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National Forests

11 Awesome Things to Do in the Nicolet National Forest

I had the great fortune of spending much of my childhood bumming around different areas of the Nicolet National Forest. Densely forested and peppered with lakes of all sizes, this is a special area that offers all sorts of outdoor opportunities.

Please note that the locations in this post are only for the Nicolet National Forest, and they do not cover the Chequamegon National Forest. While these are technically two separate national forests, they are managed together under one entity: the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

This sometimes leads to confusion, but you’ll have to trust me that the locals still consider them to be entirely separate forests.

Go Hiking in the Anvil Lake Recreation Area

Discover a little bit of everything in the Anvil Lake Recreation Area. With everything from a paved boat landing to more than a dozen campsites, Anvil Lake has something for everyone.

Location

2511 WI-70, Eagle River, WI 54521

Situated about 10 miles east of Eagle River. This trail-head is a little over two and half hours from Green Bay.

Cost

Parking for day use is $5 and is covered by the $30 annual pass. Camping starts at $15 per site.

What to Know

There are seven separate trails present on the Anvil Lake National Recreational Trail. These trails offer a little bit of everything for the outdoorsy and are rated from Beginner all the way up to Expert.

Be sure to check it out in the winter, as both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails are available.

Enjoy the Solitude of the Whisker Lake Wilderness

Consisting of 7,500 acres of wilderness on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan, the Whisker Lake Wilderness Area is a perfect opportunity to get away from the “busy” parts of the Nicolet National Forest.

Location

National Forest Rd 2150, Florence, WI 54121

A little over two hours drive from Green Bay and only an hour drive from Eagle River.

Cost

Free.

What to Know

As it is classified as a wilderness area, there are many restrictions on the types of vehicles and equipment you can use while on the site. The bottom line is that you’ll either be paddling or walking when you’re exploring the Whisker Lake Wilderness area.

This provides and excellent opportunity to unwind and do everything from trout fishing to berry picking in the peace of the wilderness. Be sure to check out the few large pines remaining on the shore of Whisker Lake, which inspired the name given the “whisper-like” appearance of the trees.

Witness the Towering Pines of Cathedral Pines

Get a little lost admiring the majestic old-growth pine trees that tower above you at Cathedral Pines.

Location

Cathedral Dr, Lakewood, WI 54138

A quick drive, Cathedral Pines is about an hour and a half from both Green Bay and Wausau.

Cost

Free.

What to Know

Small but mighty, the small grove of old-growth pine and hemlock trees tower over you as you walk the short trails leading from the parking area. These trees have been growing since the early 18th-century and are known to house nests of great blue herons.

While there’s no doubt that visiting Cathedral Pines will be a short visit, it is more than worthwhile, as the experience of walking among those giant trees is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Get Busy Birding on the Halley Creek Bird Trail

A variety of bird species are found here from springtime to early summer.

Location

Latitude: 45.5167 Longitude: -88.5023

About two hours north-northeast of Green Bay. The trail is found on Forest Service road 2103 in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Cost

Free.

What to Know

Established more than 30 years ago by the U.S. Forest Service and the Northeastern Wisconsin Audubon Society, this trail is a great opportunity for birders to explore all that Northern Wisconsin has to offer.

Go for a Paddle Down the Peshtigo River

A river that offers a little bit of everything while winding through miles and miles of the Nicolet National Forest.

Location

The Peshtigo River runs through much of the Nicolet National Forest and features a variety of access locations.

Cost

Free.

What to Know

A winding river that flows through many miles of the Nicolet National Forest, the Peshtigo River makes a day trip when the waters are high enough.

picture of downed logs in northern wisconsin in the Peshtigo river in summer

There are a variety of access locations along the river, and while downed logs do make navigation a bit tough at times, this river is a great way to spend a lazy Sunday.

Forage for Berries Along a Forest Service Road

From wild raspberries to blackberries to wild strawberries, the Nicolet National Forest is abound with berries to pick.

Location

Anywhere!

While not everywhere, many trails and Forest Service roads feature a variety of berries growing alongside the edge of the trail.

Cost

Free.

What to Know

Lace up your hiking boots and start the search for the wild berries of your choice. Many forest service roads and trails will have wild raspberries or wild blackberries growing along the edge. You might also have luck searching for areas that have recently been logged.

ripe blackberries alongside the trail in the nicolet national forest

If you’d like to learn more, be sure to check out our post on how to find wild blackberries. All of the examples from the post are located within the Nicolet National Forest.

Accessibly Fish the South Branch of the Oconto River

A tremendous resource that brings accessibility to the world of fishing, the South Branch Oconto Barrier Free Fishing Trail is well worth checking out.

Location

County Road T, Mountain, WI 54149

You’ll find the trail-head approximately 2.5 miles south of the intersection of County Road T and Highway 64. The entrance is on the west side of the road.

Cost

Parking for day use is $5 and is covered by the $30 annual pass.

What to Know

There aren’t many places like it, and that alone makes this location special and worth checking out. The site consists of a short trail that provides easy access to 11 different fishing sites along the South Branch of the Oconto River.

Brook trout and brown trout are both present in this stream. The different fishing sites employ a variety of setups, which allows for the fishing at this location to be accessible as possible.

Go Backpacking Through the Headwaters Wilderness

Located in the headwaters of the Pine River, this wilderness offers some of the best solitude in the state.

Location

Eagle River, WI 54521

Approximately a two and a half hour drive from Green Bay, while being less than a two hour drive from Wausau.

Cost

Free.

What to Know

You’ll need to contact your local U.S. Forest Service district for information on hiking, but your reward will be 18,000 acres of wilderness. The entire site is restricted only to non-motorized or mechanized equipment, so you can expect the peace and quiet you’re seeking.

Have a Picnic and Go for a Swim at the Boot Lake

A great spot for the family to do a little bit of everything, the Boot Lake Campground offers

Location

Camp Rd, Townsend, WI 54175

The Boot Lake Campground is less than an hour and a half from Green Bay. You can find signs for the campground along County Road T.

Cost

Parking for day use is $5 and is covered by the $30 annual pass. Camping fees are $18 per site.

What to Know

Boot Lake contains a variety of species of fish present, and offers a great spot for a refreshing swim. Boot Lake is a great spot for motorized boating, so everything from water skiing to tubing is on the table.

The lake has a maximum depth of 38 feet and the northwestern shore of the lake (the inner part of the boot) is public land that steeply descends down to the shore.

Cross-Country Ski on the Lakewood Cross-Country Ski Trail

Featuring 14 miles of trail open to a variety of uses, this is a great opportunity for those in the Nicolet National Forest to experience something different.

Location

Lakewood, WI 54138

Found off of Old 32 Road, this is about an hour and half drive from Green Bay.

Cost

Free.

What to Know

A trail maintained by the Lakewood Cross Country Ski Club, this area offers both summer and winter activities. In the summer the trails are open to both mountain biking and hiking.

Trails are groomed by the ski club in winter times, and it’s recommended that you reach out to them in order to confirm trail conditions.

View the Catastrophic Storm Damage from 2019

A 2019 windstorm ran through Northern Wisconsin and decimated hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands.

Location

Diamond Roof Road, Wabeno, WI

Diamond Roof Road is accessible from Highway 32 on the north side, and connects to Sawyer Lake Road on the southern end.

Cost

Free.

What to Know

Last but certainly not least, this item on our list is an opportunity to feel humbled by the power of nature. This storm came through and left a tremendous impact that will be felt for decades to come. Much of the land impacted was National Forest, and taking a drive to inspect the damage is a haunting yet beautiful experience.

downed trees after the wind storm in northern wisconsin 2019
Downed trees on the morning after the storm. I have to admit: this one is personal for me.

Some of the lands most heavily impacted can be seen driving down Diamond Roof Road. Not only is this a good opportunity in the immediate aftermath of the storm, I think it will be interesting to see how the National Forest land recovers in the decades to come.

downed trees in the nicolet national forest after the 2019 wind storm
Downed trees within the Nicolet National Forest.

Reports estimate that at least 63,000 acres of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest were affected by the windstorm. As you would expect, the clean-up is expected to last years.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope that this article gave you some fresh ideas about what to do the next time you’re up in the Nicolet National Forest. With a wide range of activities and more natural beauty than you could ever see in a lifetime, it really is quite the special spot.

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By Drew Meulemans

I've long admired forests and devote much energy to learning about them and exploring. I enjoy sharing what I learn and wish to inspire others to do the same.