By Amy Bayer
If you combine the national, state and county forests, Wisconsin has more than 4.3 million acres of woods to explore. This doesn’t even include the community and/or privately owned forests throughout the state.
Instead of listing my five favorite hiking destinations like I did for state and county parks, I’m going to share some of my favorite forests for hiking categorized by region: Northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest.
Covering 1.5 million acres of northern Wisconsin, it’s a no-brainer to include a hike in Wisconsin’s national forest. Later this summer I’m planning to explore the area around the Mountain Fire Lookout Tower in the Nicolet Unit of the forest in Oconto County, but my most recent hike was in the Chequamegon Unit on the border between Bayfield and Ashland counties.
The trail is short at only 3.6 miles round trip; however, the elevation climb to St. Peter’s Dome can get steep. But the climb is definitely worth the view. On clear days you can see Lake Superior.
I mention the Ice Age National Scenic Trail so often I don’t want to neglect the North Country National Scenic Trail, which gets its name from the section that crosses Wisconsin’s Northwoods. Once completed, it will be the longest continuous trail in the U.S., traversing through seven states.
While 200 miles are in Wisconsin, 16 miles of the North Country Trail wind through the Brule River State Forest and even connect with the historic Brule to St. Croix Portage Trail.
Nels P. Evjue Memorial Forest – Merrill
Tucked away in an area north of Merrill is the Nels P. Evjue Memorial Forest. Owned and operated by the local public school district, the 764-acre forest is used primarily for educational purposes.
However, it is open to the public and former logging roads were converted into hiking and cross country ski trails that wind around streams and over footbridges for a great Northwoods experience. Located just across the road from the forest is the Camp New Wood County Park, which has additional trails in the woods along the Wisconsin River.
Wisconsin’s largest state forest is the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, and parts of the NHAL are in three separate counties (Vilas, Oneida and Iron) because it covers more than 232,000 acres.
There are so many different trails to hike it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I recently hiked on the McNaughton Trail, which has several loops so you can go for as long or short as you’d like. The shortest loop circles a small, scenic lake.
Prior to hiking the Ice Age Trail, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Lapham Peak. They have a great cross-country ski trail and an observation tower.
Of course, once I started hiking the Ice Age Trail, I learned there was even more to the park. I hiked through the woods last July and because of the openness of the forest there was a refreshing breeze and little humidity. And when I hiked along the eastern end of the forest I came across an expanse of wildflowers that nearly took my breath away – fields of yellow, white and purple blooms.
Named after one of Wisconsin’s great conservationists, the Carl Schurz Forest is located in the small, unincorporated town of Monches on the northern edge of Waukesha County. This is another area that I would not have discovered without the help of the Ice Age Trail.
One fall afternoon I hiked through the Carl Schurz Forest while trees rained golden-yellow leaves on me. The forest follows the Oconomowoc River and has moderate terrain.
There are more than 24 miles of hiking trails and four miles of nature trails to explore in the Black River State Forest. Located just off the interstate, it makes for convenient stopping points to stretch out my legs on long drives.
I personally enjoy the Wildcat Trails near Pigeon Creek Campground. There are 10 miles of looped trails over rolling hills that are shared with mountain bikers. Enjoy a few overlooks of the surrounding wooded valley.