Saturday, December 5, 2015

Take serene hike in Wis.' newest state park

Glacial erratic in Straight Lake State Park. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

No motorized vehicles, bicycles, horses allowed
in park set aside
solely for hiking

A naturalist’s paradise, Straight Lake Wilderness State Park is Wisconsin’s newest state park. Formerly a Boy Scout camp, 2,800 acres of more than a dozen lakes and ponds may now only be accessed by foot, meaning no cars, pickup trucks, minivans, SUVs, ATVs, motorboats – not even bicycles or horses – are permitted.

While legions of Boy Scouts left lots of paths in the park, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail is the park's only designated trail. A 3-mile out-and-back segment running from the park’s northwest parking lot to Rainbow Lake makes for an excellent and extremely peaceful walk.

Glacial erratic
To reach the trail, take Wis. Hwy. 35 south from Frederic in Polk County. Turn left/east onto 280th Avenue. Just past 135th Street, 280th Avenue turns north, becoming 130th Street; at this turn is a parking lot.

The trailhead is at the road corner off of 280th Avenue. Head south into a mature Northern hardwoods forest. Some trees here are almost a century old.

After walking about 0.2 miles, the trail passes a boulder that's 6.5 feet in diameter. Known as a glacial erratic, it was brought here by the last glacier to cover the area some 10,000 years ago. Made of diorite, the rock came from north of Lake Superior.

About a 0.5 miles later, the trail begins to parallel the Straight River. Watch the waterway for a variety of animals that call the park their home; among them are black bears, fox, river otters and white-tailed deer on the ground and bald eagles, osprey, red-shouldered hawks, and the endangered trumpeter swan in the air. The forest also supports northern Wisconsin’s largest population of cerulean warbler.

Tunnel channel
In another half mile, you’ll arrive at Straight Lake’s north shore. The lake formed after melting glacial water exploded through the ice, carving what is known as a tunnel channel. Today, bass, Northern pike and panfish call the water body home.

Close to 0.75 miles later, the end of the lake’s north shore offers the best view of the tunnel channel you’re hiking. Look up and down the river, and you’ll notice you’re in a long, narrow valley. This tunnel channel stretches 7.5 miles from where you began the hike at 280th Avenue southeast to Big Round Lake.

Continuing along the trail, in short order you’ll cross the Straight River and follow its south shore line. After a quarter mile, the trail comes to a widening in the river on the left and Rainbow Lake on the right/south. This marks a good spot to turn back.

Upon returning to the parking lot, if time and energy permit consider taking a brief excursion on the trail north of 280th Avenue. You’ll be able to see the dark basalt of a 1.1-billion-year-old lava flow along the trail in about 0.2 miles. Plants do cover the ancient rock, but you should be able to spot it if keeping an eye out.

Read more about family friendly day hiking trails in my Headin' to the Cabin guidebooks.