West of the north-south State Highway 13 and south of Lake Superior is an area dominated by national forest, scenic rivers running toward the Mississippi rather than the Big Lake, and a plethora of little lakes that almost rivals the Minocqua area. At the heart is Hayward, a former lumber industry mecca that now courts vacationers – just as likely to be from Minnesota as Wisconsin – instead of loggers.
Where to Stay
15 MILES EAST OF HAYWARD
Treeland Resorts is a family business that has grown into a network of lodging and dining along the shores of the 15,300-acre Lake Chippewa Flowage. Their cabins range in size from cozy couple retreats to five-room group vacation homes.
7 MILES EAST OF CABLE
Cable Nature Lodge is a quiet little inn set on 22 acres in the midst of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, with trails radiating out from the lodge and the Rock Lake and Forest Lodge trailheads within a few miles. An onsite pub offers dining, and the seven rooms gleam with cedar and pine wood.
9 MILES EAST OF HAYWARD
Grand Pines Resort offers an assortment of beautiful cabins with fireplaces, full kitchens and whirlpools, as well as motel-style rooms in the central lodge. Many summer and fall cabin rentals include access to a pontoon boat that can be used to cruise 3,000-acre Round Lake. Fishing lessons are available for kids – as well as adults looking to master fly fishing.
Where to Camp
The Great Divide District within the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest has seven recreation areas that offer camping, typically along a small lake in the woods. All sites are rustic – no electricity, only a shared water pump and vault toilet – but seriously beautiful and secluded. A handful of free, first-come-first-served sites along the Namekagon and St. Croix rivers within the National Scenic Riverway are only accessible by boat or canoe.
2 MILES NORTH OF MELLEN
Featuring two campgrounds with nicely separated sites, Copper Falls State Park near Mellen draws visitors for its two major waterfalls and observation tower. But don’t miss the oft-overlooked cascading rapids on the Bad River or the North Country National Scenic Trail segment among the total 17 miles of trails.
Eat and Drink
10432 STATE HWY. 77, 15 MILES WEST OF HAYWARD
Here’s your prime rib hookup on Saturday nights, and the melt-in-your-mouth filet and pork cutlet come recommended. But beyond the expected relish trays are two great surprises: a rare offering of duck and their most popular dish, seafood tortellini.
14385 COUNTY HWY. H, 5 MILES SOUTHEAST OF IRON RIVER
This restored 1940s Silk City Diner has national cred from the Food Network and offers diner classics with creative twists and a Friday fish fry. A new outdoor Jamaican jerk pit and Quonset/container-style pavilion serving beers from Superior’s excellent Earth Rider Brewery makes it a destination in its own right.
15820 US HWY. 63, DOWNTOWN HAYWARD
Moccasin Bar is the quirky, beer-and-bloody-type place to wet your whistle while you admire the taxidermy remains of a world record musky, on display along with a menagerie of other stuffed woodland critters – a couple of which are playing poker. Food may be limited to pickled turkey gizzards.
Stuff to Do
Take a day paddle on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The Namekagon is a major tributary that joins the St. Croix just upstream of the Minnesota border. A bit more than a lazy river, the current is still novice-friendly as it flows through a green corridor so pristine, you’ll think you’re miles from civilization. Outfitters in Cable and Hayward (like Hayward Water Sports, haywardoutfitters.com) can put you on the water with a kayak or canoe and provide shuttle runs.
From a herd of 25 introduced in 1995, the elk population near Clam Lake has expanded to more than 250. Take a scenic early morning or evening wildlife drive along State Highway 77 and County Highway GG. A digital kiosk where the two roads meet offers spotting guides, maps and directions to viewing areas.
Pontoon boat rides are a Wisconsin pastime, and if your lakeside resort doesn’t have one for you, contact Bear Country Rentals. In addition to pontoons, they rent just about any other watercraft and deliver them to lakes around Cable, Drummond and a bit of the Hayward area, including Chippewa Flowage.
15640 W. COUNTY HWY. B, HAYWARD
Fred Scheer’s Lumberjack Show is also home to the Lumberjack World Championships. The five-time weekly shows combine feats of strength, skill and log-rolling agility with no lack of comic moments. Demonstrations include power and cross-cut sawing, the pole climb, underhand chop, ax throwing and the risky springboard chop.
The remote Eau Claire Chain of Lakes (about 100 miles north of the city of the same name) comprises 11 connected lakes and streams covering 10,000 acres and is considered northwestern Wisconsin’s hotspot for trophy fish. Expect to catch crappies, large- and smallmouth bass, perch, walleye, plentiful panfish and – if you’re lucky and intentional about it – walleye and musky.
There’s no more intense way of communing with the wilderness than pedaling a mountain bike through it. Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association maintains over 50 miles of single-track and nearly as many miles of wider trails for novices and experts alike. Its website offers maps and a listing of area bike shops that provide rentals.
Rainy Day Casino
13767 COUNTY HWY. B, 5 MILES EAST OF HAYWARD
This region, anchored by Minocqua, is perhaps the quintessential Up North experience. To the north and west of that “island city” is a vast and pristine wilderness with lakes more densely packed together than any other part of Wisconsin. And expansive state and tribal lands are well preserved so that the green space keeps up with the blue.
Where to Stay
1 MILE WEST OF HAZELHURST
Thirteen two- to four-bedroom cabins line up along the shore of Lower Kaubashine Lake, and the resort offers canoes and kayaks, a sauna and a resident birding expert. Just 10 minutes in different directions takes you to Minocqua and the fishing and paddling havens of the Rainbow and Willow flowages.
4 MILES NORTHEAST OF MINOCQUA
Looking out over Big Arbor Vitae Lake, these five cabins each have private docks and share a sandy beach and fish cleaning house. Canoes and rowboats are included, and pontoons, fishing boats, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are for rent.
With abundant and spectacular carvings and clever designs, the log cabins here stand out among others. The site isn’t on a lake, but it’s located right on the scenic 52-mile paved county trail, and within walking distance from the shops, restaurants and taverns of Boulder Junction.
Where to Camp
4 MILES SOUTHEAST OF WOODRUFF
Situated on the west shore of its namesake, the modern Clear Lake Campground is one of 18 campgrounds within the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest. Clear Lake has 101 reservable sites, showers, a sandy beach and a boat landing. Two trail systems connect here – one paved, one mountain-bike. Reservable hike-in primitive sites lie on the east side of the lake.
3 MILES NORTH OF BOULDER JUNCTION
Also within Northern Highland-American Legion is the first-come-first-served North Trout Lake Campground – 48 rustic sites in a couple of loops on a rise above the eastern shore of Trout Lake. The park has a nature trail, and the paved Heart of Vilas County Trail passes the entrance.
Eat and Drink
142 US HWY. 51, MANITOWISH WATERS
Classic supper club meets museum thanks to a 1934 shootout here between John Dillinger and the FBI. A window still shows bullet holes. The pork schnitzel is popular, and fish fries are featured on both Wednesdays and Fridays with Lake Superior whitefish among the options.
123 RANDALL AVE., RHINELANDER
A third-generation pasty-maker opened this spot dedicated to the pocket meal popular with the region’s historical miners and its visitors today. Besides the traditional and Cornish pasties, Joe’s offers several modern variations, like a Hatch green chili chicken pie. Get ’em hot or take ’em home frozen.
10450 MAIN ST., BOULDER JUNCTION
Your best bet for craft beer selection Up North has a cool gastropub-by-Northwoods vibe, and Aqualand’s deep-fryer-less menu is a nice change of pace, too.
Stuff to Do
Boulder Junction is the self-proclaimed Musky Capital of the World. Your best bet of catching one may be Big Saint Germain Lake, one of the largest lakes in the area, giving a resident big fish room to grow even bigger. (Muskies are most often pursued in September and October.) A guide from a service like Captain Hooks Guides (caphooks.com) can provide the boat and equipment, take you to proven fishing holes and tell you what to do once you get there. All you’ll need is a fishing license.
The mighty Wisconsin River is a bit more modest near its northerly headwaters. Sign up with Wildwood Outdoor Adventures in Eagle River for a lazy inner tube float on the Wisconsin heading west out of town. Kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards are options if those are more your speed.
2 MILES SOUTH OF DOWNTOWN MINOCQUA
Ever wanted to trek through the treetops and fly through woods and over lakes? Northwoods Zip Line, 2 miles south of downtown Minocqua, offers that opportunity with its flagship 3½-hour tour. Other options are crafted for young children, and Northwoods also offers ATV, kayak and “aerial trekking” tours.
Northern Highland-American Legion is Wisconsin’s largest state forest, counting more than 900 lakes (!!) across its 236,000 acres. With 12 hiking trails, not to mention miles and miles of old logging roads, it is a trekker’s dream, so dense with lakes that most trails have some sort of water view – sooner or later.
The Lakeland Area Mountain Biking Organization, based in Woodruff, promotes the myriad silent-sport trails, including the Raven Trail, a system of four loops within the NHAL State Forest, with single-track and flow trails – downhill runs that allow you to ride fast with minimal pedaling.
EAST OF MINOCQUA
Birding is big in the north. Check out the Rainbow Flowage east of Minocqua, a Wisconsin Important Bird Area. It’s home to a wide variety of species, and a likely place to spot bald eagles and ospreys. Another great site is the 4,300-acre Powell Marsh Wildlife Area between Lac du Flambeau and Manitowish Waters.
Rainy Day Casino
510 OLD ABE ROAD, LAC DU FLAMBEAU
The most developed section of Wisconsin’s Northwoods still has plenty of pockets of wilderness and the bonus of a lot to do. Small towns are scattered throughout the forest, many along the vacationer-pumping arteries of US 141 and US 8. The vibe here is casual and familiar, with most amenities geared more toward cottage-owning residents of eastern Wisconsin than shorter-term visitors.
Where to Stay
2 MILES NORTH OF DOWNTOWN EAGLE RIVER
Launch a free-to-guests canoe, kayak or rowboat to explore the connected chain of several lakes east of Eagle River, or take advantage of the many amenities on site, including tennis, pickleball, sand volleyball and other sports, as well as firepits and a playground for the kids.
12 MILES NORTHWEST OF CRIVITZ
Located on the sprawling High Falls Reservoir, this quaint resort has a variety of lodging options. Of particular interest to anglers, a fish cleaning station and fillet freezing services are available.
3 MILES SOUTH OF WABENO
Most of the lodgings in this neck of the woods are mom-and-pop shops that might book up quickly or leave a bit to be desired for amenities. But if you’re traveling kid-less (at press time no guests under 18 were allowed), this casino hotel still has plenty of Northwoods vibe to it, with clean, modern rooms in the heart of all the Up North action.
Where to Camp
12 MILES EAST OF EAGLE RIVER
A campground on the National Register of Historic Places? Yep, the popular 77-site Franklin Lake Recreation Area has one built by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps on a large, mostly undeveloped lake 12 miles east of Eagle River. Trails snake into the surrounding woods, where some of the massive pines and hemlocks are up to 400 years old.
Anchoring the northeastern corner of Up North, Marinette County has six campgrounds, each with its own feel, in its county parks. Four of the smaller and simpler campgrounds are near waterfalls on the Thunder or Peshtigo rivers. Twin Bridge Park Campground offers modern amenities on the High Falls Flowage, and Morgan Park Campground has a great beach on Timms Lake.
Eat and Drink
15649 MAIDEN LAKE RD., 2 MILES SOUTH OF LAKEWOOD
On a pristine lake sits one of the Northwoods’ most renowned supper clubs, boasting a classic surf-and-turf menu, a killer fish fry and a view to match. 15649 Maiden Lake Rd., 2 miles south of Lakewood
502 S. LAKE AVE., DOWNTOWN CRANDON
At the spot to fill up for a lumberjack’s breakfast before tackling a full Northwoods day, the hash browns are spectacular in both quality and quantity.
N10120 PARKWAY RD., 15 MILES NORTHWEST OF CRIVITZ
You see supper club and think one thing, but do yourself a favor and try the fantastic pizza at this lively bar. It’s just up the road from the Caldron Falls Bar and Grill, notorious for its annual pig wrestling event.
Stuff to Do
Outboard motor aside, you’ll feel like one of the voyageurs exploring Marinette County’s winding Caldron Falls and High Falls flowages at water level. Their shores are nearly entirely undeveloped and open for public access. You can embark for a picnic on one of the many boulder-strewn islands, or drop anchor and set up on lawn chairs in one of the sand bar shallows. Boats can be rented at multiple spots on either reservoir; Popp’s Resort on High Falls offers multiple options starting at $165 a day.
Aside from their great taste, there’s magic in finding a wild berry and popping it in your mouth right off the stem. Berry picking begins Up North with strawberries in mid- to late June. A great option, especially for families with young kids, is a pick-your-own farm like Wojtkiewicz Strawberry Acres, N7235 Hideaway Ln., just west of Crivitz. Wild blueberries are ripe for most of July – check out the trailsides of Governor Thompson State Park. And in August, raspberries and blackberries can be found along many northern roadsides (just make sure it’s not private property), and among the beautiful vistas of Thunder Mountain Park.
Marinette County bills itself as the waterfall capital of Wisconsin, and you can make a day of it with a DIY driving and hiking waterfall tour. Start at Veterans Falls west of Crivitz, then venture north to the Peshtigo River’s McClintock Rapids at McClintock Park and Strong Falls at Goodman Park. Head east toward Amberg and Dave’s Falls, and then mosey north to Long Slide Falls north of Pembine. Forested hiking trails – some official, some not – offering different vantage points surround most of these cascades.
Speaking of waterfalls, would you like to go down one? Ride the whitewater of the Wolf River with a raft day trip from Shotgun Eddy – named for the nearby rapids, not a guy. They’ll provide the equipment, a quick lesson on how to handle yourself in the two- or four-person rafts, and the transportation back from your journey’s endpoint. The most popular trip is a six-hour, 12-mile tour that includes class 3-4 rapids, though shorter, more relaxing options are available as well.
5068 US HWY. 8, LAONA
The lumber from Up North built much of Wisconsin, and the Lumberjack Steam Train & Camp 5 Museum in Laona brings that history alive. A century-old steam locomotive pulls a train of visitors from the Soo Line depot to the site of an old logging camp that now hosts a museum, blacksmith shop, petting zoo and more.
2 MILES SOUTHWEST OF LAKEWOOD ON CATHEDRAL LANE
If you’re looking for a nature experience bordering on the spiritual, check out the aptly named Cathedral Pines State Natural Area. It’s 40 acres of massive old-growth – meaning never-logged – trees, some as old as 400 years. As if that weren’t majestic enough, among the tops of these soaring pines and hemlocks are many nests of great blue herons, 4-foot-tall wading birds whose eggshells litter the forest floor.
618 STATE HWY. 32, 4 MILES SOUTH OF WABENO