Monthly Archives: May 2010

May 6, 2010

How to Spend a Rainy Day in the Northwoods

These Oneida County and Vilas County attractions really shine when it rains

Logging Museum in Rhinelander, Wisconsin

When you think about your summer vacation, I bet you don’t imagine it raining. But, Mother Nature doesn’t make her weather plans based on your vacation plans.

But if you’re vacationing in the Northwoods of Wisconsin when it rains—no problem. There’s plenty of rain-proof activities and attractions in Oneida County and Vilas County.

The largest population center in northeast Wisconsin’s Oneida County is Rhinelander, a community offering a long list of things to do, regardless of the weather. Shopping, going to a movie or heading to a restaurant are obvious answers to a summer thunderstorm. But Rhinelander also offers more than just than the usual rainy-day activities.

The Kovac Planetarium, located just a few minutes outside Rhinelander in the Town of Monico, is one of Wisconsin’s greatest wonders. The planetarium holds the distinction of being only the fourth globe-style planetarium ever built. It’s truly a sight to behold. Most incredibly, it is the work of one man — Frank Kovac — who designed and built it himself over the course of 10 years.

Visitors to the Kovac Planetarium will be treated to a 90-minute experience in which they’ll see the complete rotation of the night sky as it would appear through a 24-hour period. The planetarium is open year-round by reservation only, and accommodates up to 25 people. It’s a fascinating show — and one you shouldn’t necessarily wait for a rainy day to see.

Throughout the summer, Wisconsin River Cruises gives you a chance to see the Northwoods aboard the Wilderness Queen. Gaze at the osprey, eagles and wooded shores as you cruise the Wisconsin River near Rhinelander. You’ll be protected from the elements on the lower level of the boat. But if the rain lets up, you can head to the open-air upper deck. Wisconsin River Cruises offers sightseeing, dinner and Sunday brunch cruises.

The story of the community of Rhinelander is intertwined with the logging industry. Learn about the history of Rhinelander and the Northwoods at the Logging Museum Complex at Pioneer Park. The museum recreates an authentic logging camp, bringing to life the world of the 1800s lumberjack through artifacts and displays. The museum is open daily from Labor Day to Memorial Day.

Learn more about Rhinelander’s rainy-day attractions at www.explorerhinelander.com.

For complete information on Oneida County, including a downloadable list of “Rainy Day Activities,” visit www.oneidacountywi.com.

Shop in Boulder JunctionIn nearby Vilas County, you’ll also find great activities that are perfect for a rainy summer afternoon.

Snowmobiling is alive and well in St. Germain, even in the summertime. Take a visit to St. Germain’s International Snowmobile Hall of Fame, which offers a collection of historic snowmobiles and exhibits showcasing the history of snowmobiling.

Eagle River is home to the Northwoods Children’s Museum, which features hands-on activities for kids. The museum houses more than 22 exhibits, ranging from a medical center exhibit to a giant bubble station. Parts of the museum change on a seasonal basis, helping to keep things interesting for repeat visitors.

Minocqua is home to the Dr. Kate Newcomb museum, which tells the fascinating story of Dr. Kate, also known as the “Angel on Snowshoes.” This fearless physician provided medical care to residents of the Northwoods and even helped build the area’s first hospital.

For more information on other interesting indoor attractions in Vilas County, visit www.vilas.org.

Another good destination on a rainy day is downtown Boulder Junction.  The town’s main thoroughfare hasn’t changed much in the last fifty years or so and maintains an historic charm that visitors love. Shops, galleries and even an ice cream shop make Boulder Junction a good spot to hunker down and wait out the weather.

Get a complete list of Boulder Junction shops and restaurants at www.boulderjct.org.

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May 6, 2010

Paddle Your Way to Another World

The Black River and Willow Flowage are Wisconsin’s most alluring paddling opportunities

KayakingThere’s something about a canoeing or kayaking adventure that transports a paddler to a different time and place. Something about the simple watercraft combined with the rhythm of the paddle and the natural surroundings makes paddling a true escape from reality.

For the paddler looking to really get away from it all, you can’t do better than the Black River in western Wisconsin and the Willow Flowage in the Northwoods.

Perched at the northernmost reaches of Wisconsin’s driftless country — a geological region of the state that was left unaffected by the steamroller effect of the glaciers — Black River Country combines elements of the un-glaciated region and the Northwoods to create a scenic variety that is unmatched.  This beautiful part of Wisconsin takes its name from the Black River, which flows for 160 miles to its confluence with the Mississippi River.

In the section of the Black River near Black River Falls, the river cuts its way through a rugged and picturesque wilderness, offering wide bends, scenic rock outcroppings and numerous sandbars.

The sandbars are one of the many reasons why paddlers love this river. A sandbar in the middle of the Black River is the perfect place for camping, picnicking or soaking up rays and sunbathing away the afternoon. Up and down the river, you’ll find these inviting bits of sandy real estate.

Popular paddling routes on the Black River range from two to five hours. Paddlers who are in no rush and want to camp along the way could spend several days or even a week on the river.

If you’re an angler, you’ll want to bring your fishing rod. The smallmouth bass fishing on the Black River is fantastic. Northern pike and musky also inhabit river—so be ready for a fight.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable paddling trip, head to the Black River this summer. Find more information on paddling the beautiful Black River at www.blackrivercountry.net.

Autumn Sunrise, Oneida County, WIFor a very different paddling experience, head north. In heavily forested, highly-undeveloped region west of Rhinelander, the 6,400-acre Willow Flowage spreads out across the wilderness in a series of lakes, pools and backwaters.

For those looking for a “Boundary Waters” type paddling experience, the Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area is an affordable alternative to taking the drive up to the Canadian border. Paddlers on the Willow Flowage can access 117 islands that dot the waters and 35 remote, semi-primitive campsites that are available to paddlers on a first come, first serve basis.

Walleye, musky, crappie, largemouth and smallmouth bass and northern pike are found throughout the flowage. Deer, bald eagles, beaver, loons and blue heron flourish in this protected natural area. While some powerboats are present on the Willow Flowage, boat access to the flowage is somewhat limited. In general, paddlers will not feel pressured by boat traffic. Overall, it’s an excellent paddling destination. Best of all, there are no fees or registration to use the campsites.

Get complete information for planning a trip to Willow Flowage by visiting www.explorerhinelander.com.

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May 6, 2010

Summertime Birdwatching Hotspots

Birdwatchers should head to the Mississippi River, the Horicon Marsh and the Musky Capital of the World™

PelicansWhile the spring and fall migrations offer Wisconsin birdwatchers a chance to see hundreds of different species of birds, the summer brings its own special birdwatching opportunities. Summer is a time when birds nest and raise their young, giving birdwatchers a chance to see a variety of waterfowl, songbird and raptor species. Three of the Badger State’s best summer birding opportunities are the Wisconsin Great River Road, the Horicon Marsh in Dodge County and Boulder Junction.

The Wisconsin Great River Road runs through the Mississippi River corridor along Wisconsin’s western border, connecting birdwatchers with some of the best natural areas in the nation.

Near the southern end of the Wisconsin Great River Road, birdwatchers will find Wyalusing State Park. Located just two miles south of Prairie du Chien at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers, Wyalusing is perhaps the best place in Wisconsin for seeing Kentucky, cerulean and yellow-throated Warblers. Birdwatchers will also have a chance to see prothonotary warblers, Bell ‘s vireos, Henslow’s sparrows, wild turkeys, red-shouldered Hawks, turkey vultures and bald eagles.

Near the halfway point of the Wisconsin Great River Road, the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge is home to some of the finest wetland birding in North America. This 6,200-acre preserve offers a four-mile wildlife driving tour, an interpretive center, and an observation deck overlooking an incredible wetland where black terns hover over their unique floating nests and great blue herons stalk the shallows.

In the refuge’s prairie and woodland habitat, look for sparrows, including grasshopper, lark, savannah and field sparrows. Other species include cuckoos, sandhill cranes, dickcissels, bobolinks, northern shrike, pileated woodpeckers, woodcocks and northern harriers. Stop by the interpretive center for maps of the refuge.

In the northern half of the Wisconsin Great River Road, just north of the charming town of Alma, you’ll find Rieck’s Lake Park. The park is located at the mouth of the Buffalo River, which spills into the Mississippi River in a complex of sloughs and wetlands. A boardwalk and observation platforms make it easy to get a close look at the wetland’s many avian residents. Bald eagles are a common sight, as are American white pelicans, shorebirds, egrets and wood ducks.

Find a complete list of Wisconsin Great River Road birdwatching opportunities at www.wigreatriverroad.org.


The Horicon Marsh in southeast Wisconsin’s Dodge County is affectionately called the “Little Everglades of the North.” The 32,000-acre wetland is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States and an outstanding birdwatching destination.

Birders should begin their explorations in the federal refuge, which constitutes the northern half of the Horicon Marsh. The refuge was originally established as a nesting area for the redhead duck, which has flourished in the optimal habitat afforded by the marsh. Visitors to the refuge have a number of observation areas and trails to choose from, including the Horicon TernPike Auto Tour in the northwest quadrant of the marsh, just off Hwy 49.

A short drive or hike on the TernPike will take you to the floating boardwalk, where birdwatchers are afforded a water-level view of some of the best wetland birdwatching east of the Mississippi River. On a warm summer day, the sound of birds, frogs and insects is a roaring soundtrack. Mother Nature is thriving here. Notable summer bird species include sora rails, bitterns, white pelicans, ruddy ducks and—of course—redhead ducks, to name only a few species.

At the southern end of the marsh, birdwatchers can take a pontoon boat tour through Horicon Marsh Boat Tours, which offers guided birdwatching trips throughout the summer months. Canoe and kayak rentals are also available—paddling can be an excellent way to reach some of the marsh’s most secluded channels and backwaters.

For more information on the Horicon Marsh, visit www.horiconmarsh.com.


HeronFor nearly a century, anglers have been heading up to the small town of Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, for a chance to tangle with the area’s musky. The fishing in the Boulder Junction is well known among savvy anglers throughout the Midwest.

But equally impressive is the birdwatching. The Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest and dozens of nearby State Natural Areas that surround the small community help to protect some of Wisconsin’s rarest types of woodland habitat.

While a “second-growth dry mesic forest” and an “old growth mature mesic forest,” might not mean much to most of us human beings, the distinction between the various types of forest is fundamentally important to our feathered friends.

Certain birds depend solely on a particular type of forest or wetland environment. The list of habitat types represented around Boulder Junction is incredibly diverse, which allows the area to support a huge range of birds, including some rare woodland species.

For birdwatchers looking to check off some rare woodland birds on their lifetime lists, Boulder Junction would be a great place to visit.

For example, early-summer visitors to the Allequash Lake and Pines State Natural Area, located in the state forest a few minutes south of Boulder Junction, might have a chance to see a Nashville warbler, magnolia warbler, black-throated green warbler, Blackburnian warbler, pine warbler, black and white warbler, ovenbird, and scarlet tanager, as well as more commonly seen species such as the broad-winged hawk, eastern wood pewee, and least flycatcher, species which thrive in this mature second-growth dry-mesic forest. Birdwatchers equipped with a canoe or kayak will improve their chances of seeing wood duck, osprey, sora rail and belted kingfisher.

Another wonderful birdwatching location is Trout Lake Conifer Swamp, located south of Boulder Junction. The 25-acre natural area is classified by biologists as a mature northern wet-mesic forest, a habitat type which is composed mainly of cedar, spruce, balsam and fir trees. Nesting warblers in the Trout Lake Conifer Swamp include Nashville, black and white, Blackburnian, black-throated green, yellow-rumped, and northern parula. The damp sphagnum moss that carpets the forest floor helps to support a number of rare plants, including several species of orchids and a number of bog plants.

Several area trails afford birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts a great chance to search for birds as they trek through miles of forest. Be sure to check out the Escanaba-Pallette Lakes Trail, the Fallison Lake Trail and the Lumberjack Trail.

But the most exciting woodland sighting for many nature lovers visiting Boulder Junction isn’t of the winged variety. The area is home to an unusual number of albino deer. If you have a chance to see one of these elusive white creatures, you will never forget it.

For more information about visiting Boulder Junction and planning your own birdwatching trip, visit www.boulderjct.org.

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