True wilderness snowshoeing... the real beauty of snowshoeing is that you don’t need any kind of trail at all! Eagle River is surrounded by three large tracts of public land – the Chequamegon/Nicolet National Forest to the east and southeast, the Vilas County Forest to the north, and the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest (NHAL) to the west. Vilas County also borders the Ottawa National Forest to the north in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You can visit places on snowshoes that you could never reach at different times of the year because the deadfall and vegetation is covered with snow, the lakes and streams are frozen, swamps can be crossed, and you don’t have to fight the bugs.
Use your imagination and a decent map to check out areas you haven’t been to before – there really aren’t any other guidelines. Here are a few tips:
• The snow on frozen lakes is usually smoother and easier to walk on with your snowshoes. But make sure the ice is thick enough to be safe.
• Pick up a snowmobile trail map at the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce or other local businesses. It is dangerous to walk on snowmobile trails, so use the map as a guide to places to avoid.
• Snowshoes can be rented at Chain of Lakes Cyclery. For more info, visit their Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/VassaVilasAreaSilentSportsAssociation#!/ChainOfLakesCyclery
OFFICIAL SNOWSHOE TRAILS
The Northern Highland American Legion (NHAL) State Forest occupies more than 232,000 acres in northern Wisconsin. For snowshoe trails in the NHAL State Forest, go to: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/stateforests/nhal/, click “Maps and Pubs,” scroll down to “Snowshoeing and Skijoring” and select the trail to download a PDF map.
Tara Lila LLC is a local company that takes land they purchased for conservancy, builds low-impact trails on that land, and opens the trails to public access. Please be considerate when using their property and stay on the trails. Click here for a downloadable copy of the map to the right. These trails are located south of Eagle River: from Highway 70 go south on Sundstein Road, turn east on Section 9 Road then north just before the gate to a private residence. Parking is available near the trailheads. For additional information on their trail system, go to taralila.org.
The North Lakeland Discovery Center near Manitowish Waters has a great set of trails for hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing and wildlife watching along a 12-mile trail system. Their trails are OPEN TO EVERYONE, from dawn to dusk. The terrain is gentle and winds through the woods, along the lake, bog and nearby Manitowish River allowing you to explore a variety of habitats each with their own unique plants and animals. In the winter, trails are tracked for classic skiing, and we have snowshoes available for use. (In winter, leashed dogs allowed on snowshoe trail only.) Members may use the snowshoes for free, general public pay $5 per pair. Click here for a downloadable map.
Catherine Wolter Wilderness, Presque Isle, WI - A 2,189-acre nature preserve named after the longtime Presque Isle family who donated it for the public to enjoy. Open from sunrise to sundown for a variety of silent sport activities including a fairly flat terrain and good trails.
Van Vliet Hemlocks, Presque Isle, WI - This trail system winds through an old growth hemlock forest. The site’s 400 acres and mile and a half of undeveloped shoreline on Van Vliet Lake represent a rare remnant of this uniquely historic forest system. Walk along undisturbed cedar swamps, bog lakes, climb scenic eskers, and take in the richness of the pland and animal life that abounds in this special place. Click here to download a trail map.
There are a few unofficial trails that usually have snowshoe traffic, which means there is often a trail to follow. Two of VASSA's favorites are Lake Salsich and the Bittersweet Wilderness.
Lake Salsich is just east of the town of Star Lake. Go east on Hwy K from the intersection of Hwys K and N. After only a hundred yards or so, you will see a pullout down a hill on the north side. It is often possible to park safely here, and you might see a trail heading into the woods.
The Bittersweet Wilderness parking area is just off of Hwy 70, between St. Germain and Woodruff. Blue Island Road comes in from the south, and near where it intersects with Hwy 70, look for a pull out down a small hill on the north side of the road (opposite side of Blue Island Road). Again, there is usually a safe place to park with trails leading into a chain of lakes.
PLACES TO GO ON YOUR OWN
There are only two limitations in finding great backcountry snowshoeing in the Vilas area. First, it is sometimes difficult to find a place to park. When you do park, be sure your vehicle is safely off the road. You may consider bringing a shovel and clear a safe spot to park. The second issue you may confront is that many back roads are not plowed in the winter. Otherwise, the sky is the limit when exploring the backcountry on snowshoes. Just go!
Here are a few suggestions:
Vilas County Forest
The following is a map of hunter/hiking trails in the Vilas County Forest about 5 miles west of Eagle River. These are great wilderness type snowshoe trails. Basically, they consist of broad trail openings cut in the forest for easy travel – but with no other improvements. They can be accessed by taking Hwy 70 west from Eagle River to Wilderness Trail – about 5 miles. Go north on Wilderness trail, where you will see signs for Wood Duck Lake Game Trail and Snipe Lake Fire Lane on the left. Both of these “roads” will be impassable in the winter, but you can park near them for access to the hunter/hiking trails – see the map below. Snipe Lake Fire Lane is a snowmobile trail, so if you use it to access the trails be very careful of snowmobiles. At Wood Duck Lake trail you can start snowshoeing right away. But you need to find a place to park that is off the road – which may be difficult. Otherwise, there is usually somewhere to park up the road on the right at the Snipe Lake boat ramp. BE CAREFUL WHEN PARKING AND MAKE SURE YOUR VEHICLE IS OFF THE ROAD.
The Mud Minnow Lake Trails are also in the Vilas County Forest and are set up like the Snipe Lake & Ewald Lake trails. Access them by travelling west on Hwy G from Eagle River about 7 miles – look for the road signs on the left. Sunken Lake Road is not plowed in the winter, and Mud Minnow Lake Road is a snowmobile trail, so you will have to park near Hwy G. BE CAREFUL WHEN PARKING, AND MAKE SURE YOUR VEHICLE IS OFF THE ROAD.
The Fire Land Road trails in the Vilas County Forest can be accessed by going north from Conover on Hwy 45 to Old 45 Road, which is on the right. Follow Old 45 Road to Fire Lane Road. Fire Lane road is usually somewhat passable in winter. BE CAREFUL WHEN PARKING AND PARK OFF THE ROAD. Avoid the trails off Muskrat Creek road as there is much more snowmobile traffic.
The Torch Lake Trails are best accessed from River Road, which is between Eagle River and Conover, off of Hwy 45. Again, these trails are cleared areas through the forest with no other improvements.
MAP CREDITS: Tara Lila map courtesy of Tara Lila LLC; North Lakeland trail map courtesy of North Lakeland Discovery Center, Snipe Lake, Mud Minnow, Muskrat Creek and Torch Lake maps courtesy of Vilas County Tourism.
The following links offer other snowshoe opportunities. As you look these over, keep the following in mind:
• Do not snowshoe on cross country ski trails, as you will wreck the trails for the skiers.
• Be careful when parking and be sure your vehicle is well off the road.
• Avoid snowmobile trails.
Vilas County Snowshoe Trails:
Oneida County Snowshoe Trails:
"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. " -John Ruskin
CHECK IT OUT - Take a hike on a beautiful trail and be sure to bring the dogs if you got them. It's great exercise for all!
The snowshoeing options in our area are endless. There are two basic venues: using snowshoe trails and striking out on your own.
Snowshoe trails... since the trails have already been packed down, you can use smaller snowshoes. The snowshoeing is far easier than “bushwacking,” and there is no chance of getting lost. On the other hand, you will be going to areas that have regular visitors, which will give your outing less of a wilderness feel. Please stay off cross country ski trails, unless there is a special lane for snowshoeing.