Wisconsin’s Rib Mountain State Park — Midwest Mountain Hiking and an Old Quarry

Back in June we had an entire weeklong hiking, camping, and relaxing trip planned in the UP of Michigan to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. It was going to be great, time spent in both the Pictured Rocks and in Munising, complete with a boutique hotel. (Roam Inn, you look amazing and I can’t wait to visit you soon!) Well, then COVID happened and plans changed. Instead of that trip, we planned a COVID friendly trip to a cabin in central Wisconsin. First stop on that trip was hiking at Rib Mountain State Park.

If you’ve even driven through Wausau then you’ve seen Rib Mountain. You can’t miss it. Right off the main highway is a 1,923 foot hill (a mountain by Wisconsin standards.) It has a state park on one side and Granite Peak Ski Area on the other. While there is no camping at the park, there is a lot of hiking to be done.

Link to follow along:
Rib Mountain park page
Rib Mountain trail descriptions
Rib Mountain map

Before we get hiking I should note that this was the first hiking adventure bringing along my new birthday gift, a camera. Full disclosure, I am an amateur photographer in every sense of the word. While I’m proud of some of these pictures, others were more of a challenge. The constant change in lighting found in a forest along with a dog who doesn’t like to stop made this a very hit or miss photo session. Things only get better with practice, right?

Let’s get hiking!

Our path: We started at the parking lot near the concessions stand. Our path was the red trail, to the quarry trail, to the turkey vulture trail, to the dynamite trail, to the homestead trail, back to the quarry trail, and the red trail. We saw a lot on this loop but the views will be scenic on whatever loop you choose to make. If you’re concerned about elevation (a.k.a. walking up or down hills) make sure to check out the map before you go. The elevations are noted in the steeper sections of the trail.

So before we started on the main part of the hike we walked around the rocks near the observation tower. I guess these are technically part of the blue trail but we didn’t count that in the hike.

Being on the tallest hill around you know that this is going to be a park that rewards you over and over with scenic views. This one was right out of the gate.

The skies are so white and milky in these photos. So much so that you can’t tell where the photo ends and the white of the webpage begins. These were taken when smoke from the wildfires out west were impacting the color of our skies here in Wisconsin.

Complete with a Travel Wisconsin selfie stand!

The short blue trail was created by the CCC in the 1930’s. This trail is paved and relatively flat. It seemed to be a popular spot for families to take pictures of their children on and around the rocks.

Some of the formations are named, like the “Queen’s Chair.”

You can access the observation tower from the blue trail. Like so many other structures in state parks these days, it was closed because of the pandemic.

Is this the face human parents get when they tell their children to stand in front of something for a picture?

Red Trail

Length: 1.14 mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Description: This trail travels up and down along the western side of the hill over packed dirt, rocks, and rock stairs. Sure footedness is a must on this trail as a number of small rocks line some sections.

The trails in this park are marked well and often. This section of the trail was narrow but mostly dirt.

This is a good example of rocks lining the trail. I found myself looking down at the trail a lot in some sections. It would be very easy to trip on a rock while walking.

Ferns!

Flat trail

To a very rocky trail. This park really keeps you on your toes.

The views are well worth the effort.


Quarry Trail

Length: .56 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
Description: This relatively flat trail brings hikers to the rim of the quarry. It crosses several small wooden bridges along the way.

I didn’t take any pictures along the trail as it looked like more of the red trail but I did start again upon reaching the quarry.

From the rim you can see the old quarry below.

Moxxi was awestruck by the view too.

I know what you’re thinking, it would be cool to see the quarry from the ground floor. If that’s the adventure you seek, then the next trail is for you.


Turkey Vulture Trail

Length: 1.28 miles
Difficulty: Moderate – this trail is primarily up hill or down hill, depending which direction you go.
Description: This trail travels along three sides of the quarry and provide access to the entry point.

The Turkey Vulture Trail can be accessed from two points, from the Quarry Trail or from Grouse Lane. Grouse Lane is a small residential street that ends at the trail. I cannot confirm this but I’ve read on other blogs that it is okay to park at the end of the street to access the trail. If you want to see the quarry but skip the elevation, that might be an option for you.

The actual entrance/access point to the inside of the quarry is on the west side of the Turkey Vulture Trail. We were wondering where this was going into the hike so I marked the approximate location on the map above.

It’s pretty neat walking into the basin. The walls around you are rock and the ground beneath you is dry sand.

The quarry was opened in 1893 and operated on and off until the 1980’s for the creation of sandpaper and other abrasives. 3M was the last company to own and operate the quarry.

At this point we thought we were at the lowest section and would have to walk back up to the rim. Oh how wrong we were.

After checking out the quarry we went back onto the Turkey Vulture Trail to take it north/down (in elevation) to the Dynamite Trail. Knowing that we would have to hike back up, it was disheartening to travel so far down.

Get wrecked, bench.


Dynamite Trail

Length: .25 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Description: This short trail connects the Turkey Vulture Trail to the Homestead Trail

This trail is short, flat and gentle. It connects the two larger trails (Turkey Vulture and Homestead) that quickly change the elevation. The trail is named for the former dynamite storage facility used by 3M to house dynamite for mining operations in the quarry.

Moxxi enjoying some chin scratches during a water break on the trail.


Homestead Trail

Length: 1.26 mile
Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
Description: This trail travels from the Dynamite Trail to the rim of the quarry. Loose rocks make up the trail in some sections.

I failed to take pictures of this trail for two reasons. First, I was too tired to take a quality photo. Second, the photos I did take weren’t doing the hill justice. This trail was essentially one continuous hill from the lowest point to where we started at the top of the quarry.

In some section the dirt trail was replaced by loose rocks for an additional challenge.

Along the trail is the foundations of an old homestead (for which the trail is named). Signage stated that the homestead is thought to date back to the 1890’s.

From the Homestead Trail, we backtracked on the Quarry Trail (not featured again) to meet up with the Red Trail. We traveled north on the trail to finish the loop.


Red Trail

Length: 1.14 mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Description: This trail travels up and down along the western side of the hill over packed dirt, rocks, and rock stairs. Sure footedness is a must on this trail as number small rocks line some sections.

The Red Trail picked up right where we left it. The trail switched between packed dirty, rocks, and rocky steps.

This side of the park offers views of the surrounding city of Wausau.

Another unique feature of this side of the park is the ski area. Walking along the trail you can see signs indicating the limits of the ski area and the beginning of the state park. It was a strange experience to be higher than the top of the ski runs while on a trail.

Several of the ski lifts can be found off the trail. It was another unique perspective to see them from behind.


Reflecting back on this park I believe it is one of the more challenging Wisconsin State Parks in terms of hiking. I guess that makes sense as “mountain” is literally part of it’s name. Between the abundance of spectacular views, the diversity of scenery, and the challenging nature of the trails themselves, this is one of my new favorite state parks in the state. Until next time, Rib Mountain!

2 Comments on “Wisconsin’s Rib Mountain State Park — Midwest Mountain Hiking and an Old Quarry

    • Thanks for reading! You’re right, it can be busy for sure. Luckily this park is so large it’s easy to get away from the crowds by hopping on a trail.

      Like

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