Sunday, April 13, 2014

See wildlife on Flambeau River day hike

Snuss Trail in Flambeau River State Forest

Snuss Trail runs through
North Central Forest

Day hikers stand a good chance of spotting a variety of wildlife on the Snuss Trail in Flambeau River State Forest.

The trail runs 4.3 miles (one-way), in Wisconsin’s second largest state forest, which cradles 75 miles of the Flambeau River’s North and South forks. While the churning Flambeau is best known as a popular canoeing destination, day hiking and backpacking opportunities also abound.

Among the premier hiking routes is the Flambeau Hills Trail, which consists of 14 miles of paths divided into a series of stacked loops. The Snuss Trail is the stem trail for the stacked loops’ northern side.

To reach the trailhead, from Hayward, Wis., go south on Wis. Hwy. 27. When Wis. Hwys. 27 and 70 split in Ojibwa, continue east on Hwy. 70 into the state forest. About a mile after crossing the Flambeau River’s north fork in Oxbo, turn right/south onto Snuss Boulevard. Immediately after the intersection, a parking lot is on the road's left/east side. The trailhead leaves from the lot’s southwest corner.

Rare birds, many mammals
As a jeep trail, the Snuss is wide and fairly flat. It runs through a mix of hardwoods and conifers. Among the former are bigtooth aspen, paper birch, quaking aspen, and sugar maple. Eastern Hemlock dominates the conifers, but a careful eye also will spy balsam fir, the non-native blue spruce, and tall eastern white pine. During summer, wildflowers dot the forest floor.

Such flora is typical of Wisconsin’s North Central Forest, which the entire state forest sits in. This ecological landscape has the state's shortest growing season at 115 days.

In 0.27 miles from the trailhead, the Snuss reaches the junction with the Pelican Trail’s northern end.

Wildlife is plentiful in the state forest. Along the trail, you have a good chance of spotting – or at least of seeing the signs of – black bear, bobcat, coyote, fox, porcupine, red squirrels, and white-tailed deer.

Red-shouldered hawk, ruffed grouse, rare osprey, and songbirds galore also can be spied. Barred owls often are heard at dusk. Bald eagles, ducks, geese and herons are present, as well, though they’ll be closer to the river than on this forest trail.

Walking atop a very different Earth
About 1.3 miles in, the southern end of the Pelican Trail junctions with the Snuss.

Ancient rock that dates to at least 1.9 billion years ago sits not far beneath your feet. The topsoil on the trail consists of glacial drift that runs no more than 100 feet – and sometimes a mere five feet – deep. The bedrock below the drift was formed in the early Proterozoic, an era when the atmosphere contained far lower, though rising, levels of oxygen. During that time, bands of iron ore – which in the 20th century were heavily mined in this region – developed.

Rather than hike the entire trail, turn around when the path reaches Snuss Boulevard at 1.55 miles from the trailhead. In addition to reducing the distance should you have young children walking with you, this will ensure you don’t cross any roads. The entire hike then comes to 3.10-miles round trip.

You can extend the hike by taking the Pelican Trail on the way back. This adds about a quarter mile (one-way) to the walk and offers some new, though similar, scenery.

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