Last weekend, Terry and I headed up to Vilas County, Wisconsin, the infamous “northwoods” to experience the “peak” of the fall color in the woods. The weather was predicted to be fabulous, better than we had a right to hope for in early October, with abundant sunshine as well.
Setting out about 10 am on Saturday from where we were staying about 7 miles east of the city of Eagle River, we hiked further east until we reached our destination, the Anvil Trail System.
Maintained by the National Forest Service, the Anvil Trails are located just inside the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Comprising just over 12 miles, the trails vary from mostly level to very hilly. Terrific hiking and mountain biking may be enjoyed here in the summer and fall, but in the winter the trails are groomed for both diagonal and skating techniques to provide some of the best cross-country skiing in the area. While I enjoy skiing, I prefer hiking these trails to skiing them, as even the easiest trail can be a bit treacherous to negotiate on skis in certain spots. Terry, however, is an avid cross-country skier and uses these trails to do the bulk of his training for the 52 Kilometer Birkebeiner Ski Race he completes every year in Hayward, WI.
We head in on the West trail, which is approximately 3.5 kilometers in length. As it is closest to where we usually hike in, we often take this trail down to the little cabin that sits at its end, where a number of other trails intersect. Also maintained by the NFS, the cabin contains only a single bench and a massive hearth.
On weekend days during the winter months, the rangers start a toasty fire to warm skiers and snowshoers making their way into the cabin and stopping for a brief rest or a bit of lunch. They also stock the cabin with birdseed for visitors to feed to the tiny finches who winter in the area that will eat it right out of your hand.
Simply getting to the little cabin on this trail can be a challenge in the winter, however. While most of it is simply rolling, just before the descent to the cabin, the trail encounters a double down-hill with a wicked curve in the middle that has done me in more times than I care to count. As if that’s not enough, the run-out from the final downhill ends in a stand of pine trees unless you are able to negotiate a second curve to either the right or left to avoid them. This final turn takes you down yet another little hill and right into your fellow skiers who are lounging, snacking or feeding the birds near the cabin. As I said, I much prefer hiking this particular trail to skiing it!
After stopping to check out the cabin and admire the large stock of split wood prepared for the cold weather, we head up the East trail, also 3.5 kilometers in length. Other options for continuing on our way would be the Lake Loop and Devil’s Run, which also intersect at the cabin. The Lake Loop circles out and returns to the cabin so would not take us further on our journey. Devil’s Run is a trail for experienced skiers and mountain bikers only, well labeled with caution signs along its length. Never brave (or foolish?) enough to ski the trail, we did hike it on a previous fall excursion and the terrain varied so rapidly and steeply that it was not enjoyable even to hike!
On our way out, we choose to take the East Trail which leads back in the direction we started. As an option, however, this time we pick up Nine-mile Trail when it intersects the East Trail a short distance after leaving the cabin. More rolling than the East trail, it parallels the former so we are headed in the same direction. While we are in a mixed hardwood and evergreen forest, all the leaves of the deciduous trees here turn bright yellow in the fall; the aspen, the oak and the soft maple. When they finally fall to the forest floor, they take on a slightly more golden hue. It is like hiking on a sea of gold in a forest of yellow.
Read more about Wisconsin campgrounds and things to do in Wisconsin.