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Snowmobiling in Wisconsin’s Chippewa County

RELATED TOPICS: MIDWEST
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One way to judge a riding area is if it’s good enough for a return visit. Last winter I rode Wisconsin’s Chippewa County and had so much fun, I went right back!

Chippewa County, in west central Wisconsin, is 90 miles east of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The county features gently rolling terrain dotted with lakes, left behind from the last glacier 10,000 years ago. The Chippewa River, a major waterway, roughly bisects the county as it flows south en route to the Mississippi. The entire county has outstanding trails and offers sledders a vast area to explore.

Come Together, Right Now
Like many regions in Wisconsin, excellent riding in this area is due to cooperative efforts of snowmobile clubs keeping the trails in tip-top conditions. In mid-January, I arranged a visit in conjunction with club members in Chippewa and adjacent Clark County, with riding in each.

Our foray into the eastern half of Chippewa county began in the southeast. We entered just south of the town of Stanley and made a mid-morning rendezvous with club and county association members, making a group of nine.

The forecast was for heavy snow and temperatures in the mid-20s, so we anticipated a challenging but enjoyable ride. Visibility was soupy and the powder deepened (10 inches by late afternoon), a legendary Midwest winter day! 

After just several miles, we met the Thorp Club’s groomer, which was disabled by a broken track. The operators assured us help was on the way, so we resumed our journey, heading past Stanley and running up the eastern edge of the county on State Corridor Trail 27. 

This path took us through forests and farm fields, with interesting twists, especially with the snow getting deeper by the hour. We skirted Otter Lake and arrived at the Huron Warming Shack, a structure built by the Sno-Gliders club in 1998 and dedicated to club founder Herb Thompson. After signing the guest book, we turned westward, coming upon a flock of turkeys flying up into the snowy sun.

The riding was great fun, but our sleds labored in the drifting snow, especially my old Cat Pantera. I was near the front of the pack and my carb iced from snow coming in through the hood. After clearing the vents, changing plugs and taking a position further back where I wasn’t constantly pushing powder, the Cat ran like a champ again.
Our westerly route went through the town of Cornell, on the east side of the Chippewa River. Our hosts showed Gary and me the county association’s groomer garage. And what a place it was! A former manufacturing facility with large overhead doors and an open shop floor, this was the most impressive “groomer shed” I’ve seen! There was enough space for half a dozen bowling lanes! “Our original goal was to find a building that was more centrally located in the county,” Dean Johnson, the treasurer, told me, “but when this facility became available at an attractive price, we couldn’t pass it up. As you can see, there’s plenty of room for our groomers and drags, plus we’re right off the trail.”

Cornell is the northern terminus of the Old Abe State Trail, a paved multi-use trail almost 20 miles southwest to Lake Wissota and Chippewa Falls. The route is named in honor of the legendary bald eagle carried on Civil War campaigns by the 8th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. The trail parallels the Chippewa River and is open when there is sufficient snow cover...on this day there was plenty!

This former Chicago & North Western Railway line was great for powder cruising, and it wasn’t long before we hit Jim Falls and refueled. Back on the trail, it was a short hop to our lunch stop, the Edge Pub & Eatery, located on Lake Wissota where the Old Abe Trail crosses the northern arm of the lake - a reservoir on the Chippewa River.

After lunch, we ventured onto the frozen lake to frolic in the deep snow and to see the long bridge that takes Old Abe Trail riders across the river. Once back on land, we headed east to complete our loop and stopped at a beautiful black granite slab erected by the Jim Falls Rail Runners club. The inscription reads, “In memory of John Melville for his outstanding contribution to the snowmobile trail system. He will always be remembered and in our hearts.” I reflected on the countless club volunteers who created the outstanding network of trails we enjoy today. If you’re reading this and are not a club member, I highly suggest you getting involved!

This Bud’s for you!

The final leg of our loop was the Budweiser Trail, a dozen miles over rolling terrain featuring farm fields and forests. It was near sundown when we returned to our starting point with 119 miles on the ODO.

While saying goodbye, my gracious hosts said, “Come again, anytime!” It was enough for me just weeks later to make arrangements again, this time to tour the western half of the county. Our start point was the Sleep Inn, along the trail on HWY 29. Once again, the club and organization riders were out in force and we embarked with 10 sleds.

Despite being the end of February, temperatures were below zero, with sunny skies. The trails were groomed to perfection, so we enjoyed cushy conditions from start to finish. We had no idea that we’d have the trails all to ourselves, but we didn’t encounter a single oncoming sled all day!

We began heading west on the Wheaton Trail, then turned north on State Corridor Trail 33 for a run along the western border of the county, crossing over into Dunn County for several miles. The route took us through a variety of wooded areas and agricultural land, with the rolling terrain becoming more pronounced as we continued northward. 

Our first stop was at Haymakers. This rural roadhouse was a haven on a cold morning, giving us the opportunity to warm up before continuing our trek. Back on the sleds, we set sail for New Auburn and the northwestern corner of the county, enjoying impressive views from several hilltops. Along the way, we traversed logging areas and passed a trio of sand mines, where trucks loaded with frac sand were plying the roads, going to and fro.

When we reached New Auburn, it was time to refuel both sleds and riders. Pulling up to Hambones, a popular pit stop, we noticed there were no cars parked in front of the historic building, so we lined up the sleds for a group picture before going inside to eat.

After lunch we headed north out of town, logging several miles in Barron County before our route took us eastward and then south on the Blue Diamond Trail before skirting the town of Bloomer. The trails over gently undulating terrain were smooth and fast, but finger drifts had developed in some places, making poofs of powder even more fun. The snow was deep everywhere and the huge plow banks were especially impressive at crossings. 

One of the last segments was the Rough Rider Trail, but no worries, it was way smoother than the name implies! The Wheaton Trail took us back to the Sleep Inn and our odometers showed another 119 miles for the day. 

Chippewa County’s 23 clubs have a trail system they can take pride in, and you should consider exploring the 480 miles of trails. Four groomers patrol the region, so the odds of finding smooth trails are always favorable. The area is very accessible, just a dozen miles northeast of Interstate 94, the main highway connecting Milwaukee and Saint Paul.
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