Big Eau Pleine Park is a 1,450-acre country park featuring water access, sandy beaches, hiking, horse trails, and camping. It has a great playground, a disc golf course, and lots of places to walk or play on the beach. Don’t miss checking out this central Wisconsin gem.
Don’t have time to read the whole article? Here are my top tips.
- Be sure to walk along the water, and don’t just stick to the designated beach. There are tons of ways to get to the water.
- If you are camping, the lake view sites are worth the extra few bucks if they are available.
- The playground is new and worth a stop for the kids.
- Horse trails are well-maintained and friendly for novice riders. Have more experience? Take your horse into the water for a little swim.
- Read ahead for the details.
Enjoying the Beachfront at Big Eau Pleine Park
Big Eau Pleine Park is a peninsula with lots of sandy lake beaches. We stayed in the south campground, and I figured we would have to drive to the official beach near the west campground, but there was no need. There are plenty of places to find sandy areas along the water and places to swim.
We were happy to find some areas with rocks and some down trees to act as playgrounds for the kids. It would be equally as easy to find a spot to set up a beach chair and enjoy a drink of your choice.
The deepest parts of the lake are 46 feet, but it stays pretty shallow near the shore, allowing lots of space to play and swim. I recommend entering the water with a bit of caution. There are big rocks scattered along the bottom that can trip you up and stub your toes.
Kayaking and Boating
Big Eau Pleine Park has three boat launches, all of which have parking areas for cars and trucks with trailers. We enjoyed the water from the kayaks that we launched from the campsite. On the water, we saw fishermen, pontoons, and even some water skiers enjoying the water, but it didn’t feel overly crowded. We also saw a few people beach their boats near the campground. I imagine they scoped out their parking spot prior to driving in, there are lots of big rocks in the shallow areas that could cause big problems for the unsuspecting boater. The daily fee for use of the boat launch is $6.
Hiking at Big Eau Pleine Park
Big Eau Pleine Park offers well over 10 miles of hiking trails. The majority of these miles are shared with biking and equestrians. The main trail is a double-wide gravel trail that loops around the park. There are ways to shorter the hike and still make a loop. The park is on a peninsula with plenty of beautiful water views. Make sure you get off the trail and walk the beach for a while. Much of the shoreline has a big enough area to walk along. The water tends to be shallow near the shore as well, so dip your toes in if you’d like.
There are also a few loops near each campground that are hiking only. Check out the website for the trail map. They are also posted in the main parking areas. Be sure to bring your phone. The sign directs patrons to take a picture of the map as an alternative to providing printed maps. One thing I’d love to see them improve on is if they would add trail mileage on the maps.
There are two campsites, the west, and the south. Both are popular, and the best sites tend to book out in advance. No reservations? No worries, 29 non-electric sites are first come, first serve. We ended up lucking out and reserving a lake-view site that was available last minute. The lake view site was worth the higher price! There are skinny shortcut trails from each lake view site, making it even easier to get to the water. We were there on a weekend night in late summer and had no problem snagging a non-reservable site across from our reserved lake view site, as our group was large enough to need two sites. If you don’t get a lake view site, no worries. There is still plenty of ways to reach the water from the boat launches or trails along the water.
The west campsite has 46 sites, all of which are electric. Ten of these sites are lake view. The west campsite is right next to the designated swimming beach, a boat launch, the playground, and the disc golf course. The south campsite has 60 sites, 24 of which are electric. Seven of the sites are designated as lake view and all of these are non-electric.
Both of the campgrounds have pit toilets. They are not lit so bring a headlight! There are no shower buildings but there is water available in each campsite. They sell firewood in the park and do not allow outside firewood into the park. Each site has a fire ring with a grate and a picnic table. The sites are mostly shaded but the forest is fairly open and though most of the sites are spaced out a bit, you can easily see your neighbors.
Go to the Wausau and Marathon Country Parks and Recreation Site for reservations. The rates for 2023 ranged from $19-$26 per night, plus a reservation fee if applicable. You have to pay extra to use the dumping station. Reservations are available from May 1st to September 30th, but you can self-register in October if the weather is appropriate. Check-in/check-out time is 3 pm. There is a maximum of two vehicles per site. You can have one rigid-sided unit plus one tent, or two tents per site. There is a max of 5 people on the site unless they are all related. The sites are back in only and have a gravel base.
Big Eau Pleine county park is a popular area for trail riding, and it is easy to see why. There are approximately 10 miles of novice-friendly trails. They are well-used and well-maintained. Mostly the trails are wide enough for two riders and are gravel. They are rolling hills meandering through the woods with plenty of water views. Does your horse like to swim? There are areas to ride out into the water for a fun summer experience.
A large parking area is big enough for most trailers to maneuver without issue. They used to allow horse camping in the parking lot, which was popular. Rumor has it, an irresponsible rider was in the regular campground overnight, and Big Eau Pleine Park, sadly, no longer allows horse camping. Hopefully, they will change that rule back at some point.
A Brand New Playground
Recently Marathon County has been focusing on upgrading its playgrounds. Big Eau Pleine is no exception. They have a new and exciting playground that kept my kids busy for a long time. It included a challenging spiderweb climb to the top of a steep, enclosed slide that was a huge hit. There were also swings, climbing areas, a smaller slide for the younger kids, and the playground is right next to the beach. We love seeing great playgrounds.
Biking at Big Eau Pleine Park
There are various trail options at Big Eau Pleine. The longest and easiest trail is a loop around the park used primarily by horses. It is also open to bikers and hikers and is just under 9 miles. This loop offers views of the water. It is a double-wide gravel trail with mild ups and downs.
There are also single-track trails. Most of the 8 miles are blue with a short section of black single track. The associated trail community is CWOCC (Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition). We love the other parks they are associated with but were disappointed with the single-track trails at Big Eau Pleine. They weren’t well maintained and were difficult to follow. If your main reason to come here is single-track, you may want to look at other options.
Fat Tire Winter Biking
I haven’t enjoyed riding here in the winter yet, but I’ve heard good things! They have over 10 miles of groomed trails for winter fat bike use.
Disc Golf at Big Eau Pleine
This recently renovated disc golf course starts near the west campground and beach area. Eighteen holes feature chainstar targets. The course is cart friendly and allows dogs. It costs $6 per day or an annual fee of $30. Read Udisc user reviews here.
Dogs at Big Eau Pleine Park
There were lots of dogs at the park. The standard rules are keeping pets on a leash, picking up after your pet, and keeping them out of the picnic areas, away from the playground, and off the designated beach area. Because there are so many beach areas, it was easy for us to keep Koda off the main beach area while still allowing him to swim and play on the beach.
A large open grassy area is on a slight slope at the beach area. It has plenty of picnic tables to enjoy. There are several horseshoe pits and a rentable stony, open-sided shelter with a fireplace in the center.
Nearby State Parks
Big Eau Pleine is a great park! If you are looking specifically for Wisconsin State Parks Rib Mountain State Park is 30 minutes northeast. It is an amazing state park that compliments Big Eau Pleine nicely. There is no kayaking, boating, or camping at Rib Mountain but the hiking and views are phenomenal! They have a cool playground, and both the young, and young at heart, will have fun exploring the rocky peak.
The other camping-friendly county park in Marathon is the Dells of Eau Claire. The campsite here is modest, but there are awesome waterfalls/rapids to explore and hike around.
Mullins retail cheese store is about 20 minutes away and has fresh squeaky cheese curds almost daily! If you have time, head to Lakeview Berry Farm, only 15 minutes away, and pick fresh berries by the bucketful. It is very kid friendly.
One of the closest bars and grills is Halder Bridge which is only 10 minutes away. Mosinee is 15 minutes away and has a grocery store for stocking up. For a local brew, check out the Mosinee Brewing Company, they often have food trucks.
There are a handful of basic restaurants in Mosinee or, for more restaurant options, Wausau is about 30 minutes away from the Big Eau Pleine Park. For breakfast go Era, Sixth Street Filling Station, or Blue Willow. My favorite lunch/dinner places are Red Eye Brewing Company for local gastropub type fare, Lemongrass for asian fusion, or WOW if you need indoor entertainment that includes an arcade and laser tag.
Big Eau Pleine Park is a total gem. There is plenty of beach areas to spread out, lots of ways to explore and enjoy the park, and a beautiful basic camp set up. What are you waiting for?