By Amy Bayer
The largest county in the state has plenty to boast about when discussing its natural scenic wonders, from breathtaking views atop towering bluffs to peaceful overlooks along rushing rivers. Marathon County has such an impressive number of high-quality, distinctive natural features that they’ve created the County Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department to assist with the maintenance and protection of the land.
In addition, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources maintains several scenic attractions like Rib Mountain State Park, George W. Mead Wildlife Area and the Mountain-Bay State Trail. There is non-stop outdoor adventure waiting for you in Marathon County, and here are seven natural scenic wonders to get you started.
Covering just above 4,900 acres, Nine Mile is one of the most popular destinations for outdoor enthusiasts in central Wisconsin and has opportunities for mountain biking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding and hiking.
Just south of Wausau, The terrain throughout the park varies from low, flat ground and marshes to steep and hilly forests, and there are also a couple of trout streams for fishing. With an abundance of wildlife from deer to grouse to waterfowl and more than 30 miles of trails, this is the perfect place to explore nature during any season.
Located in the northeast corner of the county, this park offers more than five miles of hiking trails, including a segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and has stunning views of the Eau Claire River.
The trails parallel either side of the river and also entail the use of multiple bridges with scenic overlooks. The most stunning feature is the Dells themselves, a series of rock formations in the river that create mini waterfalls and swirling eddies and pools. The large, flat rocks are great for picnics in the summer when the water levels are lower.
While in the area, head three miles east to the Plover River State Fishery Area for additional hiking trails along the boardwalks, hills and valleys surrounding the Plover River.
Bluegill Bay Park offers some of the best bird watching in the area, especially in the spring and fall. Although a natural spring on the property flows year-round, so it’s also a great destination for wintering birds as well.
There are more than 200 recorded species that visit this 70-acre park, including rare species like the yellow-crowned night-heron. Located in Wausau along the Wisconsin River, this scenic park offers several other recreational activities like volleyball, horseshoes and hiking, in addition to numerous fishing piers.
Just north of Marshfield is the McMillan Marsh State Wildlife Area, which is associated with the George W. Mead Wildlife Area located twenty miles to the east. The McMillan Marsh encompasses a refuge along the Little Eau Pleine River.
There is a 6.25-mile trail made from crushed limestone and gravel for bicyclists, as well as an additional hiking trail that bisects the refuge. While both are closed during the fall migration seasons, they offer incredible opportunities for wildlife-viewing in the summer.
This 6,500-acre wetland area contributes to the natural purification of the area’s drinking water and clean air, so head to the McMillan Marsh for a fresh breath of the outdoors as you enjoy its scenic beauty.
Located near Mosinee, Big Eau Pleine County Park contains 1,450 acres of forest on a two-mile peninsula that juts into the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir. There are more than 100 campsites, 12 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, as well as fat tire biking and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Also on site is the Big Eau Pleine Woods State Natural Area, which contains a nature trail that traverses around a sloping forested hill. There are several boat launches along the shores of the peninsula, which offer excellent opportunities for fishing in the reservoir.
Whether you want to head to there for the day or stay several nights, this park has plenty to experience.
Marathon County’s protected forest is made up of nine different units, including the 5,000-acre Kronenwetter Unit located on the eastern end of the Village of Kronenwetter. With multiple access points, this forest has excellent hiking and equestrian trails, as well as snowmobile trails in the winter.
Several creeks and ponds are located throughout the area, and the terrain is a mix of gentle rolling hills and wetlands. Keep your eyes open for wildlife as deer, bear, grouse and beaver frequent the area.
7. Athens Park
This 25-acre park is located on north side of Marathon County and has access to the Potato Creek. On the southern village limits of Athens, this community park is secluded and offers excellent opportunities for quiet picnics in the forested surroundings.
Bring your friends and family for a peaceful outing along the water in this quaint natural setting.