We took a detour from our recent hike on the Anvil Trail System near Eagle River in the northwoods of Wisconsin. Enjoying the peak color weekend, we had decided to spend the afternoon hiking along the trail system that we have come to enjoy during all seasons. On our way back from the excursion to the little cabin, however, we deviated from the Nine-Mile Trail on the Anvil System and headed onto the adjoining Northwoods Trail System.
While the Anvil Trails are maintained by the National Forest Service, the Northwoods Trails are maintained by the Hidden Lakes Bicycle Club during warmer months and groomed for skiing by a private interest during the winter. A bit less traveled than the Anvil System, we took the opportunity to hike for miles, alone with our dogs and our thoughts. We were not disappointed.
The Northwoods System is known in part as the Hidden Lakes Trail System as it winds around Butternut and Franklin Lakes that are all but hidden from public view. Similar to Anvil, this system boasts terrific cross country skiing trails for both skating and diagonal stride during winter months and challenging mountain bike and hiking trails during summer and fall. The trails are closed to all motorized vehicles during all seasons, so it is safe to hike, bike, run and ski.
It is the Butternut Lake Trail that connects the system to the Anvil Trails. Other trails in the system include the Narrow Gauge Trail, the Ash Meadow Trail, the Roller Coaster, which is aptly named and somewhat reminiscent of Anvil’s Devil’s Run Trail, and the Pat Shay Trail, a beautiful, wide trail that I have delicious memories of skiing one winter afternoon at dusk with snowflakes gently falling and catching on my eyelashes. The Pat Shay also passes by Pat Shay Lake, where we picnicked with our oldest daughter in the snow one March when she was about four years old, another very special memory.
In years past, a club house at the center of the trail system had been managed by a young couple who would welcome chilled skiers to warm themselves by a toasty fire burning in a woodstove. They would serve homemade soup and fresh backed bread to skiers every weekend. Sadly, they have moved on, but I think of them often when we are out on the trails.
As we head out on Butternut Trail, we pass a creek (perhaps Nine-Mile Creek?) on which we have often seen evidence of beaver activity. One March we came upon beavers actually swimming in the water, quite a surprising and delightful experience. Today, there is no activity so, as it is 75 degrees, and the puppies are warm and thirsty, we let them jump in and drink their fill. We continue on, hoping to reach Pat Shay Lake so we can again picnic there. Alas, after we have been hiking for three hours we can see from the well-marked trail signs that we still have quite a long way to go, so we decide to enjoy our apples, almonds, dried cherries and peanuts at a different spot, then head back. We will save Pat Shay for another day.
We are not disappointed as we turn back. We have had a delightful day on these “roads less traveled.” It turns out our hike took just over five hours, a bit longer than we had planned. But is there anything you would rather be doing on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon at the height of the fall color? I think not! And during that time, we saw only three other human beings: a father and his two high school student children who were running the trails at Anvil. We had the Northwoods Trail System entirely to ourselves! It doesn’t get much better than that!
Read more about Wisconsin camping and things to do in northern Wisconsin.