Bike Route Muir Park and Buffalo Lake

THIS ROUTE HAS A TEMPORARY ROAD CLOSURE ON 14TH ROAD. A BRIDGE IS OUT. ALTERNATE ROUTE:

FROM JOHN MUIR PARK, GILETTE AVE. EAST TO 13TH ROAD. 13TH ROAD TO 14TH ROAD THEN WEST (NOT EAST) TO GALE COURT. GALE COURT WEST/NORTH TO GALE AVENUE. GALE AVENUE WEST TO 11TH. 11TH NORTH TO COUNTY ROAD D.

Bathrooms open in season at John Muir Park and in Packwaukee at Washington Park.

Buffalo Lake Route (16 miles) Begin at the public parking lot at Montello City Hall. Pick up the route on the other side of city hall on CTY C and head west. Follow CTY C along the north shore of Buffalo Lake, enjoying many scenic vistas along this relatively flat road. Once in Packwaukee, continue on Wisconsin St, take a right on Main St, and left on CTY D across the causeway. Take a left on CTY K, left on HWY 22, and a left Sunset Drive and back downtown Montello and end at the city parking lot.

10. Muir Park Path (15 miles) Start at John Muir Park, boyhood home of the famous naturalist. From the entrance of the Park on Co F, turn right and travel north. Take a right on Gillette Drive. Left on 13th Road and continue on 13th until you take a left on 14th Road. Then, a right on County Road F. Left on Gale Court, left on Gale Ave, right on 11th Drive, left on County Road D. Follow D until 10th Road and take a left. Continue to follow 10th Road until County Road F and take a right. Then end at John Muir Park. This path features many rolling hills.

MORE INFORMATION: One of the best things about the bike routes in Marquette County is their diversity. Whether you like flat, straight roads, shorter routes, routes where you can get off your bike and walk through woods, wilderness with few signs of habitation, routes with “watering places,” or wide open spaces, you can find them all on one of the Marquette County routes. The Muir Park Path and Buffalo Lake Loop can be done as 1 ride or broken into 2.

           It’s hard to pick out the best features of the Muir Park Path/ Buffalo Lake Loop. There are several places to get off your bike and stretch your legs, historical locations, landscape variety, and hills are few, making for mostly an easy pedaling experience. 

           Start your bike ride in one of several places. You can begin in Montello, leaving your car in a public parking lot, or begin at John Muir Park where there are bathrooms and a shelter. You could also begin in Packwaukee which also has a pleasant city park where you can rest under a shelter or stop for a cold drink in one of the local establishments.

           The Muir Path/Buffalo Lake Loop, part 1, is the loop around Buffalo Lake. That’s about a 16 mile ride. Part 2 is the southern loop that takes you to John Muir Park. That’s about 15 miles, making the entire route, if you choose to bike it, 31 miles.

           For this virtual ride, we’ll begin in Montello and travel south on 22 to County Trunk K. Montello first was settled on Main Street, or Highway 22. The dam, a popular fishing spot, has a set of locks next to it where once boats regularly moved up and down the Fox River . The Fox River was a main transportation route for both Native Americans and then early settlers. Above the dam you’ll see Krakow Park, named in honor of a DNR game warden who was killed while in the line of duty.  On that rise, too, once were multiple Woodland Indian mounds for ceremony and burials. As you head around Buffalo Lake, remember that there were once over 600 mounds built over hundreds of years by Archaic and Woodland people who returned to the Fox River area year after year. 

           Turn west onto County Road K and you’ll travel past cottages and lake homes under the shade of oaks, hickories, and beech trees. Watch for Fox Road that turns to your left and pause for a moment if you like. A short distance ahead runs a small creek, sometimes barely visible. At one time it was known as Kratz Creek for the farmer who owned the land around it. It is where, in 1919, the then City of Milwaukee Museum sent archeologists to excavate a group of mounds. They found that some, but not all were burial mounds. Some had layered, colored sand like none known around this area that was spread out within the mounds. Almost all of the mounds were destroyed by road building, farming, and other settlement activity. Those that do remain are on private property.

           Keep pedaling as the road turns south. Keep your eye out on your left, east, for a small sign that says Page Creek Marsh. It will appear shortly after you cross Page Creek and a large wetland area. Page Creek is owned by the Nature Conservancy who is working to restore much of the land here to oak savanna. Red pines, the large pine forests you see throughout Marquette County, are not native to this area and the Nature Conservancy removed acres of red pine to return the land to what it was when John Muir’s family and others first settled in the area in 1849. Oak Savanna is perfect habitat for the red-headed woodpecker and other native birds. Page Creek Marsh doesn’t have cut trails, but you can walk there. Deer hunting is allowed, so be aware of the season.

           Continue south where you’ll cross the intersection onto 10th drive and pass Underhill cemetery where many early settlers are buried, and soon you’ll pass over a wooden railroad bridge. If you’re lucky enough to see one of the regularly scheduled trains pass under you, be sure to wave at the engineer who no doubt will wave back. This area has some hills, so be prepared to pedal hard for a short while, but you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful coast down to County Road F. 

           Travel past Gillette Drive, the designated route, just a short way to John Muir Park, a National Historic Landmark, state natural area, and part of the Ice Age Trail. There are bathrooms here. If you can’t stop to walk the route around Ennis Lake, be sure to come back. It’s part of the National Ice Age Trail and is just short of a 3 mile easy hike. Ennis Lake was called Fountain Lake by the Muir family who settled on this land after emigrating here from Scotland. John Muir loved this land and tried to buy this parcel from his family 3 times over the course of his life to save the wildflowers and delicate ecosystem of the lake and surrounding woods and prairie. As the father of the national park system in our country and founder of the Sierra Club, he’d be happy to know that today it is protected and open to the public to enjoy.

           About this very land where you stand, John Muir said, “The happiest days and scrap portions of my life were spent in that old slant-walled garret and among the smooth creeks that trickled among the sedges of Fountain Lake meadow.”

           He also wrote, in My Boyhood and Youth, “Oh that glorious Wisconsin wilderness! Everything new and pure in the very prime of spring when Nature’s pulses were beating highest and mysteriously keeping time with our own! Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the winds and the streams and the sparkling lake, all wildly, gladly rejoicing together!” That lake he is so taken with is Ennis Lake that lies before you.

           After the respite of John Muir Park, return to the bike route and travel east on Gillette Drive, then north on 13th road. If you wish, you can veer off the route for a short way east on Gillette Avenue (watch those Avenue, Road, etc names) and also climb Observatory Hill, where John Muir would sit and write or whittle and where 5,000 years ago Archaic people pecked a thunderbird and other signs into the bare rhyolite surface of the hill. You can see the power plant stacks in Portage from this point. The parking area is on the north towards the end of Gillette Drive which is a dead end road.

           Travelling again north on 13th Road, turn east on 14th Road which makes a sharp turn north. There’s a hill here with a beautiful view of surrounding countryside and you’ll go over another wooden railroad bridge. Watch for the left/west turn onto County Road D and you’ll have an easy downhill ride on a beautiful country road, returning to Underhill Cemetery and junction with 10th Road.

           Keep going straight on County Road D (you’re on the Buffalo Lake Loop) and on your left/south you may be able to spot some Bison, part of the herd of Bison Ridge Ranch. 

           Over the hill and you’ll head straight into Packwaukee, the first European settlement in what is now Marquette County with the establishment of a trading post. Of course, it was home to people for thousands of years before fur traders established a trading post along the widening of the Fox River and Ho Chunk lived along the shores for hundreds of years before that. Later in the 1800’s, Packwaukee was once a bustling town with vacation “spa” hotels, large boats that carried people and merchandise along the Fox, and many businesses. Take time to read the historical marker at Washington Park in Packwaukee.

           Follow County Road C to the east and you’ll again be travelling along Buffalo Lake, this time on the north side. If your trip coincides with sunset, you’ll see a spectacular sun down show as the sun sets almost directly over the west end of Buffalo Lake. Stop at the public boat landing just a short way east on C or stay at Packwaukee on the causeway and watch it there. It’s as good as all those Florida sunsets over the beach only this view has fewer people and quieter surroundings.

           As you pedal, you can again think of ceremonial and burial mounds along the Fox River, now Buffalo Lake. Once wild rice grew in abundance along the water’s edge and near Ox Creek on the north side of the road, another excavation by the Milwaukee Public Museum took place in the 1920’s. 

           The road you pedal also once had a railroad spur running alongside it. The train backed in to Montello from Packwaukee. Besides passengers, it would have hauled lumber, wool from the woolen mill, and tons of granite from the quarry in Montello which is the hardest granite in the world and was used to make numerous monuments around the country including General Ulysses Grant’s tomb. 

           Coming into Montello on County Road C, a fair used to be held to your left/north just as C curves into Lake Avenue. There was a race track there, too, and horse races were a popular event that drew crowds. Then pedal past beautiful houses on the lake shore, the two last ones on your right made from Nick Brothers formed cement block, the newest building material right after the turn of the century. The brothers made them right in Montello.

           On the hill in front of you is the Granite Mansion, built out of Montello Granite in 1912. It was the home of the owner of the quarry and has 16 inch thick walls. The granite columns on the front entry took 6 months in the polisher to get their beautiful mirrored finish.

Behind it is the Courthouse where one of the first hotels in Montello was once located.

           You’re back in Montello, the county seat of Marquette County where you’ll be able to take in the waterfalls at the old granite quarry and walk the streets of an old time downtown. Buy an ice cream cone, have a pizza, or just sit on a bench and cool down. Check out J. P. Vaughn Hall at 55 West Montello St. Built in 1912, it was a blacksmith shop downstairs and an opera hall upstairs. It’s on the National Historic Register and the home of the Montello Historic Preservation Society and often is open weekends with new exhibits. The Muir Park Path and Buffalo Lake Loop bike trails are worth the time and energy to refresh, relax, and renew in Marquette County.