One of the very best mountain hikes in Wisconsin is on the west end of Rib Mountain. A series of scenic trails are located on the peak, with the most picturesque route to the summit involving a combination of those trails. Generally, most visitors to Rib Mountain State Park reach the summit by car, where they can park and hike a variety of loop trails in the summit area, and climb the 60-foot tower next to the summit rock on this 1924-foot peak.
However, for anyone desiring an actual ascent up the mountain, there are two trail routes to the summit from the lower slopes, one located on the east side and one on the west side. The Yellow Trail passes through a beautiful forest on the east and south sides. On the west side, though, the Turkey Vulture Trail ascends through hardwood forest and circles around much of the old quarry before connecting with the Quarry Trail to become the most scenic route up the mountain. At the upper end, the Quarry trail connects with summit-area trails, offering several options to complete a route to the summit rock.
Hikers on the Turkey Vulture Trail often are treated to views of numerous turkey vultures swirling high above the many quartzite rock outcroppings around the old quarry area. The trail has several great overlooks that offer expansive views along the route. Much of the route passes through a deciduous forest that turns brilliant colors in the autumn. Because of the remote trailhead and trail distance, this western route is generally not as crowded as the shorter trails around the summit area and to the east.
Maps show the Turkey Vulture trailhead is at the south end of Grouse Lane, just west of Wausau, Wisconsin. However, finding Grouse Lane can prove to be quite a challenge. My last visit there showed no road signs with that name, with only a "Dead End" sign posted instead. So, the best way to get to the trailhead is to go 1.8 miles west on Road NN from Highway 51 (Exit 190) past the ski area and golf course. Turn left and follow the short road (Grouse Lane) to the locked gate that marks the start of the Turkey Vulture Trail.
While entrance to the state park requires a vehicle pass, Grouse Lane is not part of the state park, thus no fee is required. However, parking poorly in such a way that obstructs the gate from fire equipment or state park vehicles can lead to towing fees and steep fines. Courtesy and consideration go a long way to keep the peace. Please remember, too, that once you enter the state park on foot, you are bound by park regulations, including those about campfires.
This scenic west route begins at the Turkey Vulture trailhead. The graveled trail is wide - perhaps 12 feet in most places. At about 3/4 mile up the trail, there is an open area on the east side. This is the floor of the old quarry and offers many great photo opportunities. This is also the area where turkey vultures are most often seen. Along the next half-mile, as the trail veers east, there are several short side trails to overlooks. The Turkey Vulture Trail ends at the junction with the Quarry Trail, where the trail narrows quite a bit.
The Quarry Trail is the linking trail to the summit-area trails. From the Turkey Vulture-Quarry trails junction, it is about .4 mile to the junction with the Red Trail. The Red trail links with both the Blue and Green trails near the summit. Using the north half of the Red Trail loop, it is about .3 mile to the summit area trails.
Of course, with the variety of options presented by the Green and Blue trail loops, exact routes and distances will be dictated by personal choice. From the Turkey vulture trailhead to the summit, by way of the Quarry, Red and Blue trails, there is a gain of nearly 700 feet in altitude over approximately 2 miles. Reports about trail segment distances vary somewhat, but it took me about 80 minutes to reach the summit. And that included some time spent in and around the old quarry taking photos.
If hikers wish to cut .4-mile off the return trip, they can turn off the Quarry Trail onto the Homestead Loop Trail, which will take them back to the Turkey Vulture trailhead Pets are allowed on all trails, provided they are on an 8-foot leash.
The state park is open most of the year. Adverse weather conditions will provide the greatest restrictions and possible closures, though other things like hunting seasons, fires and pandemics can also bring temporary restrictions. So, it never hurts to call ahead to check things out. The phone for the state park headquarters is: (715) 842-2522
For the latest weather conditions and forecast, click here:
Unless you are heading for the designated bouldering areas, standard hiking gear of your choice will suffice. For those new to hiking, sturdy boots or shoes, sunscreen, insect repellent and some drinking water are all good ideas. Weather conditions and what your plans are for the day may inspire you to bring other things as well. Also, since this is the most picturesque route, a camera can help you bring back some scenic memories.
For more information on Rib Mountain State Park, you may call them at (715) 842-2522, or you can access them online at: