Sunday, June 19, 2016

Great trails in easy to reach Washburn Cty.

Wild Rivers State Trail, Minong segment

Old rail lines, wildlife areas, city parks, await in Wisconsin

Located in Wisconsin’s northwest corner, Washburn County is an outdoor recreational paradise. During summers, bicyclists and off-road vehicle enthusiasts ply a number of wooded trails while fishermen and canoeists try their hand at their sport on freshwater lakes and a nationally protected riverway. Come autumn, the roads turn busy with drivers out to enjoy the colorful blaze of autumn leaves. Throughout winter, cross-country skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilists sail across white paths while ice fishing shacks pop up on frozen lakes. And, of course, day and backcountry hikers alike enjoy the county’s hundreds of miles of trails, some routes well-groomed and others primitive, but all rambling through verdant scenery.

Several major highways offer access to Washburn County.

From the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, take Interstate 94 east into Wisconsin. At Baldwin, exit onto U.S. Hwy 63 and travel north to Shell Lake. Those living in the northern Twin Cities alternately can cross the Stillwater bridge and take Wis. Hwy. 64 east then turn north onto Hwy. 63. Another option is to take Interstate 35 north, exiting in Forest Lake onto U.S. Hwy. 8, which can be taken east into Wisconsin; in Turtle Lake, turn north onto Hwy. 63. A great trail to hike in the Shell Lake area is the South Side Walking Trail. This comfortable path of wood chips works its way through meadows and wooded areas. The trail begins off of Hwy. 63 on Shell Lake’s south side.

From northern Minnesota, at Duluth cross the Interstate 535 bridge into Wisconsin. Go south on U.S. Hwy. 53, which heads to Minong and cuts north-south through Washburn County. Among the many quality day hikes in the Minong area is the Wild Rivers State Trail, Minong segment. The former rail line turned hiking trail heads through Minong on the way from Trego to Gordon. Starting at South Limits Road, head south on the trail to Lakeside Lake for a roughly 4-mile round trip.

From western Wisconsin, take either Hwy. 63 or Hwy. 53 north into the county. The former works well for those living along or near the Minnesota border while the latter is best for those living near Eau Claire. For those using Hwy. 63, check out the Sawyer Brook Springs Trails. The set of three loops, primarily maintained as cross-country ski trails, begin behind the Shell Lake Arts Center in Shell Lake. The Yellow loop takes hikers twice across Sawyer Brook Springs. Those driving Hwy. 53 should watch for the Beaver Brook East Trail in the Beaver Brook Wildlife Area, where you can enjoy a pleasant walk along a classic trout stream. While hiking, you may spot the impressive osprey or bald eagle.

From eastern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula, U.S. Hwy. 10, Wis. Hwy. 29 and Hwy. 8 each heads west, intersecting either Hwy. 53 (in the case of Hwys. 29 and 8) or Hwy. 63 (as is the case with Hwys. 10, 29 and 8). Head north on Hwy. 53 or 63. From Hwy. 53, check out the Bear Trail at Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary, where carnivorous plants and glacial lakes await hikers on a 2.7-mile loop. From Hwy. 63, before reaching Shell Lake, a fairly flat segment of the expansive Ice Age National Scenic Trail runs at the edge of where the glacier last seen in these parts towered some 11,000 years ago. The hike to Grassy Lake and back makes for just under 4 miles round trip.

From central and southern Wisconsin, take either I-94 or Interstate 39 north. I-94 intersects northbound Hwy. 53 in Eau Claire. I-39 junctions Hwy. 29 in Wausau; take the latter west then turn north onto Hwy. 53 near Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls. From Hwy. 53, you'll easily be able to reach the Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary for a hike on the Red Oak East and West trails; the two looping trails can be combined for a 1.8-mile walk. Despite the trails’ names, the highlight is a grove of large white pines that have been growing since the 1800s.

Learn about these and nearby trails in Day Hiking Trails of Washburn County.