After visiting many falls across the state it isn’t often I get to see a new place without much detail about it found on the internet. Thanks to a tip from Bob at waterfallswisconsin.com I found myself at Kiel Birch Creek Nature Preserve & State Natural Area in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Supposedly there are some nice small falls along Birch Creek.
The trailhead is just at the end of 430th Street and is very informal – be mindful and don’t park in such a way to upset the neighbors as there isn’t much room. Some great information on the signboard: thanks to Ray and Janice Kiel who sold the land to the Wisconsin State Land Trust with grants from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund. The property is now managed and protected by the Wisconsin DNR and designated a State Natural Area.
Following the well-defined trail southeast you’ll easily find the start of a ravine with only a small amount of water visibile in the very bottom. Of course this time of year many things are obscured by the fallen leaves so this is a bit deceiving as I will soon see.
Continuing along the trail, you can see the ravine drop significantly and the water is much more visible. At the tallest point I’d say the cliffs rise 50-100 feet above Birch Creek down below. Even having seen the topo maps beforehand I didn’t really expect it to be this large.
As the trail makes a slight bend, there is a small wooden bench. You can’t see much from here now as the tree canopy is quite tall, but back in 2008 this was probably a spectacular view.
At the junction with this bench is the first realistic point to descend down into the ravine all the way to the creek level. It is quite a steep path and deceivingly slippery with the leaves and pine needles covering the already loose dirt and gravel. Exercise extreme caution if you head this way, and probably skip it altogether if conditions are wet.
From this small trail you’ll get your first glimpse of a small “falls” down below. I put that in quotes because this one is not much more than a fallen branch and some stones beneath it.
Here’s a closer view with some camera lens zoom. Not much to write home about but it’s fun to see things like this. Don’t worry, there are bigger things in store downstream!
Looking back up from the bottom gives an entirely new perspective. Huge rocky formations and spindly trees tower above and make you feel small.
I took a peek downstream in the ravine and can make out the creek but brush is covering better views. Suppose I should continue hiking and see what can be found?
Not far away as the water winds through the canyon we find our first larger feature – a cascade-type drop that descends maybe 3-4 feet and widens out. This is the view from above but better angles are surely found below.
Here’s a look from downstream from a short distance to include some of the surrounding forest. Lots of brilliantly orange fallen leaves here.
And here’s another view with a bit more zoom to show detail. Honestly I’m not sure I could’ve picked a better day for foliage if I had purposely tried. Quite lucky for the conditions. Apparently this creek is spring-fed so the water should be running all year long but I’m sure levels will vary slightly.
As I continued my hike there are several smaller falls – some of them, like this one, are worth taking some photos; others are smaller or less defined making it hard to take good photos and convey across the internet. Either way, it’s worth checking out if you like nature.
Here’s another view with a bit more zoom, again to show a bit more detail. This one doesn’t drop but maybe 6-12 inches but it has an interesting shape and ledge-type drop. I find it interesting how most of the features here are so different from each other – most places are more similar in the formations.
There is no trail down in the bottoms so you have to pick your lines trying not to trample the delicate ecosystem all around. Most places it’s pretty clear where game animals are moving and you can move on the same path cautiously. Sometimes the terrain dictates where you go and there isn’t much choice.
Ultimately the creek drains into the Red Cedar River. Almost near the end is another significant feature – another more gradual cascade-type drop that gently descends 3-4 feet.
Here’s another view from directly downstream. The creek bends around 90 degrees here and heads straight at the river now.
I can still hear more moving water – is that the river laughing at me, or is there something else I can’t see?
Surprise! One last drop at the very end that you’d never know is there unless you hike to the final 20 feet before the river. Not a huge drop, maybe a couple feet, but that has been typical for today’s journey.
Views of the trees and sky surrounding the Red Cedar River are peaceful this afternoon. It doesn’t show on camera but the river water is quite the opaque green color, likely from algae blooms which is unfortunate. No wading or swimming today – currents are fast and it drops off abruptly.
From here there is only one way back: a steep hike up the hill. Luckily this is a well-traveled route and it almost seems like nature designed it for just such a purpose. Have to admit I really love this photo for the depth & range that came out of it. First week of October in Wisconsin is, in my opinon, always the best time to get these types of colors. In this moment I was very thankful to not be at work, no place I’d rather be than in the woods.
From here I completed the return hike along the trail’s outer loop to the west/northwest. There is another ravine here with some water in the bottom but I couldn’t see any falls or rapids.
And finally just before I reached the road again I spotted a rather calm whitetail doe munching on some leaves. Didn’t seem too worried about me from a distance. I also found a couple turkeys in this same ravine but couldn’t catch them on camera fast enough. Surprising amount of wildlife on a small parcel like this!
Here’s a video of my hike and the falls on Birch Creek in action.
Here’s the route for today’s adventure. Starting at the north I made a loop clockwise. You can see some approximate locations of falls by my photo “pins” on the map but none are exact. And that one far pin to the northwest is the deer.
Total distance about 4/5 mile with maybe 80 feet of elevation change. The main trail hike is completely flat, but if you do choose to go down into the ravine take extreme caution as it can be slippery and steep. Be careful but have fun and enjoy the peace of this secluded area!Lat = 44.8487091 , Long = -91.9456329 -- Show at Google Maps