Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hat trick of trails cross unique ecosystem

Grouse Walk Trail

Ice Age shaped shrubland
in northern Wisconsin

The Big Bear Lake Nature Trails offer three great day hiking opportunities for visitors in the lake country of Burnett County, Wis.

All three trails are accessible from the same trailhead. The Grouse Walk Trail is the shortest at a half-mile.

Glacial drift
To reach the trails, from Danbury take Wis. Hwy. 77 north/east for a little more than 10 miles. Turn right/south onto Bear Lake Road; in about 1.5 miles, turn left/east into a sand parking lot. If you’ve reached the Lake 26 Road intersection, you’ve missed the lot.

From the trailhead at the parking lot, go straight (the middle route). Going left takes you to the Big Bear Springs Trail for a 0.75-mile loop, which is fairly similar to the Grouse Walk Trail.

You’re now heading clockwise on Grouse Walk Trail through a largely open grassland and shrubland with scattered pines, so you’ll definitely need hat and sunscreen for the hike.

The nature trails are located in the rare Northwest Sands ecological landscape, which angles across this corner of Wisconsin from the St. Croix River to just short of the Lake Superior. Farm crops can’t readily grow here because all that separates the surface from underlying bedrock is glacial drift – sand, gravel and silt left during the last ice age.

Small pond
About midway through the Grouse Walk loop, an intersecting trail takes you east to the Big Bear Meadows Trail. The trail is more wooded and runs for 0.875 miles.

After curving southwest, the Grouse Walk loop skirts the shoreline of a small pond that often is just a shallow depression during dry years. The loamy nature of the soil typically means that moisture drains fast through it.

Despite that, a number of kettle lakes from melted chunks of an ice age glacier exist across the region. Among them is nearby Big Bear Lake; though these nature trails are named for it, that lake actually is a good half-mile to the northeast.

Circling to Grouse Walk loop’s south side, you’ll head through a small grove. Pine, aspen, birch and oak dominate the few stands of trees in the Northwest Sands. Upon existing the stand, you’ll have returned to the parking lot.

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