Outstanding off-the-trail opportunities for the winter trekker
One of the most exhilarating aspects of snowshoeing is the ability to explore places that would be completely inaccessible during the spring, summer and fall. With a good layer of snow and a pair of snowshoes, you can explore millions of acres of wilderness in Wisconsin.
Snowshoers will find an increasing number of designated snowshoeing trails. Snowshoeing is generally allowed alongside cross-country ski trails, and there are many places where snowshoers have exclusive reign.
In addition to great snowshoeing trails, Wisconsin offers outstanding backcountry snowshoeing. For the snowshoer willing to leave the trail, the trekking options are nearly endless. Snowshoes allow you to travel into areas seldom—if ever—visited by others. In a world where so much of the landscape is mapped, paved and occupied, it is thrilling to go where the land is still wild.
Ready to go? Here are four of Wisconsin’s best snowshoeing destinations.
Northwoods Wilderness Gem
Vilas County in Wisconsin’s Northwoods is home to the Northern Highland-America Legion State Forest. This 225,000-acre forest protects the headwaters of the Wisconsin, Flambeau and Manitowish Rivers. It is also home to hundreds of crystal clear lakes.
Most winter visitors come to this beautiful state forest for the numerous designated trails. The cross-country skiing trails are among the best in the state. Several nature trails provide excellent snowshoeing as well, including Fallision, Star Lake, Lumberjack and North Trout Lake trails.
But for the truly adventurous snowshoer, the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest represents one of the finest wilderness playgrounds in the Midwest. Many miles of logging roads cross through the forest, providing access to remote areas. And with the lakes and most of the streams frozen over, there’s little hindering you from crossing the landscape in nearly any direction you choose.
Find information for planning your Northwoods snowshoeing adventure at www.vilas.org.
Kettle Moraine State Forest – West Bend
West Bend is known for its charming downtown and interesting museums. But it’s also the perfect hub for snowshoeing trips into the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
The Kettle Moraine State Forest protects some of Wisconsin’s best glacial landforms. It’s a popular cross-country skiing destination, with three excellent ski trail systems. Snowshoers will also find excellent trekking on the Moraine Nature Trail, Tamarack Nature Trail, Parnell Trail, Butler Lake Trail and the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
For the backcountry snowshoer, the forest offers 30,000 acres of rolling hills and forests. The central part of the forest is dominated by lakes. The landscape varies from gently sloping hills to steep ridges and distinct earthen mounds. It’s scenic country.
Get trip planning information for West Bend at www.wbachamber.org.
The Magnificent Marsh
During the winter, the nation’s largest freshwater cattail marsh, located in Dodge County, becomes the perfect place for snowshoeing.
A mosaic of uplands, wetlands and open water, Horicon Marsh is nearly impossible to traverse during the spring, summer and fall. But after things freeze up, snowshoers have the run of the land.
While the northern half of the marsh is protected as a wildlife refuge, the southern half is open to exploration. As you snowshoe over the frozen marsh, you’ll be surprised by all the animal footprints you see in the snow. Hawks can often be seen soaring overhead. Beneath the ice, muskrats are going about their business. The marsh doesn’t sleep—even in the winter.
Learn more about the Horicon Marsh by visiting www.horiconmarsh.com.
Outstanding Oneida County
There are at least eleven different snowshoeing opportunities in Oneida County, both along designated nature trails or alongside cross-country ski trails (which are among the state’s best).
Seasoned trail trekkers know that winter in the Northwoods has a special beauty that can be found nowhere else. The snow clinging to the pines, the wind-swept blueberry bogs, the stillness beneath a hemlock grove—there seems to be a picturesque quality to everything during the winter.
No matter where you plan to stay in Oneida County, you’re never more than a fifteen-minute drive from a trail. Trails range from 1 to 18 miles, giving you a variety of options.
Find Oneida County trail maps at www.oneidacountywi.com.
Bonus: Middleton’s Fabulous Pheasant Branch Conservancy
While this final snowshoeing opportunity isn’t a true backcountry experience, it is well worth mentioning. The vibrant community of Middleton is located just minutes from Wisconsin’s State Capitol, but Middleton’s Pheasant Branch Conservancy seems worlds away. Trails run throughout the conservancy, connecting snowshoers with forests, meadows and observation platforms. In addition to the conservancy trails, snowshoers should check out Middleton’s award-winning community trail system.
Learn more about Middleton and the Pheasant Branch Conservancy at www.visitmiddleton.com.