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Backpacker Magazine – BACKPACKER.com Online Exclusive
A water-lover's Wisconsin wonderland with forests, prairies, and the occasional eagle.
Little-Known Fact: Tiffany Wildlife Area is home to at least eight endangered species of animals.
The roiling Chippewa River muscles its way between islands and sandbars nearly 500 feet below us, a brown slash carving through a green canvas as it hurries to its confluence with the Mississippi 5 miles away. Because the water is low we can see the remnants of piers and wing dams, the slowly rotting reminders of the glory years of steamboats and lumbering, from our lookout atop Five-Mile Bluff.
To the east, nestled in the floodplain, is Beef Slough, originally named Riviere des Boeufs by French-Canadian voyageurs for the herds of bison that grazed its banks. Looking west, we see hills and valleys dotted with red barns and white farmhouses, the dairy cows having long since replaced the grazing bison. This is Wisconsin, after all.
One of the Badger State's best-kept secrets, the 13,000-acre Tiffany Wildlife Area is managed by the Department of Natural Resources as a multiple-use area. Tiffany's southern border adjoins the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and is bisected north to south by the Chippewa River. Since there are no marked trails, backpackers can hike the narrow maintenance roads that traverse the area or bushwhack through Tiffany. With its interior readily accessible by water, it's an ideal destination for canoe camping.
For our trip, we decided to paddle down the Chippewa to a spot in the western portion of Tiffany. The area is primarily upland, with steep hills covered in maple and oak. Cool, stream-filled valleys provided plenty of ice-cold water and gorgeous displays of ferns. After setting up camp, we climbed to a vantage point on the dominant ridge of hills collectively known as Five-Mile Bluff.
Foot travelers can head to Tiffany's middle and southern regions, west of the Chippewa River, on roads sprouting from the town of Pepin. Tiffany?s interior comprises a mixture of hardwoods and prairies rich with vegetation and animal life, and summer is accompanied by large populations of mosquitoes and deerflies.
The majority of Tiffany Wildlife Area is sandwiched between the Chippewa River and State Highway 25. Most of the terrain in this eastern region is flat to gently rolling floodplain laced with ponds and sloughs ~ a bird watcher's paradise. In early spring migrating eagles and osprey search the meltwater for fish and winter-killed carrion, while waterfowl use the backwaters for a rest stop during their northward migration.
As we prepare to return to our campsite, we spot a shadow moving along the far hillside. We watch as a bald eagle rides the thermals in search of food, making an already perfect day even more memorable.