Sunday, July 31, 2016

Washburn Cty sits at center of hiking mecca

Blue Hills, scenic riverway,
Big Bear Lake Nature Trails

Blue Hills, scenic riverway, national forest just outside
of Wisconsin county's borders

The six counties surrounding Washburn County offer plenty of great hiking opportunities that are easy for anyone staying in Spooner-Shell Lake-Trego-Minong to reach.

To the north is Douglas County, a largely forested area with Lake Superior beaches. Going clockwise, next is Bayfield County; though Washburn shares only a corner point with Bayfield, it’s worth the visit given the vast Chequamegon State Forest. To the east is Sawyer County, where the popular Northwoods destination of Hayward sits. Washburn’s southeast corner touches Rusk County, well known for its ancient Blue Hills recreational area. Along Washburn’s southern border is Barron County; most Washburn County visitors will have to pass through it on either U.S. Hwys. 53 or 63 to reach Shell Lake or Spooner. Finally, to the west is Burnett County, which is cabin country for many Twin Cities and Wisconsin residents.

Douglas County
From Minong, U.S. Hwy. 53 heads directly into Douglas County and offers access to more of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Among the most dramatic portions of the St. Croix is its headwaters area, which sits just outside the scenic riverway. Great trails there include:
• Gordon Flowage Campground Trail - Day hikers can explore the northernmost reaches of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway on the Gordon Flowage Campground Trail. The roughly 2-mile round trip is a jeep trail running through the woods bordering the river. The trail actually is unnamed, but for convenience’s sake, we’ve christened it here after the campground where it begins in Gordon Dam County Park.
• Buckley Creek Barrens Trail - Day hikers can truly get back to nature with a walk through a pine barrens near the northern reach of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The Buckley Creek Barrens Trail is an undesignated out-and-back footpath that runs 1.2-miles round trip through the Buckley Creek Barrens State Natural Area west of Gordon.

Bayfield County
From Trego, U.S. Hwy. 63 heads through Hayward then into southern Bayfield County. Most notable in southern Bayfield County is the scenic village of Cable, a gateway to the Chequamegon State Forest. Two great trails in the Cable area are:
• Birkie Ridge Trail - With more than 66 miles of trails, all maintained by the nonprofit American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, “The Birkie Trail,” as its fans affectionately call it, offers multiple trailheads, loops and variations between Cable and Hayward. One segment that’s easy to locate and hike is the Birkie’s opening section, a 2.6-mile round trip when treated as an out-and-back trail.
• Forest Lodge Nature Trail - Among the best hikes to learn about the Wisconsin Northwoods is the Forest Lodge Nature Trail, east of Cable. Located in the Chequamegon National Forest, the 1.5-mile loop is maintained in cooperation with the Cable Natural History Museum.

Sawyer County
The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway heads from Washburn County east into Sawyer County. The riverway and area centered on the outdoors-minded community of Hayward provides a number of hiking opportunities. A pair of excellent trails sit close to Hayward:
• Namekagon-Laccourt Oreilles Portage Trail - Though the Namekagon-Laccourt Oreilles Portage Trail memorializes a famous 18th century route where fur traders and explorers carried their canoes between rivers, hikers will head through a landscape much changed from that day. In fact, those fur traders and explorers probably wouldn’t recognize the wild area. Located near Hayward in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, the modern trail is very close to the original portage route.
• Totagatic River State Wildlife Area jeep trail - Day hikers can ramble alongside one of Wisconsin’s few remaining wilderness streams on a jeep trail in the Totagatic River State Wildlife Area. Though not a designated trail, the old logging road runs about a mile (2-miles round trip) through a forested area along the Totagatic Flowage’s northwest side.

Rusk County
Birchwood marks a good springboard for exploring northern Rusk County, which includes the scenic Blue Hills. To explore that area, try:
• Blue Hills West Trail - Across northwest Barron County and northwest Rusk County, a hazy blue stretch of hills appearing vaguely like distant mountains offers a scenic backdrop. The site is the ancient Blue Hills, a range that runs for about 20 miles, primarily in Rusk County. The Blue Hills West Trail’s first stacked loop at 2.3 miles total is particularly good for day hiking.

Barron County
If taking U.S. Hwy. 53 into Washburn County, you’ll be tempted to stop at the number of great recreational areas along a chain of lakes from Chetek to Rice Lake. U.S. Hwy 63 also offers some major attractions, most notably in the Cumberland region.
• Wild Rivers State Trail, Rice Lake segment - A walk through pleasant woodlands and scenic farmland await users of the Wild Rivers State Trail near Rice Lake. The trail runs for around 100 miles across three counties on an old Omaha and Soo Line Railroads rail line connecting the city to Superior. A good place to experience the trail is at its southern end. Park north of the Rice Lake city limits at the Tuscobia trail junction on County Road SS, near its intersection with U.S. Hwy. 53.
• Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Waterman Lake Area County Forest segment - Day hikers will have several opportunities to spot the impressive white-tailed deer on a segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in northwest Barron County. The 2.6-miles round trip segment of the Ice Age Trail runs through Waterman Lake Area County Forest.

Burnett County
Two major routes run from Washburn County through forest-laden lands into Brunett County. From Spooner, take Wis. Hwy. 70 west to Siren; from Minong, head west on Wis. Hwy. 77 to Danbury and the St. Croix River. Two excellent trails in the county include:
• Big Bear Lake Nature Trails - The Big Bear Lake Nature Trails offer three great day hiking opportunities for those in the lake country of Burnett County. All three trails are accessible from the same trailhead. The Grouse Walk Trail is the shortest at a half-mile.
• Namekagon Delta Trail - Families can day hike to a scenic delta at the confluence of the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers. A number of unnamed and non-maintained trails run near the delta in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. For convenience’s sake, we’ve named this 2.7-mile out-and-back trail the Namekagon Delta Trail after its primary geographic feature.

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