By Amy Bayer
Home to the very first rails-to-trails bike path conversion in the country, Monroe County encourages visitors to get outside to explore nature. Experience the winding route of the La Crosse River, or travel through the hills and valleys of the scenic Driftless Area.
From fishing to hiking and biking, there are plenty of ways to enjoy these scenic wonders of Monroe County. Here are seven destinations to get you started.
The Tomah Recreational Trail is a family-friendly multi-use trail located between Lake Tomah and Veteran's Park. The four-mile route is paved and alternates between mostly natural areas along the Lemonweir River and a few residential neighborhoods.
In addition to the lake and Veteran’s Park, the trail also passes by a handful of other local parks. With one attraction that encompasses most of Tomah's city parks, it’s an easy choice for our list.
Located on the eastern border of Monroe County with half of the park in Juneau County, Mill Bluff State Park offers a stunning landscape of tall sandstone bluffs and thick forests. These towering bluffs were natural landmarks for early pioneers and are often referenced in journals and diaries.
The most popular trail in the park is short but steep. More than 200 stone steps constructed in the 1930s lead to the top of Mill Bluff, where visitors can stand on the observation deck towering above the stunning landscape below.
Just north of Warrens, Monroe County’s first county park is located on the shores of Wazeda Lake. The 60-acre park has more than 60 campsites, along with hiking trails and lake access to a peaceful fishing spot that does not allow gasoline engines.
The park is a part of the Monroe County Forest system, which maintains more than a thousand acres of woodlands in the area.
This hidden gem is located seven miles north of Cashton. A two-acre trout pond surrounded by woods and a small stream, the property includes a state fish-rearing station.
This peaceful destination is for those who truly would like to get away and can be found at the end of dead-end country road. Amidst a verdant valley in the Driftless Area, this naturally scenic destination offers solitude and excellent fishing opportunities.
Sparta is home to the connection point of two incredible state trails that were converted from former railroad routes. The Elroy-Sparta State Trail is a 32-mile route that winds through five communities, four of which are in Monroe County – Kendall, Wilton, Norwalk and Sparta.
The most unique features of this trail are the three train tunnels that range in length from a quarter-mile to three-quarters of a mile. In the heat of summer, the tunnels stay cool and offer a reprieve for travelers venturing along the path.
The La Crosse River State Trail is 22 miles long and parallels the La Crosse River between Sparta and La Crosse. The scenery is a prairie setting with patches of farmland, forests, trout streams and wetlands.
Located near Cataract, the Big Creek State Fishery Area has multiple opportunities for hunting and fishing in a Class II trout stream. The 1,316-acre property includes access to Big, Spencer, Soper and Rathbone creeks and is open to trout fishing, hunting, hiking and wildlife viewing.
The surrounding forest is a mix of hardwoods and pine, and attracts a large variety of birds like yellow-bellied sapsuckers, whippoorwills, and the Nashville and black and white warblers. Bald eagles, ruffed grouse and wild turkey also have been known to frequent the area, so be sure to bring binoculars!
Located west of Cashton along the southern border of Monroe County, the Eureka Maple Woods tower over the Timber Coulee Creek from a steep, north-facing slope. With sugar maples, red oak, yellow birch and white ash trees, you can only imagine the explosion of color that happens every fall along this natural area.
This area is not easy to get to and there is no designated parking lot, so visitors need to have an adventurous spirit when they park along the highway and hike in. However, the incredible views can be rewarding in this isolated, natural setting.