Are you looking for adventure but think it’s hard to find Wausau Wisconsin? Think again! There are some great ways to have a little summer fun and adventure here in the heart of the Badger State. I grew up in Wausau but moved away for a little over a decade. Since coming back, I’ve been having a blast rediscovering old favorites as well as finding new adventures.
Whitewater Kayaking is an adventure!
White water kayaking on a world class white water course is one of the best kept secret adventures in Wausau! The Wisconsin rivers runs right downtown and a couple weekends a month Wausau Whitewater opens the damn and allows the public to white water kayak. If you’re an experienced paddler jump right in but it’s not just for those with well honed paddling skills.
Whitecap Kayak runs lessons for beginner and intermediate paddlers. The lessons includes gear, entrance fees to the course, and instruction. They break the group up into smaller groups according to experience and goals and then cater the lessons to the participants. Regardless of your skills at the start of the lesson, everyone gets a chance to run some of the rapids. It is absolutely exhilarating and an amazing adventure right in Wausau.
Camping is open at the adjoining green space during white water weekends. Whether you are there to watch or participate, don’t miss the farmer’s market. It is open Saturday mornings through the summer. There is all the local produce you’d expect plus coffee, pastries, maple syrup, and our favorite-the breakfast burritos.
If you want to kayak or paddle but are less keen on white water check out Blue Gill park.
Mountain Biking-as adventurous as you want
Ten years ago there wasn’t much for mountain biking here in Wausau but thanks to the development of the Central Wisconsin Off road Cycling Coalition (CWOCC) there is now three amazing mountain bike destinations within 20 minutes of the city center.
Sylvan is the closest to downtown and used to be a beginner ski hill. Nowadays in the winter it is a tubing hill so suffice to say there is some nice elevation change. There are multiple trails of various ability levels to get down the hill all of which combine together for the one uphill. There is also a pump track and a skills area at the top of the hill. At the bottom there is a park with a playground, picnic tables, and a large grassy space. There is a recommended donation for trail maintenance.
Nine Mile is southwest of downtown has over 12 miles of trail. There is plenty of flowy trail, a few jump lines, and some rocky technical terrain in the back. With all the variety here there is definitely something to make you feel adventurous and challenge riders of all different abilities. This park is also available for hiking/walking/running and offers a LOT of options. You can camp in/near the parking lot here as well.
Ringle trails is one of my favorites and is 20 minutes south east of the downtown. There is over 10 miles of trail, mostly machine built. There are plenty of rock rolls, gap jumps, and rock gardens to keep you busy. On the intermediate trails there are plenty of B lines to let rider bypass the obstacles if they choose. CWOCC continues to actively add miles of trail and I’m excited to see what they add.
Rib Mountain State Park-climbing adventures
Rib Mountain State Park is a great place to enjoy the outdoors and there is plenty of fun to be had. If you are looking for a challenging bike ride, head up the main entrance for a steep and beautiful ride. If you are looking for a great hike you can follow the side walk along the road, wind along the yellow trail from bottom to the top, or come up the back side on Turkey vulture trail. Don’t miss out on the rock scrambles which are easiest to find on the trail around the top of the park.
There are a fantastic number of options in Wausau for outdoor races. It’s always easy to find 5k and 10k’s or even some triathlons but here in Wausau there are also lots of fun races that have even more challenge.
What better way to find adventure than to do an Adventure Race. The Rib Mountain Adventure Race and is an exhilarating way to spend a day. If you’re new to adventure races, the general idea is a timed scavenger hunt where you find points via trekking, biking, and paddling. You have to get as many check points as you can and navigating from a map is a big part of the fun. For this even there is a 3 hour option as well as an 8 hour and 18 hour option. You can compete on a team of up to 4 or roll solo.
Crazy Bike Races
If you’d rather not navigate but like the idea of a bike race, check out the Wausau 24. It is hosted every year at the end of July at Nine Mile Forest. Racers compete, individually or on teams, to finish as many laps as possible within time. The laps are usually around 12-13 miles of mostly single tract with some cross country trails mixed in. You can dull the full monty and race for 24 hours or you can try to less intimidating options of 12 hours or even 6. This is a fun weekend event and participants can camp at the location. There are kids runs on Saturday and several running events the Friday before the race.
Another option for biking is the Red Granite Grinder with Ironbull. This gravel ride has a all inclusive 12 mile event which is doable with a trailer if you want to bring the kids or a less enthusiastic biker. If you want more of a challenge try to 50 mile, 85 mile, or the 144 miles option! This race takes you all over Wausau and the surrounding areas showing off some great gravel riding.
Challenging Running Races
If you prefer to run over bike try either the Wausau Ultra. The course is just over 4 miles at Sylvan. This is a tubing hill in the winter so you can count on some good elevation. The “easiest” option is to get on a team for the double down relay. Teammate one leaves around 9am and has to be back before 10:30am when teammate 2 has to leave. If you prefer to go for the intermediate option, you can run both laps on your own. If you want to really go all out, the official Ultra Racers start Friday and run one lap on the hour, every hour until only one racer is left! These runner’s amaze me every time! For the last 2 years the winner has had over 30 laps!
The Ironbull Ultra Trail run is a late summer/early fall event that allows you to enjoy the beautiful foliage at Rib Mountain State Park. There are multiple options that shortest of which is 15k and involves going up and down the mountain. This year they also have 25 k and 50k options which will no doubt include going up and down the mountain several times including straight up the ski hill at least once! This run is not for the faint of heart.
A Swimming Race
There are several public swimming pools in Wausau (Memorial, Kaiser, and Schulenburg) though you’ll have to be ready to share with a lot of families. If you don’t mind lake swimming you may have a little more space. I like to go to Oak and Fern Island Parks. Walk across the bridge to the island and go to the southern most tip where perhaps 15-20 feet off the island there is a nice sand dune. For small but generally private rocky beach, to go Radtke Park. After parking, walk to the southwest end of the park, there are two different short trails to the water.
If you’d prefer to race, check out Mission Possible. This is a 1/4 mile swim loop. The race involves doing as many laps as you can in 12 hours! Not quite up for that challenge? Jump on a team of up to 4 people and swim it relay style. There is also a one mile fun swim if you prefer something a little (a lot) shorter.
Festivals and Events
Willow Springs Gardens is a place that prides itself as somewhere to create traditions. On site they have a beautifully restored round barn as well as the old town hall. They host a variety of events through out the year in the countryside just northwest of downtown. They host events like Dinner in the Vineyard, Pizza on the Patio, 5k runs, and holiday events. Check out their schedule, you never know what sort of fun will be there!
Wausau Events hosts several festivals throughout the summer.
- Concerts on the Square–They are right downtown and feature live music and food trucks every Wednesday in the summer.
- Wings over Wausau-A flight fest with drone demonstrations, live entertainment, food, and of course, a parade of flights.
- Chalkfest-An art fest downtown, every year you can see different creations
- Big Bull Falls Blues Fest-Wisconsin’s longest running blues rest on the lovely Oak Island Park. Food and drinks available.
- Beer and Bacon Fest-the name says it all!
Taste and Glow Balloon Festival. Ever been up in a hot air balloon? Here is your chance for a tethered balloon ride! And if you don’t want to ride in one, the sight of all the balloons inflated and ready for lift off is a beautiful sight in itself.
Indoor Adventure for Rainy days
If the weather is driving you inside, there are still some great options. Wausau’s Trampoline Park is called Sawmill Adventure Park and is guaranteed to wear you out quick! They have a mini golf course as well if the weather allows. If you are feeling like a sleuth, check out Cracked Escape Room. We always have a good time and a good laugh here. The local hatchet throwing place is called Blades and Boards and is fun to check out.
If you are looking for adventure and are hungry or looking for a brew, check out Wausau On the Water (WOW). They have good food, a decent beer selection, an arcade, and laster tag! If that isn’t enough to lure you, they have a large patio overlooking the Wisconsin River. They are right next to a great boat launch for canoes/kayaks. There is also a great local ice cream shop, Briq’s, right behind the restaurant with a great view of the river.
Food and drink options
My favorite breakfast place is Sixth Street Filling Station. They make their own bread and it is amazing. I have yet to be disappointed at this restaurant. Another solid choice is Kreger’s Bakery. This place has amazing yeast donuts and make custom breakfast sandwiches to go. They don’t have a sitting area but they are close to the WhiteWater course which is a nice place to sit whether the damn is open or closed.
Our favorite spot of coffee (or cocktails) is Whitewater Music Hall. It is very close to the whitewater area and downtown. They have a large seating area and a great view of Rib Mountain. The drinks are unique. They have a small amount of food options but watch their event page as they often have live music or other events.
Wausau has a pretty authentic Mexican place called La Taqueria, try the street corn! Their burritos are huge. For a great local brew and a menu focused on local ingredients check out Red Eye Brewing Company. We love the pizza’s there but their whole menu is great. If you want a super cheesy pizza and a super unique building, check out Wausau Mine Company. Their building is designed to look like, you guessed it, the inside of a mine! They have perfected the recipe for old fashions.
If you are looking for a classic Wisconsin Friday night fish fry, check out Sconnies Alehouse and Eatery. Their outdoor seating area includes a decorative waterfall and stools made from old tractor seats. They have a good selection of craft beer. The old train station has been turned into Timekeeper’s Distillery if you prefer liquor. There is a great restaurant near by called Hiawatha’s. They are another great choice for a fish fry though I prefer their Voo Doo Nachos.
Wausau is filled with fun and adventure! What are your favorite things to do in Wausau? I’m always up for more fun, what did I miss?