Find Minocqua on a map, and it looks like there's more water to the town than land. Which is one of the reasons this picturesque spot tucked into Wisconsin's north-central tier is such a popular place to escape.
Minocqua and the neighboring communities of Arbor Vitae and Woodruff — which conveniently sit some three to six hours from Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago — are filled with innumerable sparkling blue glacial lakes. They are also snugged into the mighty Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest. This means guests can easily enjoy an incredible array of activities, both on shore and on the water. Here are some of the endless possibilities.
On the Water
The Minocqua area is dimpled with more than 3,200 freshwater lakes, streams and ponds, from quiet, remote spots to uber-popular Lake Minocqua, a sprawling body of water constantly thrumming with activity.
For a taste of the wilderness, head to the Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area, southwest of Lake Tomahawk. Anglers can try their luck snagging northern pike, muskellunge, or large and smallmouth bass, while paddlers can explore the flowage's numerous nooks and crannies, keeping an eye peeled for eagles, loons, ducks and the 10 nesting pairs of ospreys who sometimes swoop by to snag dinner from the water. Over at the Bittersweet Lakes, a chain of four lakes separated by small isthmuses, it's time for an easy paddle-and-portage experience.
On a Bike
Hundreds of miles of bicycle trails crisscross the Minocqua area, ducking in and out of the woods and sometimes paralleling the roads, offering innumerable cycling experiences. One of the more popular paths is the 18-mile Bearskin State Trail, a compact granite rail-trail that starts in downtown Minocqua and heads south, traversing through pine and hardwood forest and crossing 13 trestle bridges. It connects with the six-mile Hiawatha Trail, which continues south to Tomahawk. Over on the Raven Trails near Woodruff, mountain bikers can ride five miles of singletrack snaking through the woods and past Clear and Inkpot lakes. There's even a trials area with a teeter-totter, bridge and more.
On the Trails
You'll never run out of hiking spots in Minocqua, which boasts more than 600 miles of trail, from singletrack winding through dense forestland to wide, flat paths meandering past lakes and alongside streams. For an easy walk, head a few miles north of Arbor Vitae to the North Trout Lake Natural Trail, a one-mile loop encircling a pretty black spruce-tamarack bog. The path also leads you along the Trout Lake shoreline. A little more challenging is the Star Lake Nature Trail, whose 2.5 miles roll up and down hilly terrain past Wisconsin's first tree plantings. Some of the red pines in the old plantation research plot are more than 100 years old. The Powell Marsh Wildlife Area contains both wetlands and upland forests of aspen, white birch, red maple, red oak and white pine. Sign on with a naturalist for a guided wildflower hike or birding expedition. And make sure to hit the scenic overlook at the marsh's northern end.
In the Parks
With more than 107,000 acres of state and national forest land in the area, you can experience nature in a wide variety of ways. Wander through one of the parks and see if you can spot bald eagles nesting, or perhaps the comically-named yellow-bellied sapsucker. Or try your hand at geocaching. Search for Hemlock Dreams, a cache hidden in a stand of old-growth hemlock in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Or local favorite Big Arb Ruins, which requires a walk along a peninsula in Big Arbor Vitae Lake.
In Your Chair
Even though there's a lot to do here, you really don't have to do anything. Sometimes it's good to just sit back and relax. Visit with family and friends. Listen to the wind in the trees and the water lapping at the shore. Watch the clouds drift overhead. Nod off to the soft tremolo of a loon. Wrap yourself in the area's serenity and beauty.