Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Short Trip Back to the Rainbow Lake Wilderness

This summer passed without much camping for us. Summer started late after a long winter, kicked off with major flooding rains in June and never really got going until August. Volunteer commitments and a variety of other things consumed our time. We had planned a big trip to circumnavigate Lake Superior in August but had to postpone it until next year as a volunteer project heated up. As September rolled around, we decided we had to take at least one more trip before winter socks us in again.

Last summer we had visited the Rainbow Lake Wilderness in Wisconsin but got chased out by extreme heat and bugs. (see the report here: ) We thought it might be timely to make a return visit. We packed up the camper and after a leisurely Sunday morning headed out. We took the freeway out of Minnesota before taking our usual random route on the back roads of Wisconsin. We explored our way to the USFS campground on Perch Lake in the Chequamegon National Forest near Drummond, Wisconsin. Along the way we drove through the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area. Wetlands, prairies and wooded areas are scattered across 30,000 acres of gently rolling public land. 2400 acres are set aside as a wildlife refuge where hunting and trapping are prohibited. Signs of high water were everywhere, evidence of the abundant rainfall of the summer. Wildlife and birds were shy on this trip, but we did see sandhill cranes take flight as we approached.  

(Click the thumbnails for a larger photo)

Perch Lake Campground location map.

Rainbow Lake Wilderness. We camped at Perch Lake in the lower right corner of the map.

We arrived at Perch Lake and found a pleasant campsite. One of the perks of getting old is half-price camping fees at Federal campgrounds. Plus, the firewood is plentiful and free. Ends up being much less costly than the state parks and usually less crowded as well. We filled out our self-registration form and settled in. We had no close neighbors, and just two other groups in the whole campground. A nice breeze was blowing in off the lake, temps were in the 70s and the sun was shining. Very pleasant, in contrast to our previous visit. We set up camp, made supper and enjoyed the waning day. We explored a bit to find the trailhead for the next day's hike, which was close by. We ended the day with a campfire. The last "super moon" (of 3 this summer) was rising in the sky as we went to bed (the super moon is a full moon passing closest to the earth).
A very nice campsite.

Tall pines.

Perch Lake

The screen porch was not so necessary this trip but still appreciated.

Evening campfire.
Full (super) moon over Perch Lake

Monday morning brought another top ten day- sunny, breezy and temps in the 70s. We made breakfast and planned our hike into the Rainbow Lake Wilderness. The wilderness area was one of the first designated under the Wilderness Act (50 years old this year) in 1975. It encompasses 6583 acres of lakes, wetlands, forest and rolling terrain. The area was logged and burned in the early 1900s and has been largely untouched since. The area is home to a variety of animals including black bear and timber wolves.

Our route would follow an old railroad grade in a westerly direction until it intersected the North Country National Scenic Trail, which crosses the wilderness in a north to south direction. The NCNST will eventually traverse 4600 miles through 7 states from New York to North Dakota. Currently, about 2700 miles have been developed.

We packed a lunch, water, rain gear and jackets in our pack and set off for the trailhead. We checked the log book at the trailhead. The last entry, from the previous day, stated simply: "mosquitos, poison ivy and high water." Not a good review. We were intent on proceeding anyway. We took a photo and set off on the trail. After a few hundred yards, the "trail" disappeared into water surrounded by saturated wetland. There was no way around, we had to go through.

Wet muddy trail.

We had not anticipated this, although considering the wet summer we should have. Our footwear was ankle high trail shoes, not appropriate for wading. Rubber knee-high boots would have been great. Barefooting it would have left us wet and muddy with no way to clean and dry off.  In the old days, we would have just trudged through. This time, wet and muddy was not enticing. Rocky had no hesitation. He was through and looking back for us. "What's taking you so long?"

Some investigation revealed the water and mud was a foot or so deep, although there was no hard bottom. It appeared that the wet area extended perhaps 50-100 yards. I had reviewed the topo map and was convinced the trail headed slightly up and would likely be dry for the rest of our hike. As silly as it sounds, we decided to cover our shoes with plastic garbage bags- tied up around our shins. The worst that could happen would be wet and muddy feet. We returned to camp for supplies and set out again. The bags worked marginally well, keeping the mud off and letting only a bit of water in. Kathy did get one wet foot as her shoes were not waterproof. We passed through the wet area and were happy to see the trail head upland.

A pleasant forest path.

The woods were quiet and cool. We passed wilderness lakes, saw the beginnings of fall color in the leaves and marveled at the tall trees. We did resort to Deet for the mosquitos at one point and we passed through an extensive patch of poison ivy, being careful to keep Rocky on the trail. But for the most part, the hike was pleasant and uneventful. We reached the junction with the North Country trail and stopped for lunch. We considered continuing on the North Country trail to another lake- Rainbow Lake- but decided it was too far for us this day. We decided on a leisurely return to camp and a relaxing afternoon. We took our time, looking at details and enjoying the deep woods. We took a side trail to Bufo Lake. The large pines standing in the water provided more evidence of the unusually wet summer, as did the prolific variety of fungi growing everywhere. The water/mud crossing on the way back was accomplished in the same manner without incident.

The shore of Clay Lake.

A nice spot for lunch.

A lone maple turning red, a sign of fall at Bufo Lake.

It has been a wet summer- Bufo Lake.

Bufo Lake
The forest floor is alive.

Late blooming wildflowers.

Forest art.
Fall is coming.

Fungi were abundant.

That's a big mushroom.

A nice walk in the woods.
Still water.

Our camp next to Perch Lake was beautiful and relaxing. We took naps, read and enjoyed the day. After dinner and chores, we had another campfire under the full moon.

Tuesday morning dawned sunny. We made breakfast and packed up for a visit to Copper Falls State Park. According to the park website, Copper Falls State Park is known for "ancient lava flows, deep gorges and spectacular waterfalls." We wanted to check it out.

Perch Lake in the morning.

Morning sunlight.

Sunrise through the trees.


Copper Falls State Park location map.

We again explored the back roads and turned a short drive into a longer, more enjoyable one. We found a road on the map called Lovers Lane- we have to check that out! We passed signs to the St. Peter's Dome and Morgan Falls trailhead- intriguing. We decided not to stop but perhaps will return another time to check it out (learned since we got back that you can see all the way to Lake Superior from the top of St. Peter's Dome- wished we had made the hike.)

Lovers Lane

Although highly developed with concessions and trails, the park did not disappoint, with the exception that dogs were prohibited on the trails. The river gorges and waterfalls were very scenic. We enjoyed a short hike with several overlooks. The woods were beautiful with the sunlight filtering through the pines. We did not linger as the day was warming up and we were anxious to return to the truck and let Rocky have some air and exercise. We toured the campground and found it not to our liking- too developed and populated. Checking the weather reports showed a big front with heavy rain heading our way. We decided against camping  to avoid having to pack up wet in the morning.

Bridge over the Bad River starts the hike.

Bad River from the bridge.

Copper Falls is split by a big rock.

The other half of Copper Falls.

Brownstone Falls.


Brownstone Falls from above.

Steep narrow gorge where the Tyler Forks River joins the Bad River at Brownstone Falls.

Light filtering into the forest.

We had lunch in the picnic ground, walked the dog and hit the back roads for home. We stopped along the way for a hike up to Penokee Overlook which offered a nice view of the ancient Penokee Mountains and the Chequamegon National Forest.

Overlooking the Penokee Mountains and Chequamegon National Forest.

We took an impromptu unchaperoned tour of Forest Lodge, an historic 900 acre estate with Adirondack-style log buildings on Lake Namekagon. Forest Lodge was donated to the Trust for Public Land (http:/ in 1999 and subsequently transferred to the Chequamegon National Forest. It is now listed on the National Historic Register and will soon be opened as an environmental retreat center.

Forest Lodge residence (USFS image).

Forest Lodge Boathouse ( image)

We took a detour to Clam Dam County Park to feed and exercise Rocky and saw a couple more sandhill cranes in a field along the way. And we stopped for dinner at the Drive-In in Grantsburg Wisconsin, a 50's throwback diner and drive-in, for a great road trip meal. After that, we hopped on the freeway for home, driving through some heavy rain that did a great job of washing the dirt and bugs off the truck and camper- saving us from a chore at home.

Look close and you can see two sandhill cranes.

We got home well after dark and unloaded in the rain, refreshed from another great trip to the woods.