Monday, September 8, 2014

Cornucopia of leaf colors line Wisconsin’s Rim Creek Loop

Sugar maple leaves in autumn.
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR.

Flambeau River State Forest
loop passes maples, birch

A beautiful forest walk with an array of autumn leaf colors awaits day hikers of the Rim Creek Loop in Wisconsin’s Flambeau River State Forest.

Located in Sawyer County east of Hayward, the trail runs about 4.9 miles. To reach the trailhead, from the village of Winter, take County Road W east into the state forest. After crossing the Flambeau River, turn at the first left/north into a parking lot.

From the lot, go on the trail heading left/north. This stem connects to a series of stacked loops that make up the southern end of the Flambeau Hills Trail System. Upon reaching the first junction, go right/east; this puts you on the Short Swing Loop.

The trail navigates some ups and downs across knolls but is nothing that can’t be handled. In any case, you won’t notice, especially if it’s autumn, as you’ll be too enamored with the colorful display of leaves.

Maple forest
Maples dominate the state forest. The two most common here are the sugar maple, which provides the best sap for the maple syrup that goes on your pancakes, and the red maple, a common tree in second-growth forests. In autumn, the sugar maples’ leaves glow a brilliant orange while red maples turn carmine.

Continue on the main trail (veer right/east-north) at the next two trail junctions. Doing so takes you onto the Rim Creek Loop proper.

You’ll soon pass groves of quaking aspen, the preferred habitat for ruffed grouse, one of the most popular upland game birds to hunt. The thinning brush and the aspen’s amber leaves help make the usually well-camouflaged ground birds easier to spot.

Ruffed grouse sport a crest on their heads and have a banded tail with a thick black then gray terminal band. During spring, to attract females the males will beat their wings as standing atop logs.

Rim Creek
A little more than a mile from the trailhead, the path crosses small Rim Creek, which links a couple of ponds to the Flambeau River. In this wetter area, you’re more likely to see yellow birch, whose autumn leaves look bright as a sun on a child’s drawing.

North of the creek, the route intersects a small loop off the main trail; ignore the loop and the two junctions leading to it.

Of course, maples, aspen and birch aren’t the only trees you’ll notice along the walk. Another is the American basswood, which boast multiple trunks and in autumn olive-colored heart-shaped leaves.

In another mile, the trail reaches the top of the loop and the beginning of the next stacked loop. Go left/east then at the following intersection, head left/south, putting you back on the Rim Creek Loop stacked loop.

Alongside Flambeau River
For the next two miles or so, the Flambeau River will be on your right/west with some nice views of it below you. A major tributary of the Chippewa River, smallmouth bass and muskie are numerous in its waters.

In about 0.6 miles from the last intersection, the trail recrosses the Rim Creek you went over on the loop’s other side.

One other hardwood you’re likely to spot in autumn is white ash. Whitetail deer love to munch on its saplings. Each fall, its leaves turn red then a deep maroon.

The next junction brings you back to the Short Swing trail; stay right/southwest. At the intersection after that, you’ve reached the stem trail; go left/south back to the parking lot.

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