By Mel Grau
Snowshoeing is somehow both primeval and progressive. The first snowshoes date back thousands of years, with Wisconsin tribes using rawhide and bent willow to buoy snow-covered hunting ground. Today, snowshoeing is the fastest-growing winter sport, with a 40 percent increase over the past five years. Whether you’re a beginner looking to try this trend or an expert explorer, Wisconsin snowshoeing offers a rare chance to literally walk in history’s footprints. Rediscover the following Native paths through the Wisconsin wilderness:
As part of Wisconsin’s “Driftless” region where glaciers formed 500 foot bluffs along the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, Wyalusing’s hilly geography differs from the rest of the state. Honored as a “neutral” area by Native Americans, at least 14 different tribes lived or traded here. Indian burial and effigy mounds shaped like turtles, bears and deer still characterize the landscape.
Two Wyalusing trails are ideal for snowshoeing—Sugar Maple Nature and Sentinel Ridge. Both about 1.5 miles long, these routes feature soaring white oak, maple and hickory trees. Sugar Maple Nature Trail gives you access to a secluded winter waterfall at Pictured Rock Cave. Off a limestone cliff cascades water frozen in movement, as if magicked motionless for eternity.
The Sentinel Ridge Trail runs along the Mississippi and Wisconsin River junction and is perfect for bird watching. The trail’s loop encircles a chain of nine ancient mounds. Near Green Cloud Picnic Area, look out for a tree with a sharply curved base—it’s considered a Native trail marker.
Thousands of fur traders, Native Americans and explorers used this seven-mile portage trail to travel between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. The North Country National Scenic Trail is actually the longest hiking trail in the U.S., connecting North Dakota with New York. Wisconsin’s section crosses through an old Chippewa village, where birch snowshoes were essential in the winter.
The trail starts at the source of the Bois Brule River and climbs along a ridge overlooking the frozen water. Most of this trek takes place in the Douglas County Wildlife Area; beautiful birch and evergreen trees provide natural anonymity on this historic route.
Blue Mound is the highest point in southern Wisconsin and was considered sacred by the Winnebago tribes that inhabited the surrounding area. They believed the haze that lifted off the top to be smoke of the Great Spirit. Indian Marker Tree Trail (sometimes reserved for cross-country skiing) follows the mound’s contour, and its rolling hills and steep terrain make this trek challenging. It was named for a bent oak tree that points toward a natural spring, helping native tribes find water centuries ago.
Find more great places to snowshoe or share your own ideas in a comment below.