Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hike segment of national North Country trail

Lake Owen

Multi-state trail runs through
Chequamegon National Forest

Visitors to Drummond, Wis., can hike a segment of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail in a nifty route I’ve christened the “Lake Owen Loop.” 

The North Country trail stretches from North Dakota to New York, cutting through four Wisconsin counties along the way. The Badger state boasts the highest percentage of completed and the longest continuous stretch of the trail in the country. In Bayfield County, the trail cuts through the popular Chequamegon National Forest. 

About 5 miles long, the Lake Owen Loop is best done in autumn when the bug count is down and the trees are ablaze with color. Early spring is good for avoiding mosquitoes but may force you to cross two intermittent streams flush that time of year with snowmelt.

To reach the trail, from US Hwy. 63 in Drummond, take N. Lake Owen Drive (aka Forest Road 213, south). You’ll pass Roger Lake. When you come to Lake Owen, look for the intersection with Forest Road 216 (aka as Lake Owen Station Road). Stay on FR 213 and round the northern tip of Lake Owen. Turn right into the picnic grounds, where you’ll park. A swimming beach also is on site.

Mixed hardwoods and pines
From the picnic area, look east and pick up the trail where it intersects the forest road. The North Country trail is fairly flat with elevation shifting about 50 feet during the hike.

Walk south, cutting between the northern tip of Lake Owen and a 35-foot deep pond. An intermittent stream connects it to the lake.

The trail follows the north shore of Lake Owen, which forms a U. Mixed hardwoods and pines line the lake. Hemlock, oak, maple and white pine often tower over the dirt path.

As reaching the bottom of the U’s western side, you’ll cross a road. You’re unlikely to see many people, though, as this side of Lake Owen is little used compared to the other shores, which sport camps and boat ramps.

At 1,323 acres with a maximum depth of 95 feet, Lake Owen boasts very clear water, making it an ideal habitat for largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskie (Wisconsin’s state fish), northern pike, walleye and panfish.

Call of nesting loons
About midway at the U’s bottom, there’s a second intermittent stream to cross. You’ll then spot Twin Lakes Campgrounds on the opposite shore.

As coming up the U’s eastern side, the trail veers away from lake. Watch for the wildlife that makes this area home. Whitetail deer, squirrels, chipmunks and frogs are certain to be seen, but also keep an eye out for other animals’ tracks, especially those of raccoons. Keep your ears peeled for the call of loons, which nest on the area’s lakes.

After crossing a forest road, you’ll walk past a pond to the right and then one to the left. Finally, you’ll head past yet another pond, this one up to 14 feet deep, on the right.

Rejoining Forest Road 213, you can walk alongside it back to your vehicle. On the way you will first pass Forest Road 217, aka Cutacross Road, which goes north, and then Horseshoe Road, which goes south.

Upon reaching your start point, end the day with a picnic and swim.

Read more about day hiking Bayfield County, Wisconsin, in my Day Hiking Trails of Bayfield County guidebook.