By Amy Bayer
Vilas County has one of the world's highest concentrations of inland freshwater lakes – more than 1,300 lakes and 73 rivers and streams. Not only is the county packed with waterways, but it is also home to areas of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, as well as the largest state forest in Wisconsin: the Northern Highland/American Legion State Forest. With so much nature to explore, we've put together a list of seven scenic wonders to get you started on your next vacation to Vilas County.
The Fallison Lake Trail, located east of Sayner, is a hilly 2.5-mile path that offers gorgeous views of Fallison Lake and the surrounding area. This trail rolls through a forest of balsam, pine, maple, birch and aspen.
Hikers have an opportunity to see bogs on the southwest and northeast sides and a hemlock glade on the south side. Signs of beaver activity also are common along the lakeshore. This destination is popular among bird watchers for the loons, osprey and eagles often seen on or around the lake
2. Cathedral Point at Trout Lake
Trout Lake is one of the largest lakes in Vilas County and is located just south of Boulder Junction. It is known for its incredible fishing, but the real gem is the area's forests, home to Wisconsin's largest herd of albino deer. Seeing one of these "ghost deer" is truly unforgettable, and they are easy to spot during spring, summer and fall.
Another highlight of this area is Cathedral Point, a beautiful wooded peninsula on the narrow section between the north and south basins of Trout Lake. A rise in elevation allows for fantastic views of the lake between the huge old white pines, many of which are 120 to 130 feet tall. This is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic in a natural setting.
Located south of Phelps in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, the Blackjack Springs Wilderness Area covers nearly 6,000 acres of preserved land. No motor vehicles or mechanized equipment (including bicycles) are permitted in order to help maintain this pristine piece of land.
The wilderness area's primary feature is a series of four large, crystal-clear springs that form the headwaters of Blackjack Creek. In the northeast corner, there are four miles of trails which take you along the Deerskin River, around Whispering Lake, and through the surrounding forest which is home to black bears, deer, grouse and numerous songbirds.
One of Wisconsin's most ecologically significant forests is located just south of Presque Isle. The Van Vliet Hemlocks State Natural Area protects one of the largest old-growth hemlock forests in this region, along with pockets of wetlands and bogs. While once common in Wisconsin, heavy logging throughout the 1800s made original woodlands extremely rare.
This glaciated area is hilly with moraines, as well as the sub-continental divide that separates the waters flowing to Lake Superior from the Mississippi River. It also has more than one and a half miles of undeveloped shoreline along Averill and Van Vliet Lakes and is home to numerous loons, eagles, and warblers. This state natural area offers the perfect snapshot of scenic beauty in the Northwoods.
Located east of Eagle River, the Anvil National Recreational Trail is a popular trail system with a wonderful variety of terrain and beautiful scenery in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The system runs through a forest of mixed hardwoods and numerous stands of pines, firs and tall hemlocks.
There are three separate parking areas to provide multiple access points to the 14 miles of trails that range from easy to difficult. This area also is designated as a watchable wildlife area. During the winter, it's groomed for cross-country skiing and is one of the oldest maintained trails in the state.
This preserve protects 15 wild lakes and ponds. Also known as the Border Lakes Area, it is a link between the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan and the 236,000-acre NHAL State Forest in Wisconsin.
The area serves as a travel corridor for large-ranging mammals including timber wolves, and possibly moose and Canada lynx. The lakes have names like Upper and Lower Aimer, Knife, Battine, Bug, John and Canteen, and hold a rich diversity of fish.
The preserve is open to the public from sunrise to sunset for hiking, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, bird watching and other low-impact recreational activities. The terrain is fairly flat, with two well-marked trails from 2.75 to 5.25 miles in length.
Just north of Lac du Flambeau, the Powell Marsh State Wildlife Area is approximately 4,303 acres and is a part of the Great Wisconsin Birding & Nature Trail. There is a 1,800-acre refuge in the center of the property that doesn't allow any access from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31. However, during the open season, there is an abundance of birds and other wildlife to view from the marsh dikes or at the scenic overlook located at the north end of the marsh.
Adjacent to the western boundary is the designated Powell Hiking Trail, which provides an excellent way to spend the day exploring this scenic area of the state.
With so much nature to explore, Vilas County has put together a tool for the trails, so be sure to visit trails.vilas.org to get your county-wide map which includes trails for biking, hiking, paddling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Want to read more? Check out these seven statewide natural wonders, and keep an eye on TravelWisconsin.com as we roll out more articles on scenic wonders by county.