Trekking the North Country Trail: Breezing through Wisconsin

December 5, 2022

Joan crossing Tyler Forks River (photo credit Bill Courtois)

Trekking the North Country Trail: Breezing through Wisconsin

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike took her to Middlebury, Vermont. She then drove to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 74, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010.

Wisconsin has only 214 miles of North Country National Scenic Trail. I blew through the entire state in two weeks with mostly good weather and lots of great days with my sometime trail companion, Bill Courtois, of Ann Arbor. 

Most of the trail in Wisconsin is different from when I hiked it previously.  That is a good thing, because there are many more miles off road, and one section is re-routed to provide a better hiker experience.

Solon Springs Bird Sanctuary

The Chequamegon National Forest has always been the anchor point for the trail in this state. When the trail was authorized by Congress in 1980, eight National Forests in six states were the first land managers to get on board with the project. They each built trail almost immediately. However, it has taken decades to connect these early efforts. There is an unofficial race between Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (with a similar number of miles at 286) to see which will be the first to get all their miles off road. Right now, Pennsylvania is winning, but some of their gaps will be difficult to close while Wisconsin has permission to cross a large county forest which will allow them to catch up as soon as they can get trail built.

The above bunny trail of information may provide some insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Trails don’t just magically appear on the ground where someone wishes to hike. The North Country Trail route is continually being improved by a partnership between the National Park Service and the North Country Trail Association. Both paid staff and volunteers play roles in creating, maintaining, and protecting trail.

Wisconsin also has miles that include two state parks. Pattison State Park features Big and Little Manitou Falls.  Copper Falls State Park has Brownstone and Copper Falls, and there are several waterfalls on the Tyler Forks River.

Almost all of the Wisconsin geology is defined by the Mid-Continent Rift system which threatened to tear North America apart about a billion years ago. Then, mysteriously, the rift closed instead of continuing to spread, becoming a sea. Igneous rock spewed from the rift. The easily visible remains today are the north shore of Lake Superior, the above-mentioned waterfalls in Wisconsin, Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. What’s left of the rift itself is what we call Lake Superior. 

Confluence of Tyler Forks and the Bad River in Copper Falls State Park

Some of the new pieces of trail in Wisconsin feature piles of these basaltic volcanic rocks, sometimes covered with layers of sedimentary stone which were laid down after the rift closed. I had never before realized there were so many rocky areas in Wisconsin.

Another favorite Wisconsin feature of the trail is the Brule-St.Croix Portage. This is an historic portage route which connects the rivers of those names. At only three miles in length, it was a relatively easy way for indigenous peoples and early explorers to cross between the Mississippi and St. Lawrence watersheds.  Stones with plaques commemorate some famous portagers.

Wisconsin’s biggest challenge was fording Tyler Forks River. It was three feet deep, but companion Bill and I were prepared and got across on a relatively mild day. We carried dry clothes in our packs. We were lucky. Just a few days later, the water there was five feet deep. Technically, this section is not open until the DNR completes building a bridge, but the rest of that new piece of trail is scenic, and we were glad we did not have to skip it. 

I’m now battling early winter in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’ve completed over 4200 miles of the North Country Trail. The snow has slowed my progress, but I’m still walking.                                    

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This story is copyrighted © 2022, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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