|Duncan Creek at Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls, Wis.|
Eau Claire, with a population of nearly 70,000, sits at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers. At one time, this was the nation’s lumber capital, but that role gave way to industry in the 20th century. Today, it’s best known as the home of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and as a regional government and retail center. Recent efforts to make the city trail-friendly ensures there are a number of hiking opportunities here, especially in the campus/downtown area and on the Chippewa River State Trail.
Menomonie, to the west, is the valley’s second most populous city at around 16,500. The Red Cedar River, a major tributary to the Chippewa River, runs through town. It is home of the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus and offers several excellent trails, most notably the Red Cedar State Trail.
Chippewa Falls, the valley’s third largest city at about 14,000, also is on the Chippewa River and shares a similar lumbering and manufacturing legacy as Eau Claire to the south. Today, it is headquarters for the original Cray Research and home of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company. The southern end of the Old Abe Trail is located here; a couple of other good trails also can be found in Irvine Park.
Though smaller than a couple of other cities in the valley – specifically Altoona and Bloomer – Durand with 2000 people is Pepin County’s seat of government. It is downstream from Eau Claire on the Chippewa River, and the Chippewa River State Trail’s southern terminus is here.
Learn more about Chippewa Valley day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of the Chippewa Valley guidebook.