Happy Trails: Hike to Bayfield's historic iron bridge on Gil Larsen Trail
Easy to access in downtown, this short trail follows the ravine stream under the iron bridge.
A visit to Bayfield often involves a little walking as tourists visit the downtown restaurants, shops and marina. If you’re in the mood for a hike, you don’t have to travel too far. A straight shot up Washington Avenue from the Madeline Island Ferry loading ramp will take you to the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Trail. The trail is named for Gilbert Larsen, a conservationist who grew up near the ravine. Larsen passed away in 1977.
“As many times I have been to Bayfield, I have never been on this trail before and it is delightful,” said Paul Savides of Eau Claire.
Also delightful for Savides was an encounter with a fellow hiker.
“I did see a number of people. I met a little girl on the walk and she gave me an acorn. She was a delightful little girl and I don’t know if it was her father or grandpa, but she was having a really nice walk with him and she gave me an acorn,” Savides said.
Under a sunny sky with a temperature of 73 degrees on July 27, Savides hiked about 2.5 miles through the Big Ravine Trail System. There are multiple options for hikers and the most common one is the three-quarters out-and-back jaunt from the trailhead to the historic Iron Bridge.
The parking lot for the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Trail is on the left if you’re heading west on Washington Avenue and just before its corner with North Broad Street. There is also a parking option opposite the lot on the other side of Washington Avenue.
The trail is marked by a large wooden sign, which indicates the trail was constructed by the Wisconsin Conservation Corps in 1984. Beyond the sign, the scenery is already stunning with numerous trees, the Big Ravine and the old Iron Bridge in the distance.
“There’s a good variety of up and down and some fabulous views,” Savides said.
Along with the scenery, signs are a sight to see as you hike. The trailhead features a placard showcasing Bayfield’s history with apples and as you begin your journey by heading left on the gravel path, you’ll walk past three signs that highlight the Big Ravine. You’ll encounter other signs along the way, including those that describe the flood of 1942 and how the iron bridge was used as a shortcut to school for students in the 1910s.
The trail is for foot traffic only and as long as your shoes or sandals have a little grip, you’ll be fine. Rounding the corner, you’ll take a right turn down a stair slope and toward a long wooden bridge that takes you over Pike Creek. The bridge allows for multiple spots to sit, take pictures or just take in the sights. After crossing the bridge, the trail heads right and gets a little closer to the ravine creek, which is on the left side. Flowing water from a small waterfall can be seen and heard. At the top of the ravine are property and homes along North Second Street. But at the bottom is a bench and it provides the perfect spot to relax and listen to water flow.
As you continue your hike, you’ll travel up steps before reaching the pillars of the iron bridge. It was built in 1912. According to the website bridgehunter.com , the bridge stands 50 feet above the ravine and Pike Creek. It has dimensions of 230 feet in length and 18 feet in width. The bridge connects Rice Avenue, but it is closed to vehicular traffic. Don’t worry about pedestrian traffic, you’re OK to be on it. At this point, it is just a matter of getting there.
After passing the pillars, you’ll have the option to head left and experience the other parts of the Big Ravine Trail System. But if you go right, that’s where you’ll take more steps up to North Second Street and reach the historic Iron Bridge. It was completely restored in 1988 and according to bridgehunter.com, additional work was done in 2006.
“I saw up at the top that it has been renovated and more power to the folks that raised the money to do that. It is a challenge and I’m sure it was not inexpensive. It is great and nice to have it,” Savides said.
That’s where you’ll encounter nice views. You can’t miss Lake Superior. The big lake can be seen looking east down Rice Avenue. As you travel across the wooden planks and look south, you’ll see Lake Superior as well as the parking lot and trailhead. As much as you’ll focus on the views, be sure to be aware of the wooden planks, especially if you have little ones or four-legged friends with you. There are approximately two-inch spaces in some spots, which can be a hazard, but also provides an opening to look directly down on Pike Creek. From here, you can return to your vehicle by taking the trail in the reverse direction. You also have the option of taking the street, heading east to North Second Street or west to North Third Street as both will take you to Washington Avenue.
“There’s a little bit of everything and you can’t beat the pure Lake Superior air. I’ll go back and try some of the longer loops I think next time” Savides said. “That’s what I love to do. Walk and hike along the big lake here. Just to look for different hikes and be near the lake.”
If you hike the Gil Larsen/Iron Bridge and Nature Trail, you'll get exercise and scenery and who knows, maybe even an acorn?
"That was kind of a highlight of the trip,” Savides said.
Have a favorite trail you want us to check out? Drop us an email at email@example.com with the subject line “Happy Trails.”