A visit to Rib Mountain State Park in the winter can be absolutely wonderful! This beautiful park is great to visit in all seasons. The north face of the mountain is groomed for downhill skiing but the rest of the park is still available for hiking. There are plowed trails as well as non-maintained trails and snowshoe trails. Read on for the details. If you want to read about visiting Rib Mountain State park in other seasons click here for the summer and here for the amazing fall colors.
Sidewalk Trail at Rib Mountain
If you prefer a trail where you aren’t trudging through the snow, the asphalt walking path along the state road is cleared during the winter. The trail goes from the bottom of the hill on the east part of the park and follows the state road up to the entrance. It is two miles each way. It is not a flat trail and many people use the trail. While it is shoveled/plowed it can still be icy and you may want to use Yaktraxs or trekking poles. Once you get to the entrance station you can carefully follow the road to the top of the park and the observation tower.
Winter Hiking at Turkey Vulture Trail
I love this trail as it is wide enough to walk a few people wide and is a little less used than some of the other trails. You need to park at the Turkey Vulture Trailhead. It is off Grouse Lane just northwest of the park. It is a sloping hill up to the old quarry. The trail is 1.4 miles each way. At the top of the Turkey Vulture Trail you can get on the Homestead trail (and perhaps add the dynamite section) to go back to the parking area or you can join the quarry trail and red trail to get up to the observation tower. I recommend snowshoes if there is much snow though it really depends on the winter. Depending on snow conditions you may do just fine without.
Trails at the Top in the winter
When I am hiking with young kids, I always park at the top. There are several parking areas that are plowed in the winter. The first one is sometimes filled with skiers but the one closest to the observation tower is usually free. There are several trails that circle the top of the park near the observation tower. They are short and we never get too far from the parking lot. Depending on the weather, sometimes just meandering around the top is all the fun they need. You can climb, carefully, on the bouldering rocks at the base of the observation tower as well.
Yellow Trail at Rib Mountain
New for the winter season of 2022/2023 the middle loop of the Yellow Trail is being groomed as a snowshoe trail by the Friends of Rib Mountain. It is skinnier then the Turkey Vulture Trail and also steeper in sections. Great to see this new addition to Rib Mountains winter options!
Rib Mountain State Park leases out some of its lands to Granite Peak Ski Area. The north face of the park hosts the ski hill. You can see the skiers from the main parking area of the park. If you are planning to ski and don’t already have a season pass you park at the Granite Peak parking lot, not the state park area.
Winter Adventure Race
Looking for a fun winter challenge in the Wausau area? Check out the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge Winter Race. It is a 3-hour adventure race where solo racers or teams of up to 4 people use navigation to cover ground finding checkpoints in the Wausau area in mid-January. It generally covers up to 9 miles of biking and 3-5 miles of snowshoeing/trekking. As it is an adventure race, you get a map and directions but the course is not mapped. A big part of the fun is finding your way. While it is not at Rib Mountain every year, a portion of the race has crossed the park in both 2022 and 2023.
Nearby Outdoor Winter Activities
The closest state park is Council Grounds. There is some hiking available during the winter as well as activities such as hiking, skiing, or ice fishing on the frozen lake. The Dells of Eau Claire are beautiful and there is a one mile hike around the river-it can be really icy so watch your step if you try this hike. Nine Mile State Forest is Rib Mountain’s neighbor and hosts groomed nordic ski trails as well as fat biking. They offer free skiing lessons for adults if you’re new. For more fat biking check out the Ringle trailhead.
If you want to try tubing swing by Sylvan Tubing Park. For a more traditional sledding experience (where you have to hike yourself back to the top of the hill) there are nice hills at Doepke Park and at Schulenburg Park. Schulenburg is a pool but has a sledding hill in the winter. Find it at 533 Summit Drive, Wausau Wisconsin. Willow Springs offers winter sleigh rides as well as lighted snowshoe walks.
Nearby Indoor Winter Activities
If you’ve had enough of the cold and are looking for some indoor activities check out the Sawmill Trampoline Park-for for the adventurous of all ages. The Clay Corner is a fun way to spend some creative crafting time. Cracked is the local escape room. Sign up to get “locked” in a room with an engaging puzzle and put your sleuthing skills to the test to beat the puzzle and escape the room. The Grand Theater hosts a variety of plays and guests, check out their site to see if you like something while you are in the area.
Greenheck Fieldhouse hosts a variety of fun events. They have an ice skating rink with rentals available. They also have Wednesday night bounce house events for the kids as well as rock climbing nights.
Sawmill Trampoline Park has toddler time for kids 4 years and under on Fridays 10:30am-12 and Sunday at 9:30am-11am. The Rainbow Play Area is a sales warehouse for home playgrounds and opens its display room for the kids to run around on. Always check before going, hours change frequently and they often close for private parties. The Children’s Imaginarium is another great place for little ones to wear off some energy.
Rib Mountain is in Wausau and the are plenty of nearby food options. For coffee, I like Whitewater Hall. It is housed in a renovated freemason building with a huge window overlooking the ski hill. They also have great craft drinks and often have music events. A couple of other coffee places to consider are Clean Slate, and the Tucknee Coffee Company.
To start with breakfast or brunch, my favorite place is either ERA pancakes and cafe or the Sixth Street Filling Station.
For lunch consider Becca’s for a quick sandwich or soup or Chopstix for bourbon chicken.
In the evening we love Red Eye Brewing Company. Other great options include Lemongrass featuring Asian fusion, Back When Cafe, The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company, or Sam’s Pizza.
Winter is a great time to visit Rib Mountain State Park. You can hike up the plowed trail along the road, or hike/snowshoe the non-maintained trails. If you prefer, you can drive straight to the top and enjoy the views or do some hiking at the top. There are plenty of local ways to enjoy the winter including skiing, tubing, fat biking, and more. Enjoy!