Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wonders abound on North Country Trail

Brownstone Falls. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR.

Walk runs past
park’s highlights 

Waterfalls, Northwoods lakes, and sandstone ledges await day hikers on a segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin’s Copper Falls State Park.

The segment is perhaps among the most scenic 2.5 miles of the trail that stretches across seven states from New York to North Dakota. In Wisconsin, the trail bisects Copper Falls State Park from north to south for about 4 miles one-way, entering at the park’s southern tip near Wis. Hwy. 169, passing the east side of Loon Lake, running by both Copper and Brownstone falls, and then exiting in the park’s northern backcountry.

An excellent (and at 5-miles round trip a shortened) segment of the trail that includes most of the park’s highlights runs from from Loon Lake to the Sandstone Ledges.

To reach the park, from Mellen, Wis., take Hwy. 169 north to the park entrance; leave your vehicle at the lot for the Loon Lake swimming beach. The North Country Trail can be picked up at the lot’s northeast corner, but before doing so, head down to the beach for a view of Loon Lake.

A popular destination at the park, Loon Lake offers a sand beach, swimming area, and canoe launch. Fishermen often be spotted vying for largemouth bass, northern pike and panfish there.

From the parking lot, the trail heads due north, paralleling but set back from the park entrance road. Upon crossing the road to the Group Camp area, Murphy Lake is on the left/west. While pretty in its own right, the lake at 8 acres is smaller than Loon Lake. A stream links Murphy Lake to the Bad River.

Two waterfalls
From there, the trail heads north through the park’s heart, following the Bad River’s eastern shore. An ancient waterway, the Bad River began flowing some 200 million years ago when dinosaurs walked the earth. Today, it rises out of southwestern end of Caroline Lake on the Ashland/Iron counties border and flows some 74 miles across before draining into Lake Superior.

The trail next crosses the picnic area. The manicured lawns are worth the walk through for beyond it and the footbridge over the Bad River, the trail passes three of the park’s major features – Copper Falls, Brownstone Falls, and the Cascades.

The 29-foot Copper Falls is the first of many drops the Bad River takes in the park. The river canyon runs over 1 billion-year-old lava rock. The black walls rise between 60-100 feet above the swirling water with white cedar trees lining the gorge.

As the trail veers east, it follows the Tyler Forks River. First, though, is Brownstone Falls, over which the Tyler Forks plummets into the Bad River. The base of the Tyler Forks is a hard red lava edge.

Upstream from Brownstone Falls is the Cascades, a series of small drops and boulder-strewn waterway, The Tyler Forks is slowly cutting back a drop in the black basalt, and one day a new waterfall will form there.

Devil's Gate
The trail then crosses the Tyler Forks via a footbridge and heads northwest, affording another view of the Cascades and then Brownstone Falls. After the falls, it continues up the Bad River to the Devil’s Gate.

At Devil’s Gate, the Bad River flows over conglomerate rocks left by ancient streams. The canyon walls show different layers of sediment sitting almost on their sides as the ground settled and hard lavas shifted upward.

The trail next angles northward, crossing Little Creek, a tributary of the Bad River. After 2.25 miles, the trail reaches a spur that leads to the Sandstone Legdes.

The ledges formed when an inland sea covered this section of world hundreds of millions of years ago. As sediment collected at the sea’s bottom, it hardened over the eons into rock. Today, the exposed rock offers some nice views of the Bad River and make for a good rest stop.

After taking in the ledges, return the way you came and enjoy the sights all over again! Alternately, you can be picked up in the picnic area, as the park road dead ends there.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.