Rib Mountain Wisconsin State park has a LOT to offer. You can hike or drive to the top to see the beautiful views. There are rocks to climb for the kiddos and the young at heart, and an observation tower. It is centrally located near Wausau in the heart of Wisconsin so isn’t too far from anywhere in the state. This is the Wisconsin State Park that is closest to my home and I have had the opportunity to explore it many different times of the years. Click here for tips to see the autumn colors or here for more information on enjoying the park during the winter. Towards the end I also have a list of awesome local eateries and other activities to do while you’re here.
My favorite way to enjoy Rib Mountain State Park is to hike up to the top and really make myself work for those beautiful views up top! There are several options. You can walk up the wide paved sidewalk along State Park road where the footing is even. I used to push a stroller up and it rolls easy but it is a WORKOUT! It’s about two miles but there is some parking at the half way mark if you want something a little shorter. You can also start on the paved trail and then veer off to the left on the “yellow trail” for a more scenic hike to the top. It has some steep sections but feels more like you are really out in nature. It has several different loops and if you follow all of them its over four miles.
The paved path and yellow trail are on the south side of the park but there is also a beautiful, and less steep hike up the north side. This route, Turkey Vulture Trail, goes around the quarry and all the way to the top of the park. It’s roughly 1.4 miles each way. You can follow homestead trail on the way down if you want variety. If you are super ambitious and really looking for a workout, park at Granite Peak and challenge yourself to hike straight up the ski slopes!
There are several hikes that leave from the top. The Gray Trail leave from near the amphitheater and is 0.5 mile non loop trail that leads to the Red Trail. It is uphill for most of the way. The Red Trail Loops the observation tower and has some fun rocky features.
The Blue and Green Trails also circle the tower and are a little shorter. Parking for the Red, Blue, and Green Trail is best at near the accessible view area or near the concession stand. The blue trail is less than a mile. It is a semi paved trail with lots of big rocks to boulder/scramble over. It is not stroller friendly but a lot of fun with kids who can walk on their own or rambunctious people of all ages who like to scramble up and over rocks.
Visit the Top
If you want to enjoy the beauty of the park without the crazy hike, you can drive right to the top. There are several parking areas that get you close to the beautiful views so even those who can’t get out of the car can enjoy the sights. There is a handicap accessible viewpoint as well.
My favorite activity with the kiddos is to park at the top and then take hike that goes around the observation tower. There is also new playground, installed around 2020, that’s fun for the kiddos. If you still have some energy and want the very best views, head for the observation tower. It is right at the top of the park and offers stunning views in every direction. There are just under 100 steps to the top!
The small park store has food, Wisconsin memorabilia, and cute nature themed knick knacks. It is at the top of the park near the playground. It is run by Friends of Rib Mountain State Park, a non profit dedicated to improving, preserving, and promoting the park. All profits go towards improving the park. Their most recent project was the awesome new playground equipment. Hours are variable depending on volunteer staffing. They try to be open Memorial through October on on the weekends from 11-4p. When it’s open its fun to look around and grab a snack while supporting the park. They sell drinks, candy, ice cream treats, and hamburgers. There is a nice indoor restroom near the ranger station at the main entrance. There are also several pit toilets available throughout the park.
All season fun
While my favorite time of year to visit the park is the summer, it really is a place you can enjoy all year. In the winter the park is most know for being the location of Granite Peak Ski Hill but it also some great hiking. Check out my post about Rib Mountain in the winter here. According the the Friends of Rib Mountain State Park, one of the most popular times to visit the park is in the fall. The autumn colors can be seen for miles. Check out my fall specific Rib Mountain article for all the details on why so many people love this park at that time of the year.
The rocky features that help make this park so unique are made of quartzite which is a very hard rock said to date back about 1.7 billion years. Rib Mountain State Park is said to get its name because Central Wisconsin is the burial site of is Paul Bunyan. Rib Mountain is the bump from the ribs. Legend has it that Babe the Blue Ox is buried just south forming Mosinee Hill. If you don’t believe that tall tale, the other theory on the origination of the name is from the Native Chippewa people called it “O-pic-wun-a-se-be” and the first part of that means rib. They used it as a look out as you really can see in all directions.
There is no camping available at Rib Mountain but there are so many places to stay near by. A closer place to camp is Marathon County Park. It is in the center of the Wausau and is pretty urban camping. About 30 minutes north is Council Grounds.
One of my favorite places to eat near Rib Mountain State Park is Red Eye Brewing. They try to focus on local ingredients and the food is delicious. You can’t go wrong with their wood fired pizzas. Wausau on the Water (WOW) has burgers and brews along with laser tag and an indoor arcade area to keep the kids busy. They are also have a beautiful patio overlooking the Wisconsin River. For asian fusion check out Lemongrass and for fine dining go to Back When.
For breakfast or brunch we love both Era Pancake House and the Sixth Street Filling Station, they make their own bread and it is so amazing! Whitewater Music Hall and Brew Works always has a fun vibe. You can count of them for coffee, beer, and creative cocktails but check with the website for food. They usually have a limited selection and often host food trucks. Briq’s Soft Serve is a local favorite and has several locations in Wausau as well as some in Northern Wisconsin.
If you love state parks, Council Grounds State Park is only a half an hour north and has great water access with a beach and boat launch. There is some flatter hiking available as well. The Dells of Eau Claire is a cool waterfall with some hiking and is about 30 minutes east northeast. Check out the list of the other parks I’ve written about here.
My family loves to bike but Rib Mountain is not a great destination for that unless you like to road bike and are up for a challenge! Nine Mile County Forest is 15 minutes south and has great mountain biking. Sylvan Hill Park has great downhill mountain bike trails. The Mountain Bay trail is a great local gravel train and Wausau’s River Edge Parkway is a short but beautiful walk near downtown.
One amazing and unique opportunity Wausau has is Wausau Whitewater. Several weekends each summer the dam opens up and water flows right through downtown creating a great white water course. It’s fun to watch but if you want a taste of the fun grab your kayak and sign up. If you are new to the sport, Whitecap Kayak does beginner lessons that teach you the basics of paddling and offer you a chance to take their kayaks down the rapids!
The closest playground is Doepke Park which has a nice playground, a short workout loops, some baseball fields, and a short nature hike. Jojo’s Jungle is a huge and amazing handicap accessible playground that includes a splash pad in the summer. Three “M” Park has a unique and fun neighborhood playground.
I absolutely love this park. Is there anything you love about Rib Mountain that I missed? Comment below. Thanks for visiting! On Wisconsin.