There’s something restoring about the rhythmic sound of a paddle dipping in and out of clear blue water under feathery white clouds, punctuated by the occasional avian conversation of loons. Weekday cares and stresses seem to float away on a breeze when you’re on the water, alone or in the quiet companionship of someone you care about. Welcome to the Minocqua area, land of 2,300 freshwater lakes, the highest concentration in the world.

We are also home to the 225,000-acre Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest (NHAL), established in 1925 and the largest state forest in Wisconsin.

Of the many lakes in this state forest, 68 of them are designated ‘wilderness,’ ‘wild’ or ‘scenic,’ making them especially inviting to anyone seeking carefree serenity and relaxation, or anyone who wants to just ‘get away’ for a respite of an hour or two or even a day — or a weekend, if you appreciate the pleasures of primitive camping. Paddlers tend to respect one another’s privacy, offering rare opportunities for solitude.

Wilderness Lakes

Wilderness lake shorelines are heavily forested, with scenery undisturbed by human habitation or other permanent structures. Only primitive campsites are allowed within sight of the shore. A quarter-mile swath around each lake, and to the visual horizon if it’s farther, is passively managed. No motor vehicles are allowed for lake access or other recreational use, which makes for blissfully quiet surroundings.

Six lakes in NHAL are designated as Wilderness Lakes.

Wild Lakes

Wild lakes are so designated because they are maintained for quiet, low-impact recreation and ecological and habitat values. the land along shorelines is primarily forested, creating excellent habitat for wildlife. human influence on the lake and surrounding lands is not conspicuous, and only non-motorized use is allowed, increasing the likelihood of wildlife sightings.

Thirty-three lakes are designated as Wild lakes.

Scenic Lakes

Scenic lakes preserve present use, which allows existing level and type of public access and use of the lake and adjacent shoreline. that’s code for “you might see glimpses of civilization,” but a 400-foot scenic management zone surrounds each lake. that means maintaining and enhancing the natural appearance and generally undeveloped landscape of each lake. forests within 400 feet of shore are managed for mixed composition of species, with an emphasis on larger, longer-lived trees.

Twenty-nine lakes in the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest are designated as Scenic lakes.

Many of the Minocqua area’s other 2,200+ lakes are also suitable for paddling, as are many of its streams and rivers. early morning hours are especially good for solitary paddling if you’re on a lake populated with humans. often, early morning mists create a natural solitude until the sun burns it off around breakfast-time.

For more on the area’s Wilderness, Wild, and Scenic lakes, all other lakes and rivers, as well as gear rental information, call the Let's Minocqua Visitors Bureau + Chamber of Commerce at 800-446-6784 or visit StateForests/nhal/ for more information.