The Eau Claire Dells is my favorite water feature hike in central Wisconsin. It has an amazing collection of smaller waterfalls/rapids and is only 25 minutes east of Wausau. It’s only 190 acres, but it packs a punch. The hikes offer great views of the river and have lots of fun rocks along the path to keep things fun and interesting. There is a campground if you’d like to stay and play. The beach is small but allows you access to swim. There is a newly updated playground, and my kids always have lots of fun playing on the natural features along the trail. Don’t miss this beautiful Wisconsin gem!
The Falls at Dells of Eau Claire
The Dells of Eau Claire has a beautiful set of waterfalls! A large, sweeping stone stairway leads from the parking area down to a grand view of the falls. You can get an up-close look as long as you are sure-footed! The trails lead right down to the rocks with the water rushing around them.
The water level changes, but it is always an impressive sight regardless of the season. Even in winter, the falls are beautiful as they don’t all ice up, even in the coldest parts of the season.
There are a lot of fun rocks to climb and jump on. This is especially true downriver on the south side. I have great memories of jumping rocks and trying to get across various areas when I was a kid. We often see people swimming in and around the falls, but take care! There are strong undercurrents, and there have been fatalities in the past. If you want to take a dip, go upriver to the beach or downriver near the pedestrian bridge.
Hiking at the Dells of Eau Claire
I recommend taking the approximately one-mile loop downstream from the main falls to get a full view and then loop back up the other side. Head west, downstream, from the waterfall on either side, and follow the river. At the halfway point, a beautiful sturdy pedestrian bridge (marked the High Bridge on the map), takes you across the river. The bridge you take to get back to the original side is the car bridge on County Y, and there is a wide sidewalk that crosses the bridge, making it less daunting.
This hike has ups and downs without gaining or losing significant heights. There are TONS of rocky areas for the adventurous to climb and play on. It is such a fun hike for kids. There are several areas where the trails are immediately adjacent to the river.
The ice age trails cover part of the above loop. It runs approximately 2.5 miles on the South side of the river west of the High Bridge and on the north side of the river on the East side of the high bridge along the rapids.
If you are ready for some longer hikes, cross County Y and there is a trail on both sides of the bridge that heads upstream. You can see the beach area and cross the damn/walking bridge on this side. There is a smattering of trails that loop around this 190-acre park. On the south side of the river, there are a lot of hemlock trees that smell wonderful and have a peaceful vibe.
Hiking in the Winter
This hike is beautiful year-round! We love checking out the falls and the hike in the winter though it is only for the adventurous and surefooted. There are several areas of rock stairs that tend to get very icy and difficult to navigate in the winter. My kids usually slide down on their bottoms, and I wouldn’t want to hike it while having to carry someone. If you are unsure, be sure to use Yaktraxs or trekking poles.
Playgrounds and Picnic Tables
The playground was updated in the summer of 2022, and we love the upgrade! It includes several slides, a rope bridge, and lots of climbing features. It is surrounded by a fairly open area with several picnic tables.
The Dells of Eau Claire has 28 campsites, and 16 of the sites have electricity. The campsites have gravel camp areas. There are no flush toilets or showers-just vault toilets. They sell firewood at the campsite right next to the self-registration station. Each site includes a picnic table and a fire ring with a grill. There is a water pump, recycling station, and dumpster available. The campground is east of county Y, the large road which cuts through the park. The beach area and some hiking are on the east side. Most of the waterfalls are on the west side. Click here to make reservations for camping. It is open from May through October.
There is also a group campsite in the northwest part of the park. It is a large grassy area with picnic tables and a vault toilet. There is a path from the group campground to the trails connecting to the falls. It is a fair walk from the group campground to the swimming area.
A small swimming beach is a short walk on a wooded trail from the campground. It is sandy and a great place to play or splash. There isn’t a ton of space to lay out on the sand, but a large grassy area provides plenty of space for relaxing or playing a game of frisbee. This has scattered grilling areas as well. There is a large parking area adjacent to the beach area as well. There is a vault toilet available.
The Dells of Eau Claire is Dog Friendly
Every time I go to this park at least a handful of times every year, we see dogs enjoying the trails. Like all parks, you are asked to keep dogs on a leash and clean up after them. Dogs are not allowed at the beach or picnic areas. Keep a close eye on your pets near the waterfalls. A pup falling in at the wrong place could be pretty hazardous.
If you have waders, the area south of the falls can be fun to fish. It is shallow, and there are lots of fish-friendly areas. It can be hard to fish from the shore because of the branches reaching over the river.
The Dells of Eau Claire are out in the country! There are several country bar and grills close by. I can’t vouch for any personally, but they all seem to have great reviews. Check out Phill’s Round 2 Bar and Grill, Melody Mill, or the Clubhouse Bar and Grill. (None of these places had official websites, as they are old-fashioned small-town bar and grills). If you want a bigger selection of restaurants, check out my post on Rib Mountain State Park with a list of local Wausau favorites for food and activities at the bottom. Rib Mountain State Park is only 30 minutes away, and another beautiful park-this one with a lot more elevation! The center of Wausau is only 25 minutes southwest of the Dells of Eau Claire and has plenty of options for all tastes.
The Dells of Eau Claire is a park I always find myself coming back to. The falls are beautiful, and everyone can find something to appreciate. I come with my family repeatedly, and it’s where we bring out-of-town visitors. My Nana would come here into her 80s (she was able to do the stairs though she was exceptionally healthy), and my toddlers love to play there. I visit to enjoy walking in the water in the summer, to enjoy the falls in the fall, and brave the snow in the winter. Perhaps my favorite time is spring when the river is roaring! Don’t miss this amazing park.