Chequamegon National Forest

Posted by Frank Kempf

Chequamegon National Forest

Pronounced SHO-WAH-MA-GON, the name is derived from the Ojibwa Indian language and means "place of shallow water." The reference is to Chequamegon Bay, which extends north from Ashland, Wisconsin, into Lake Superior. The Chequamegon National Forest is a special place in the northwoods of Wisconsin offering you the wild and scenic wonders of its diverse landscapes. Explore the forest at any time of the year for an endless variety of recreational experiences.

Totaling nearly 850,000 acres, the Chequamegon National Forest was formed by ice age glaciers that sculpted the land surface, planing off hilltops and producing small lakes from the huge blocks of melting ice left in the retreating glacier's path. The culture, traditions and lifestyles of the Indians, missionaries, fur traders and loggers who traveled these forests, have added a wealth of colorful natural and human history to the Chequamegon National Forest of today.

There are 632 miles of rivers and streams in the Chequamegon including the Chippewa, Jump, Yellow, Flambeau, Bad, and Namekagon Rivers. These larger tributaries flow as they did when they were the major routes of travel for Indians, explorers, missionaries, voyageurs, traders, and loggers. Today, a modern voyageur can enjoy canoeing on several of these rivers. The Flambeau, Chippewa, and Namekagon Rivers are considered to be the best for this type of adventure. Boating enthusiasts will find easy access and few crowds on the 411 lakes within the Forest.

The Namekagon was designated a National Wild and Scenic River. The Namekagon flows from Namekagon Lake, located within the Forest. This river provides varied opportunities to test a modern-day voyageur's skills with Class II and III rapids.

The South Fork of the Flambeau River will also offer a challenge with Class II and III rapids. For canoeists that enjoy viewing wildlife, this river has a display of eagles and ospreys to delight many a dedicated birdwatcher! This river is currently being studied for National Scenic and Recreation River status.

The East Fork of the Chippewa canoe route is excellent in the spring and early summer, with a campground and good fishing along the way. This river is presently being studied for National Scenic and Recreation River status.

The hundreds of sparkling lakes and flowing streams in the Chequamegon National Forest are brimming with quality fishing for species such as muskellunge, northern pike, bass, walleye, panfish, and trout. The Chequamegon is best noted for its "Musky" fishing. Whatever you're after, this is the place to get 'em! A Wisconsin state fishing license is required for fishing within the Chequamegon National Forest.

The Park Falls Ranger District features many lakes for good sportfishing and one of them is Round Lake. This lake supports fish species such as walleye, musky, northern pike, large mouth bass, small mouth bass, crappie, yellow perch, panfish, and bullhead.

The Medford Ranger District has several excellent fishing lakes and flowages; one of the flowages stands above the rest for good fishing. The Mondeaux Flowage supports fish species such as walleye, northern pike, large mouth bass, and panfish.

The Hayward Ranger District has many lakes to choose from, including Namekagon Lake. This lake supports fish species such as musky, northern pike, walleye, large mouth bass, small mouth bass, and panfish.

The Washburn Ranger District has many lakes to choose from, including Lake Owen. This lake supports a variety of fish species such as walleye, northern pike, large mouth bass, small mouth bass, crappie, yellow perch, panfish, and trout.

In the Glidden Ranger District you can find many lakes and streams just loaded with fish. One lake that stands out is East Twin Lake. This lake supports fish species such as musky, large mouth bass, perch, crappie, and panfish.

If you're looking for watchable wildlife, the Chequamegon has a corner on the market! This National Forest is known for its feathered inhabitants with seasonal display of neo-tropical migratory bird species and waterfowl. Each spring and fall, wildlife watchers, equipped with cameras and binoculars, flock to over 800 wetlands and streams to catch the show in flight! The Chequamegon has developed five prime areas: Chequamegon Waters Flowage; Popple Creek and Wilson Flowage; Day Lake; Lynch Creek and Moquah Pine Barrens. These special areas offer visitors interpretive wayside exhibits, auto tours, and brochures describing the wildlife that can be viewed.

Some of Wisconsin's best hunting opportunities for black bear, ruffed grouse, and white-tailed deer are in the Chequamegon National Forest! Populations of black bear vary from one year to the next, but on the average; more bears are harvested in or near the Chequamegon than any other part of the state. Glidden is the "Black Bear Capital of the World." Park Falls is also proclaimed as the "Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World" and offers yet another challenging pursuit for many visitors to the Forest. White-tailed deer populations are less in the Forest than in the southern part of the state, however, the Chequamegon is known for its trophy-sized animals.

Visitors seeking a secluded outdoor experience can find nearly 11,000 acres of wilderness in the Porcupine Lake and Rainbow Lake Wilderness Areas. Both of these wildernesses are quiet places reserved for foot travel and only the plaintive call of the loon breaks the silence and tranquility.

Semi-Primitive Areas
An additional 52,000 acres have been set aside as semi-primitive, non-motorized areas. Visitors who are looking for peace and solitude can find solace in these places as well. These areas differ from those designated wilderness in that they occasionally permit motorized equipment in for administrative and maintenance purposes.

Highlighted by its unique forest landscapes and abundant wetlands, the Chequamegon National Forest is a hiker's paradise. There are approximately 200 miles of developed trails open to hiking; mountain biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. Among the trails on the Chequamegon National Forest, the North Country Trail, the Ice Age Trail and the Rock Lake National Recreation Trail hold national significance and are part of the National Scenic Trail System.

The North Country Scenic Trail reaches from eastern New York to central North Dakota. A 60-mile section of this trail crosses the Chequamegon. The western portion of this trail system is highlighted by the scenic beauty of the Penokee-Gogebic Range. On the western segment of this trail, visitors discover the peaceful solitude of the Porcupine Lake and Rainbow Lake Wildernesses.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail stretches across Wisconsin with a 42-mile section passing through the Chequamegon. This trail follows the edge of the most recent glacial advance and is accented with scenic vistas of glacial wetlands.

In the Glidden Ranger District, St. Peter's Dome and Morgan Falls stands above the surrounding landscape at 1,710 ft. above sea level. This place is the second highest point in Wisconsin! Visitors are treated to a view of three states on the horizon from the Dome! The cool cascading water of Morgan Falls, tumble over an 80-foot cataract of black granite, as it winds its way down the valley.

Mountain Biking
The Chequamegon has outstanding mountain biking trail opportunities, designed to accommodate all ability levels. These trail clusters include a mix of single and double-tracks and have 15-30 miles per cluster, for a total of over 100 miles of trails in the Forest.

There is a cluster of trails in the Washburn District called the Drummond System. This system consists of four interconnecting loops ranging in length from 2.6 miles to 4.6 miles. There is also a cluster in the Hayward District called the Rock Lake Trail Cluster. This system consists of six interconnecting loops ranging in length from 1.2 miles to 9.9 miles.

Horseback Riding
Four trail systems beckon horseback riders to the Chequamegon National Forest. The Ice Age Trail and the North Country Trail are especially conducive to horseback riding and are second to none in scenic beauty.

In the Park Falls Ranger District there is a beautiful trail approximately 15 miles long. This trail is for horseback travel and all motor vehicle traffic is prohibited. There are several different places you can access this trail including Smith Rapids Campground, which also accommodates people who camp with their horses. The Flambeau Trail System, although open to motorized use, also gets its fair share of horseback enthusiasts. This trail intersects with the non-motorized trail and is 55 miles in length.

In the Medford Ranger District you can find the Perkinstown Motorized Trail. This motorized trail is used by many horseback riders every year. The trail corridor is 12 feet wide, with a trail width of 8 feet.

The Washburn Ranger District is probably the most highly recommended area for horseback riding. Being mostly comprised of sandy landscapes, this keeps the insects that irritate horses to a minimum. There are many trails to ride at the Mt. Valhalla Recreation Area, including snowmobile and cross-country ski trails.

When soft white snow carpets the Chequamegon National Forest, hiking gives way to cross-country skiing. It is then that winter casts its magic spell, beckoning skiers of all levels of ability to the excitement of cross-country skiing. If you enjoy the thrill of a challenging trail, the exhilaration of exercise, or the peace of the winter woods, 11 different trail systems, scattered throughout the Chequamegon, provide you with a beautiful opportunity to achieve it.

The Rock Lake Trail System provides the greatest variety of distances and challenges. The trails are groomed and vary in length and degree of skill required to ski them. Skate skiing is discouraged on groomed trails. In addition to groomed trails, unlimited miles of unplowed logging roads are available for cross-country skiers who enjoy blazing their own trail. There is no charge to use any of the Chequamegon National Forest ski trails.

ATV Trails
For the ATV and motorcycle enthusiast, the Chequamegon maintains over 200 miles of trails open to motorized use. Three separate trail systems, with adjoining loops, offer an exciting scenic tour of the Forest. Trails wind over rolling terrain, with towering forests and panoramic views of meadows and wetlands.

The Flambeau Trail can be found in the Park Falls District. This trail has five access points where vehicles and trailers can be safely parked. The trail has two interconnecting loops for a distance of 55 miles. This trail was ranked by a leading off-road vehicle magazine as the 14th best ATV trail in America!

The Washburn Ranger District has 53 miles of interconnecting loops, taking ATV riders to such places as the Sunbowl, Moquah Pine Barrens, and vistas that overlook the north shore of Lake Superior and the famous Apostle Islands.

For more of a challenge, there is the Dead Horse Run Trail in the Glidden District. This trail is 78 miles long, with several loops to choose from. There are two parking areas for this trail, one of which was a former CCC site used from 1934-1938.

In the Medford Ranger District you can find the Pekinstown Motorized Trail. This trail embraces the Chequamegon Waters Flowage and is 20.2 miles in length.

If snowmobiling is what you're after, the Chequamegon has over 300 miles of trails that are groomed on a weekly basis. These trail systems interconnect with county and state systems, increasing the options and miles available for the avid snowmobiler! In addition to the designated, there is nearly 1,000 miles of National Forest roads that are not plowed in the winter months and are open to snowmobile travel!

Scenic Driving
There are thousands of miles of paved and gravel roads in the Chequamegon National Forest that provide access to recreation areas and attractions. These roadways also provide visitors with endless opportunities to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Chequamegon landscapes and wildlife.

One special scenic drive in the Chequamegon is the Great Divide National Forest Scenic Byway. This roadway spans 29 miles on State Highway 77 through the heart of the Chequamegon National Forest.

The Great Divide Scenic Byway received its national designation for its stretch of rolling forested ridges which display forests of great diversity and a vast array of wildlife. Steeped in a rich cultural heritage, the region also displays unique cultural diversity and traditions dating back as early as 1000 B.C.

The Scenic Byway passes through the heart of the Chequamegon National Forest from the town of Glidden to the east to Lost Lake in the west. This popular travel route affords Forest visitors some of the best scenic driving Wisconsin has to offer. It also serves a wide range of multiple-use management practices necessary to accentuate forest growth and productivity, wildlife and fish management, and fire protection.

The Great Divide Scenic Byway corridor displays a variety of scenic, historic, and geologic features. Composed largely of granite and iron ore deposits, the Penokee Range forms a visible ridgeline known as the Great Divide that separates the water flowing south to the Mississippi River. Glacial remnants found in this region record some of the earliest as well as latest, chapters of geologic history found in the United States. It is this prominent landform that lays the foundation for the Scenic Byway and provides today's focal points—the Great Divide and its associated topography, natural, and cultural history. It was for this reason the Great Divide Scenic Byway was established.

Areas of Interest
Penokee Overlook - This unique scenic overlook located in the Glidden Ranger District offers you an opportunity to view the breathtaking remnants of an ancient mountain range. This platform is the first of its kind to be built in the Chequamegon National Forest. Atop this towering bluff you can view the panoramic Penokee Range, as well as wayside exhibits.

Wisconsin Timber Bridges - These bridges represent renewed interest in the development and use of one of Wisconsin's resources (wood) and enhances the scenic beauty of Wisconsin's landscape. Smith Rapids Covered Bridge and Teal River Bridge are two of the bridges located in the Forest.

Black Lake Trail - Following the Black Lake Trail is like reading a history book on logging. Interesting interpretive stops identify the unique logging history of the area in an engaging manner as you amble along history's path. Today, the cutting of timber is done in such a way as to ensure a supply of quality trees and wood products for future generations.

The Swedish Settlement - This 4-1/2 hour self-guided tour in the Marengo River Valley highlights three historic Swedish settlement sites. The Gust Welin Homestead, The Green Mountain School and The Calvin Beyzanson Homestead. You will learn interesting historical information about Swedish immigrant farming and logging practices.

Round Lake Log Driving Dam - A prominent vestige of the logging era, the Round Lake Log Dam was built by Frederick Weyerhauser to push a winter's log harvest to downstream mills and is the last remaining structure of its type in the state of Wisconsin.

Birkebeiner Ski Race - Held in February each year, this is the largest cross-country ski race in North America and is considered "The Boston Marathon" of cross-country ski races. The course runs over hilly terrain between the sides of Hayward and Cable, Wisconsin. Over 6,000 skiers hit the trail annually to experience the challenge of "The Birkie."

Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival - Come to the hub of mountain biking activity in the Midwest! This is the largest off-road bike race in the United States, and utilizes the Birkebeiner trail in summer.