Monday, June 23, 2014

Day hike to peatlands, scenic lake view in northern Wisconsin

Bass Lake Peatland State Natural Area. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR.

Northwoods forest offers variety of songbirds

Day hikers can discover a clear lake next to peat bogs in Wisconsin’s Bass Lake Peatland State Natural Area.

The Bass Lake Trail runs about 0.84-miles one-way (1.68-miles round trip). Part of the trail is in Sawyer County’s Flambeau River State Forest with another part in Price County’s Bass Lake Peatland. One of the best features of the trail is you’ll never have to walk through the wetlands.

Autumn leaves
To reach the trail, from Winter, Wis., head east on County Road W into the state forest. Turn left/north on Tower Hill Road then go right/east onto Bass Lake Road. Park where the road dead ends.

The Bass Lake Trail travels roughly south through a rich forest of basswood, sugar maple, and white ash. This diversity of trees makes for fantastic autumn leaf displays.

After 0.33 miles, the trail turns southeast, continuing through the northern mesic forest. Expect to see a number of songbirds here, including cedar waxwing, gray jay, Lincoln’s sparrow, Nashville, palm and yellow-rumped warblers, and the yellow-bellied flycatcher. As closing on the shore, often the common loon can be heard and bald eagles seen flying overhead.

The trail next heads straight south in 0.13 miles and follows the county line. Then, in another 0.13 miles, the route meanders southeast.

Peat bogs
For the next quarter mile, the woods transitions to a mature second-growth white pine forest that surrounds the lake. Hemlock grows here as well, but usually only as seedlings; whitetail deer find the tree’s leaves tasty, and their heavy feeding prevents much growth beyond a few years.

Upon reaching Bass Lake’s northwest shores, the clearness of the deep, 94-acre waterbody will make an immediate impression. Small aquatic plants known as sterile rosettes live across Bass Lake’s bottom and absorb all of the sediment’s carbon dioxide, resulting in high oxygen levels.

Look across the lake to its southern and eastern shores for the open peatland. Peat largely consists of waterlogged, partially decayed vegetation and is a major store of carbon dioxide. A carpet of sphagnum mosses covers the peat bogs with occasional hummocks supporting black spruce, tamarack, or shrubs.

After taking in the views of the lake and peat bogs, return the way you came.

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