Saturday, August 17, 2013

Day hike across former Ice Age lake in Wisc.

Upper Phantom Cross Country Ski
and Hiking Trail trailhead along
East Refuge Road
Day hikers can walk across what once the bottom of an Ice Age lake and now is a rare, vanishing ecosystem on the Upper Phantom Cross Country Ski and Hiking Trail at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Burnett County, Wis.

The longest trail at the wildlife area reserved solely for walking (or cross country skiing in winter) actually is a 3.7-mile set of three loops with two stems linking it to parking areas. Families with children can shorten it to a 2-mile walk that can be extended a half-mile without much backtracking.

To reach the trail, from Grantsburg, take the road north at the Hwys. 70. 87 and 48 intersection. Watch for and follow the yellow goose painted on the roadway, which winds you through town until reaching the intersection of County Roads D and F. Turn right onto County Road D. In about four miles, turn left onto East Refuge Road. Within two miles you'll pass North Fork Dive Road; a quarter mile after that is a parking lot on the road’s left side.

Glacial Lake Grantsburg
From the parking lot, take a stem trail west. In about 0.15 miles, you’ll come to the Middle Loop. Go clockwise (left/south).

The Middle Loop heads through a forested area. Most of the trees here are a typical mix of Northern hardwoods and evergreens. In autumn when leaves change color, it can make for pretty walk.

In about 0.4 miles, you’ll come to a connector trail for the South Loop that heads left/south. If you have a lot of energy, go ahead and take the loop, which runs for about a half-mile. Otherwise, continue on the Middle Loop.

A fairly flat trail, as reaching the Middle Loop’s northern end you’re walking on what once was Glacial Lake Grantsburg. About 10,000 years ago as the last glacier to cover these parts retreated, meltwater was trapped between the glacier’s lobes. The lake ran from Grantsburg all the way to St. Cloud, Minn. The result today is a flattened and sandy landscape, like what you would find on a lake bottom.

In about 0.4 miles, the trail comes to junction with the West Loop. Go left/north onto the West Loop.

Rare pine barrens ecosystem
The West Loop crosses the rare pine barrens ecosystem. Due to the dry, acidic soil, few plants can grow here. Small and medium-size pines typically are the tallest trees, with most of the ground layer covered by various grasses, forbs and low shrubs. Sometimes larger oaks can be found as well.

After about 0.25 miles, you’ll reach the junction with the Dike Trail, a stem trail that leads to the aforementioned second access point, a parking lot off of Main Dike Road. Take the Dike Trail for 0.15 miles for a view of the Upper Phantom Flowage.

At nine acres, the Upper Phantom Flowage is among Crex Meadows’ smaller reservoirs. Because of its easy access, it’s popular among bird enthusiasts.

Head back to the West Loop, turning left/east onto it. In about a quarter mile, you’ll reach a second junction with the Middle Loop (the West and Middle loops share part of their trails). Go left/east onto the Middle Loop.

In 0.25 miles, you’ll reach the stem trail that heads back to the parking lot.

Read more about day hiking Crex Meadows in my Hittin’ the Trail: Day Hiking Crex Meadows Wildlife Area guidebook.