11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Eau Claire, WI
Welcome to Eau Claire — the most interesting, indie small town you might not have heard about. The unofficial slogan of Eau Claire is, "The Indie Capital of the Midwest," and it's not difficult to see why.
This small Wisconsin university town on the banks of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers is all about small businesses, getting out into nature, and celebrating the arts. In fact, one of the town's most famous residents was a journalist and published author, and residents of Eau Claire live for their summers, when live music concert series take over Phoenix Park on the river.
The historic Wisconsin town got its (written) start in the 17th century, when Europeans traveled down the muddy Chippewa River and discovered the clear waters at what is now the Eau Claire River (Eau Claire translates to "Clear Water"). But in reality, the region has been inhabited for thousands of years by local Native American tribes. Settlement by the Europeans began in the mid-19th century, and the main industries were logging and fur trapping.
Today, the thriving city (just 90 miles from the Twin Cities in Minneapolis) is a haven for outdoor exploration, shopping, live music, and history. Eau Claire loves their community activities - it's a wonderful city to meet like-minded people. From their performing arts center to the numerous music festivals they host throughout the year, the Eau Claire Marathon, and many museums, you're going to be filling your calendar with events and places to visit.
If you're ready to start exploring, check out our list of the best things to do in Eau Claire.
1. Get Out to Carson Park
At the heart of Eau Claire is the historic, sprawling Carson Park. The 134-acre peninsula park sits perched over Half Moon Lake. The land that now holds the park was once the property of William Carson, a lumber baron from the area. Today the park is a hub of activity for the residents and visitors to Eau Claire, from the baseball and football stadium to the tennis courts, walking trails, and fishing spots.
Speaking of the baseball stadium, Carson Park's stadium has special historical significance for the city of Eau Claire. A member of the National Register of Historic Places, the stadium held its first game in 1937.
Other points of interest within the park include the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum, which tells the story of Eau Claire's lumbering history, as well as the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is dedicated to regional history. Read on to learn more about those particular things to do in Eau Claire.
Address: 100 Carson Park Drive, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
2. Run the Chippewa River Trail
Eau Claire's Chippewa River State Trail is a 30-mile trail that crosses through the city, as well as into the more rural areas surrounding it. It follows the path of the Chippewa River, which begins in popular Phoenix Park in downtown Eau Claire.
But the trail extends farther. The Chippewa River Trail connects with the 14.5-mile Red Cedar Trail, which creates a trail system that is actually 37.5 miles between Eau Claire and Menomonie.
This was once a railroad route, but today is frequented by runners, cyclists, and walkers, all looking to drink in the views of the beautiful grasslands, marsh area, and sandstone rocks. The path is paved for 11 miles outside of Eau Claire up until Caryville.
If you're looking to keep it local, the trail has smaller offshoot trails within Eau Claire, like a walking trail through Putnam Park.
Come winter, the trail is still put to good use when it is groomed for snowmobiling. Just a note that you will need a trail pass for biking, cross-country skiing, and in-line skating on the trail. You can purchase passes along the trail. It's $4 for the day or $15 for the year.
3. Visit the Ager House
One of Eau Claire's historic celebrities was author and writer Waldemar Ager, a Norwegian immigrant who emigrated to Chicago and eventually found his way to Eau Claire to work at a Norwegian newspaper. In addition to his newspaper career, he was also the author of seven novels. This was an early indication that Eau Claire would be home to lovers of culture and the arts.
Today his home is a historic landmark of Eau Claire and a museum dedicated to the life of Waldemar Ager. Visitors can explore the rooms of the Ager House where he wrote all his novels, and take a look at the memorabilia that chronicle his life and career. The first floor of the home has been restored to look like it did during the time of Ager's life.
The home is a Victorian cottage from the late 19th century, and it is here that Ager lived with his wife and children. The home is open once a month for tours and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It also has become the meeting place for several town activities, like The Pie and Ice Cream Social in August, and Norwegian classes in January.
Address: 514 W Madison Street, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
4. Learn at the Chippewa Valley Railroad
Located within Carson Park, you'll find the Chippewa Valley Railroad. This historic tourist attraction shows off an 1880 mini steam locomotive, complete with coaches. If you're wondering if you can climb aboard for a ride, the answer is yes!
The train is pulled by a coal-fired steam locomotive and a diesel engine. Find a seat inside one of the wooden passenger cars and settle in for the half-mile journey. You'll even find a gondola car and a caboose. Within the replica rail yard is a depot, waiting canopy, switchyard, and the oldest interlocking tower in the state.
The Chippewa Valley played an important part in railroad history in the United States. The Chippewa Valley Line was integral in the 1880s for traveling across the Midwest by rail. In fact, it used a rare pontoon bridge that spanned the Mississippi River, connecting Milwaukee with St. Paul and Minneapolis. To really sell the trip back in time, the conductors even dress for the part with pin-striped engineer caps.
Address: 811 Carson Park Drive, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
5. Explore the Beaver Creek Reserve
Spread across 400 rolling green acres, Eau Claire's Beaver Creek Reserve is a thick, protected wilderness that is home to dozens of species of regional flora and fauna. Visitors can meander the nine miles of hiking trails that crisscross through forests, over wetlands, and into grassland area.
The reserve is bound by the Eau Claire River and two other streams in the Chippewa Valley that are brimming with trout — perfect for fishing. Nature enthusiasts can pop into the Nature Center, as well, for a quick education on the various wildlife and history of the region.
Not only that, Beaver Creek Reserve is home to the Hobbs Observatory, as well as an additional science center, seasonal butterfly house, and even a camp for kids. What started as a 160-acre youth camp has grown to become one of the top year-round education destinations in Wisconsin. Year-round, you can find families and local residents within the preserve soaking up activities, from hiking and biking to cross-country skiing, archery, and animal tracking.
Address: S1 County Hwy K, Fall Creek, Wisconsin
6. Step Back in Time at the Chippewa Valley Museum
Wisconsin's Chippewa Valley has been center stage for so much history. First home to the Ojibwe Native Americans, then to German, Scandinavian, and even Hmong immigrants, the Chippewa Valley and its cultures and heritages have helped shape the face of Eau Claire today.
There's no better place to visit to travel through Eau Claire's history than the Chippewa Valley Museum. The storytelling begins in the middle of the 17th century, when the Chippewa Valley was first inhabited by Europeans. It goes on to talk about typical farm life, the influx of new immigrants, folk music, and the Wisconsin experience today. You can even visit a 1950s ice-cream parlor within the museum.
The museum is in Carson Park, so there is plenty to do nearby to fill an afternoon, or even an entire day. You can find it on a 134-acre peninsula that sticks out right into Half Moon Lake.
Address: 1204 E Half Moon Drive, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
7. Browse the Downtown Farmers Market
Every week, Eau Claire's Phoenix Park springs to life with the vibrant colors of the community. The Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market is a weekly celebration of all things distinctly Eau Claire.
The producers-only market showcases locally produced products from all around the Chippewa Valley. Browse the tables brimming with freshly baked goods, the colorful array of locally grown fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, and more. You'll even find products like locally fermented kombucha, salad dressings, salsas, candy, flowers, and so much more.
Not even the cold Wisconsin winter can slow down the farmers market, which transitions inside to The Lismore Hotel Eau Claire. On Saturdays, year-round, the market hosts live music, as well.
The market is typically held Saturdays year-round, and Wednesdays and Thursdays in the warmer months. The winter, it is held on the second Saturday of the month. If you want to know what will be for sale at the market ahead of time, the Downtown Farmers Market website has a harvest calendar that can help you plan ahead.
Address: 300 Riverfront Terrace, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
8. Relax in Phoenix Park
In the summer months, you can usually find the residents of Eau Claire sprawled out on picnic blankets in Phoenix Park. Overlooking the Chippewa River State Bike Trail, the park sets the scene for Eau Claire's beloved summer music series, Sounds like Summer.
The nine-acre park has prime real estate on the confluence of the Chippewa River and Eau Claire River. It also happens to be the string point for the Chippewa River State Trail and hosts the weekly farmers market. Phoenix Park is the beating heart of community activity in Eau Claire. Not only does it host the farmers market, but it is also known for Food Truck Fridays. Every Friday, a line of food trucks pops up at the park, and hungry devotees always follow.
Visitors can check the calendar of events, which also includes outdoor yoga, family nights, outdoor workouts, and several races held throughout the year. Come winter, the park sparkles with holiday magic, when the trees come alive with decorative twinkly lights.
Address: 330 Riverfront Terrace, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
9. Spend Time at Paul Bunyan Logging Camp
Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, are important to American folklore, but nowhere is that more true than important areas like Wisconsin. (Though Minnesota and Maine also claim he was equally as much a part of their history, too.)
Regardless of where the "real" Paul Bunyan is from, you can celebrate his legend in Eau Claire with a visit to the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp. This living museum takes travelers back to the days of the 1890s, when logging ruled this part of the country.
A giant Paul Bunyan statue marked the entrance to the museum, which was founded in 1934 and includes recreated buildings like a blacksmith's shop, a cook's cabin, a bunkhouse, and more. Each recreated structure is also filled with period artifacts and other objects from the time period.
The seasonal museum is open from June to September and is dedicated to preserving the artifacts and documents from the rich logging history that helped to shape Eau Claire.
Address: 1110 E Half Moon Drive, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
10. Climb to the Top at Mt. Simon Park
For 49 rolling acres, Mount Simon Park sits overlooking Dells Pond and the town of Eau Claire along the shores of the Chippewa River. This is where summer in Eau Claire really takes off, especially considering the park's picnic areas, volleyball courts, nine-hole Frisbee golf courses, and a boat landing and dock along Dells Pond.
Other activities include nature trails; a baseball stadium and field; and, most importantly, the route that leads to the top of Mount Simon. It will quickly become obvious why Mount Simon's nickname is "Top of the World," as it offers some of the most impressive views over Eau Claire.
Address: 1100 Addison Ave, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
11. Wander Lowes Creek County Park
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is not short on green space, and Lowes Creek County Park is yet another opportunity for locals and visitors to experience the beautiful outdoors. Located about a mile and a half south of the city center, the park is a sprawling 250 acres of outdoor adventure.
Lowes Creek Park really is a paradise for outdoor adventure. Recently it has also been expanded for mountain bikers, with five miles of double-track cross-country ski trails and more than 13 miles of technical single-track. The paths zip in and out of pine forests, cross creek beds, and skirt along ridge lines.
Of course, the park also has trails that are great for walking and running. In the winter, you'll find snowshoers traversing the snowy pathways, as well.
Address: 5238 S Lowes Creek Road, Eau Claire, Wisconsin