There is no official definition of a mountain. So, if the people of Wisconsin want to call one of the highest points in the state a mountain, we can.
Rib Mountain’s highest elevation is 1942 feet above sea level, but it only rises about 740 feet above the surrounding land. This makes the approach to it rather gentle – not a motion-sickness-activating switchback that’s needed to get to the top of some other mountains.
Rib Mountain isn’t even the highest point in Wisconsin. That would be Timm’s (or Timms) Hill at 1951 feet. Timm’s is about 67 miles away from Rib Mountain by car (about 50 miles to the northeast as the crow flies), but it only rates a county park.
To the Top of Rib Mountain
All along the entrance road to Rib Mountain State Park is an asphalt hiking path. You can see a bit of it in the picture above to the right of the directional park sign. It’s a very nice path, but we didn’t take it because it’s 2 miles long, one way, and then you have to retrace your steps to get back to your car. We prefer loops that are shorter.
Before I get to the loop trail we attempted, I’ll tell you about the lookout tower we scaled first.
We parked next to the concession stand which is near the tower.
To get from there to the tower, you pass some large rock outcroppings, one of which is known as the Queen’s Chair. It’s the group on the right below.
The whole area around the tower seems to be the main place of activity (other than the trails), so the designers have packed a fair amount of informational signs into it. Here are a couple of the more interesting ones.
There’s also a playground for the kiddies nearby.
I think I counted 97 steps to the top of the tower. From there you can see nearby farmland.
You get a glimpse of the Big Rib River (which feeds the Wisconsin River just to the east of the park).
You can see much of the city of Wausau to the northeast.
And you can see the WAOW TV (ABC, channel 9 in Wausau) tower just over 1000 feet due east. (I’ve always wanted to climb a tower like that.)
The Colorful Trails of Rib Mountain State Park
There are over 14 miles of trails at Rib Mountain. Most of them have colorful names like Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Gray, and Violet. The Violet Trail is the 2-mile asphalt path I mentioned earlier.
Since the Yellow Trail is too long, the Blue and Green Trails seemed too short, and the uncolored Quarry, Homestead, Turkey Vulture, and Dynamite Trails were too far to the west, we were left with either the Red Trail or the Gray Trail. I picked the Gray Trail because half of it is only open in summer and because it supposedly took to you all the main features of the park.
Well, it does, but getting there is quite the trek.
We first tried following the gray signposts just to the south of the concession stand. We quickly lost the trail.
We went back to the concession stand and tried following the gray markers to the west. This got us a short distance to the road which offered no further guidance. I knew we wanted to go clockwise around this looping trail, so we followed the road to the right until we got to a blue-green-red signpost.
The blue and green markers pointed to the left. Someone has scratched an arrow into the red marker pointing right (clockwise), so we followed that down a very rocky path. We soon came to a gray signpost and knew we were still on the right trail.
There seems to be several missed opportunities for gray markers in that area I just described.
The Gray Trail is…interesting. I think we were the only visitors on the trail at the time. Most other hikers probably already knew that, though the Gray is relatively short (about a 1.5-mile loop), you have to keep your head down so you can see where to take your next step most of the time. At least, this is true for the section on the northern side of the mountain.
We made it about half way along the trail before giving up and walking back along the road. I think the southern portion of the trail may not be so rocky. Maybe we’ll find out some day.
The reason that the northern section is only open in summer is that in winter it hosts downhill skiing. As proof, here is the ski lift building at the top and the run to the bottom.
Do you know what this (below) is?
At first, we thought it might be lighting for nighttime skiing. Nope. It’s a snow maker!
When you can look up and peer through the trees along the Gray Trail, you do get some nice views like this one.
I think I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be on the top of Rib Mountain. Now I know. I’d go back again, if for no other reason than to check out the rest of that Gray menace.
Or maybe just to hike an easier trail.
Wausau, Wisconsin (2 miles)
Nearest Emergency Facility
Wausau, Wisconsin (2 miles)
6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, year-round
Vehicle admission sticker required