Black River State Forest looks more like the wilds of Alaska than suburban Eau Claire. But that’s basically what it is, and basically where it is. Many people who know about these things consider Black River State Forest to be the most rugged country in the United States east of the Mississippi. Furthermore, the park is just a short drive down Interstate 94 from Eau Claire. If you packed your RV now, you could be cooking your next meal over an open wilderness fire.
In warm weather and cold weather, there are lots of things to do at Black River State Forest. Explore the park on foot, on a mountain bike, or on an ATV. When the snow starts falling, grab your cross-country skis or snowmobile. Other activities include fishing, swimming, boating, and nature-watching.
Black River State Forest has several RV-friendly campsites. All of them reflect the rustic, pioneer spirit which characterizes this part of Wisconsin. But if you absolutely cannot do without creature comforts for a weekend, worry not. RV hookup sites are also available.
From Minneapolis, Madison, or pretty much any other point in the Upper Midwest, it is very easy to reach Black River State Forest. This park is just off Interstate 95 near the town of Black River Falls. For the most part, Interstate 95 is one of the most scenic drives in America. Especially between Eau Claire and Black River Falls, I-95 goes past some of the densest forests in America. Yet the road feels like it’s part of the landscape, and not artificially cut through it. Interstate 95 is also a wide and well-maintained four lane divided highway.
Black River State Forest is a sprawling park which covers both sides of the freeway. A number of wide roads, many of which are paved or otherwise well-developed, crisscross the park. If you need to take your rig outside the camping area for some reason, such as launching a boat, you should have no problem getting there.
This 35-site campground doubles as the park’s recreational headquarters. Reservations are required from May through October. In the winter, Castle Mound is a first-come, first-served RV campground, and officials only plow some of the sites. 14 sites have electrical hookups. The rest are back-to-nature rustic RV sites. Campground amenities include dump station, restroom/shower area, vault toilets, sheltered picnic area, and small camp store (mostly firewood sales).
This deer season campground has 24 dry, non-hookup sites. The campground schedule is a bit complicated. It’s closed from December through April. Reservations are required between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Other than that, it’s first-come, first-served while the campground is open. Amenities include firewood sales, drinking water pump, vault toilets, and East Fork canoe access.
This slightly larger rustic campground has 38 sites. The campground is open all year, but officials only plow five sites during the winter. Reservations are only required between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Some amenities include a water pump, vault toilets, swimming beach, and easy trail access.
There are way too many fishing spots in Black River State Forest to mention here. Most every lake, pond, and stream is teeming with fish. Here are a few of the highlights:
Honorable mention goes to the trout fishing at Hall Creek and Hay Creek.
At certain times of year, the canoeing, kayaking, and other paddling on East Fork is quite nice. The scenery is excellent, and there are some mild rapids to negotiate. However, when the water level gets low in high summer, it’s best to avoid this area. The Black River is nice throughout the warm-ish weather season in Wisconsin. It’s sparsely populated and almost as scenic as East Fork. Keep an eye on the Black River dam. Paddling conditions are nice when all three gates are closed, choppy when two gates are closed, and impossible when all three gates are closed.
The best swimming hole in the park is probably Pigeon Creek, which is in the southeast portion of the park. It features a sandy beach, lots of parking, and a nice picnic area. Toilets and drinking water are available as well. No lifeguard is on duty, but the water is tame and shallow, so that should be no problem if you swim with a buddy. Honorable mention goes to East Arbutus Park and Lake Wazee. They are almost as nice and not as crowded, even in high summer.
Black River State Forest contains about 24 miles of designated cross-country skiing trails. For the most part, skaters and skiers designed these trails. Some are for beginners, some are for experts, and some are in between. We recommend the one and a half-mile South Trail, which is near the Smrekar Road parking area. This trail is flat, wide, and well-suited for our cross-country skiing skills (or lack thereof). For more of a challenge, try the Red Oak or North Trail. Both are near the Wildcat parking area.
For an even more rugged outdoor adventure, albeit one on a motorized vehicle, tackle one of the snowmobile trails in Black River State Forest. There are over 45 miles of snowmobile trails in the park. They link with the larger Jackson County trail system. Access them from either the North Settlement, East Highway 54, or 7th Street parking areas. Officials plow the trails after each snowstorm, but always check with park rangers to see which ones are open at any given time.
This activity is exactly like hiking, but with a different kind of shoe. The Pigeon Creek trail is cool, as it covers pretty much the entire southern area of the park. If you want or need something shorter, there is a loop trail near the Smrekar parking area. Be advised that it travels over some ridges, so it is rather steep.