairly flat with a surface of railroad ballast and limestone screenings.

In about 0.1 miles, the trail crosses busy Hwy. 12. Be sure to look both ways and hold hands of any children with you.

From there, the trail line is nicely lined with hardwood trees on both sides, making for a pleasant colorful walk in autumn. As the trail is wide, though, you'll need a sunhat or sunscreen.

Through breaks in the treelines, you'll be able to spot a variety of farm fields on either sides of the tracks. This is classic Wisconsin dairy country you’re heading through.

About 0.5 miles from trailhead, the trail crosses McGower Road. In doing so, you are now in Jackson County. At 0.9 miles, the trail intersects Arndt Road.

Riviere de Beeufs
The farmland gives way to heavier woodlands at about 1.85 miles, when the trail recrosses McGower Road. Tree plantations can be seen on the trail’s north side for part of this segment.

At 2.4 miles the trail reaches North Fork Buffalo River, a good turnback point. The river and its forks were named by early French explorers for the bison than once roamed this area; they called it the Riviere de Beeufs. The North Fork joins the main Buffalo River upstream. The Buffalo in turn flows into the Mississippi River at Alma; it’s the next tributary to feed the southbound Mississippi after the Chippewa River.

Bicycles, horses, ATVs and UTVs also use the trail spring through autumn; during winter, it becomes a snowmobile trail. Be aware that sometimes maps refer to the route as the Beef River Recreational Vehicle Trail or as the Buffalo River State Park Trail.

Other trailheads (heading east to west) for the Buffalo River State Trail include:
• Osseo – On non-school days, park at school district's athletics fields at northern end of Rose Lane. Follow the lane north onto an access trail for the Buffalo River State Trail.
• Strum – Park downtown on County Road D/Fifth Avenue South; the trail is between Birch and Maple streets.
• Eleva – Park on Third Street South and walk south; the trail is just past Goddard Street.
• Mondovi – Parking is available at the southern end of Marten Street.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.