On the long drive between one edge of northern Wisconsin and the other, I got a bit of spring fever. I looked on the map and found a spot that met two of my favorite criteria: it was in a place I’d never been (in this case Taylor County) and it looked like it might have some unique features (a lake surrounded by the Ice Age Trail). It turned out to be a great choice, not only for the recreation but even for the campsites themselves!
The Mondeaux Flowage is located within a relatively small block of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (Medford-Park Falls Ranger District), at the southern edge of the Forest’s boundary. Driving in from the west, passing through long miles of flat, dormant farmland, I had some doubts about the character of the public lands ahead. The Flowage itself was beautiful, however, surrounded by hills covered with high quality northern forest, and echoing with the calls of the season’s first waterfowl.
The campground that most impressed me was still closed for the winter, and it surely fills up fast once summer approaches. At Spearhead Point, each waterfront site had its own dock on the lake, and was quite spacious. A little under a mile down the road, West Point didn’t have quite the same amenities, but it was smaller and therefore probably
quieter even during the busy season. The small peninsula is tucked in to a more marshy area, making boating less appealing but bird-watching a bit more lucrative. Canada Geese stopping over on the lake flew at eye-level by my site, and the calls of ducks, geese, and cranes woke me even before first light. Later in the year, that might have disturbed my beauty rest, but on this early spring morning it was invigorating to hear life returning to the North.
The next morning I hiked several miles along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. The Ice Age Trail is distinct within the national trail system, in that it is contained entirely within one state. Wisconsin is a fascinating place for glacial geologists because at several different times during the ice age, glaciers advanced only part-way into the state before retreating with warming temperatures. This means that Wisconsin is riddled with moraines, eskers, kettles, drumlins, and other curiously-named land forms resulting from glaciation. If you travel west-to-east through the southern portion of the state, you might even be able to observe the transition from the never-glaciated Driftless Area, with its steep cliffs and jutted rock outcroppings, to the flat fields and marshes of the oft-glaciated southeastern portion. East, west, north, and south, the thousand-mile Ice Age Trail attempts to capture that history and showcase some of the state’s geological gems.
In Taylor County, the trail is primarily within the federally-owned National Forest lands, which makes for beautiful hiking relatively undisturbed by the rest of civilization. In the few miles I traversed, I walked along an esker created next to the Mondeaux River, steep cliffs covered in hemlock, and rolling hills wet with seeps. It was a cloudy day, but fairly warm (for March!) and spotting the first wildflowers of spring was an exciting moment! A small flock of ducks continuously re-appeared out in the middle of the lake, and their identity perplexed me until, on the east side of the lake, I got a close enough look to identify them as Common Mergansers.
In addition to these sights, I passed by some of the other developed areas on the lake. For those who don’t want to venture too far off the beaten path, these will provide a welcome addition to your journey – but for the adventurers among us, it might be wise to travel in the off-season. At the north end of the lake, there is a historic supper club – I didn’t check it out myself, but when I arrived on a Friday evening, the place was hopping with the fish fry crowd. Next to that is a beach, concession building, and a small park around the dam at the outlet of the flowage. The south end of the lake is private land, and lined with cottages that seemed to still stand mostly vacant this early in the year. I walked along the road through the woods and past these cabins in order to turn my one-way trail hike into a 7-mile loop. On the east side, there is one more campground – Eastwood –which does not have the lake frontage of the two on the west side, but is a bit higher on the hill and may be more secluded. The Ice Age Trail passes right next to all three campgrounds, so there is no need to drive to a trailhead!