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A (b)log of Natural Resources Info


What to do in the Northern Highland State Forest


The Northern Highland American Legion (or NHAL) State Forest covers over 200,000 acres across Vilas, Oneida, and Iron counties. While the name is big, the opportunities for recreation are even bigger! This forest has something to offer all outdoor enthusiasts year-round. Here’s a list of recommendations for things to do and places to go in the NHAL in each season. 


If you’re going to be a resident of the Northwoods, you’re going to have to find a way to enjoy winter! My favorite way to enjoy (or sometimes tolerate) the season is to do silent sports out on the trails in the winter.  

  • Madeline LakeMadeline Lake (right): Just east of Woodruff, this trail system offers several loops of varying length for cross-country skiers (both skate and classic) to enjoy.  Overall, the terrain is flat to gently rolling, though there are a couple of bigger hills- perfect for beginning to intermediate skiers!


  • Raven Trails: One of my favorite things about this trail is the large white pines and hemlocks that you can see as you ski around. There are trails of varying loops- if you are anything less than an expert, I’d recommend that you stay away from the red loop- there are quite a few large, steep hills on this route!  The good news is that each trail is a winner in terms of scenery!


  • Razorback Trails: Razorback technically isn’t a state trail, but this system is located adjacent to the NHAL. As an intermediate skier, I love that there are steeper hills with more curves on this trail system. There is also a 2-mile snowshoe trail in this system (separate from the ski trail) that winds through the beautiful pines and past a small warming shelter. At the start of the ski trail, there is a nice warming shelter (with indoor plumbing!) too- all of this is maintained by the local Lions Club and free for the public to use, so be sure to leave a donation as a thank you! 


You can access maps for both the Madeline and Raven Trails here:

Razorback Ridges Trail info can be found here: Plus, there are (more clearly labeled) trail maps at the Lions Club warming Shelter.


My two favorite spring activities are birding and searching for spring wildflowers. In fact, my favorite birding spots are all located within the NHAL.

  • A pair of trumpeter swans glides over the marshland at Powell MarshPowell Marsh (right): My favorite birding spot in all the Northwoods is Powell Marsh. It is an excellent place to see Trumpeter Swans, several species of ducks, and shorebirds.  Warblers and sparrows also like to hang out in the shrubs along the marsh. While not necessary, a spotting scope is helpful for looking out over the marshland.


  • Allequash Lake: My OTHER favorite birding spot! If you are able to make a visit in mid-May, you should get to see geese and their goslings, eagles, herons, and red-winged blackbirds. The real highlight is the population of nesting black terns (which are becoming increasingly rare) that flit above your head as you canoe or kayak. To see the most bird activity, go to the northern lobe of the lake (when you launch, take a right!).


  • Clear Lake Day use area: Sometimes diversity can pop up in surprising places, like the Clear Lake Day use area and parking lot! While stopping here for lunch at the shelter on birding trips, I’ve seen Blackburnian warbler, Northern Parula, woodpeckers, and several other species up close. The surrounding hardwood forest is also a great place to look for spring ephemeral wildflowers! To get to the picnic area, follow signs from Hwy J.

More information, including maps for Powell marsh can be found here:

More information about Allequash Lake can be found here:

More information about Clear Lake can be found here:


Few things beat a day on the water in the summer. If you love to paddle, the NAHL has many opportunities. Two staff favorites are:

  • Manitowish River (Manitowish River Access Rd. to Hwy. 47) (Right): As a smaller river, the Manitowish is perfect for a quieter paddle- you won’t see any motorized boats along this stretch! The shallow, clear waters are excellent for viewing the ribbons of wild celery growing in the shallows.  It’s also always a pretty good bet that you’ll see at least one eagle, plus several different other species of bird, and maybe even an otter or two! To access, take Manitowish River Access Rd. until it dead ends at circle lily creek.  You’ll put in here, then follow the river to the HWY 47 bridge.  There is a small wayside about halfway for a leg stretch and bathroom break. 



  • Wisconsin River (Newbold Park to Bridge Rd.) (Above Eagle): This 6.5 mi stretch of the WI makes for a beautiful 2-3 hour paddle, depending on your paddle speed and the current. The start of the paddle is Newbold Memorial park (off of River Rd. just southeast of Lake Tomahawk) where there is a little picnic area and vault toilets. From there, the river winds through beautiful stands of oak and silver maple. There are ample opportunities for wildlife sightings: I’ve seen plenty of eagles, cedar waxwings, deer, and even otters on my paddles!  The takeout is at Bridge Rd. in McNaughton—it’s easy to tell from the water since it will be the first bridge you come to!

Information about canoe routes can be found in this DNR publication here: 

Both of the above suggestions are fractions of suggested trips – the Manitowish River route described in this blog is a fraction of Trip #4 in the publication, and the WI River route in this blog is a fraction of Trip #6.   


Hiking can be done any time, but nothing compares to fall when the hardwoods put on a show, and the ticks and mosquitoes die down for the season!  Try these trails for a fall hike:

  • Star Lake (Right): Star Lake Nature Trail has a little something for everyone, whether you like to see woods, water, or some local history on your hike! The trail winds around a peninsula once used as a horse pasture during the logging period. The same peninsula was one of the first sites for the early 20th-century reforestation effort.  Interpretive signs help give you a sense of the history as you hike along.  There are 2 loops—if you have the time and ability, I suggest the longer 2.5 mi loop that cuts closer to the water.  Otherwise, the shorter 1-mi loop is equally as pretty!


  • Fallison Lake- If you like to see many different things on your hike, be sure to check out Fallison Lake! There are quite a few loops for you to choose from, but I recommend the red trail around both Fallison Lake and the small bog in the area (about 2.5 mi).  This route will take you through red pine plantations, hemlock stands, hardwood forests with huge glacially-deposited boulders, and a bog wetland.  If you visit, be aware that there are stairs along the trail, and pets are not allowed on this particular trail.   


More information on the Star Lake nature trail can be found here:,
and more info for Fallison lake can be found here: 

If you’re looking for maps or even more ideas for your trip in the NHAL, this DNR web page is a fantastic resource:

Happy Trails!!!


 Author, adventurer and TFT Environmental Education Manager, Kim Feller.