Fledgling Whooping Cranes, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, WI
Watch endangered, 90-day-old whooping crane chicks fly for the first time at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, 100 miles outside Madison. Connect the Karner and Muskrat Loops to create a mile-long figure eight through wetland, prairie, and oak savannah. Look for trumpeter swans, great blue herons, otters, turtles, bald eagles, and the refuge’s 160 whooping cranes in the marshes. Identify snowy white, red-faced adult (monogamous) whoopers—the tallest North American birds (up to 5 feet)—and then scan nearby for the fuzzy, cinnamon brown fledglings. In late-summer, the chicks begin developing wing muscles so they can fly south in November. Find them early morning or dusk (whoopers hide their young when it’s hot). Contact (608) 565-2551; fws.gov/refuge/Necedah
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Dipti Salopek, 32, of NYC, snapped this pic en route to Brant Lake in MN’s Boundary Waters.
Trap Hills, Ottawa National Forest, MI
Cross rocky ridges and skirt 300-foot-deep gorges on a 14.9-mile overnighter on the North Country Trail (NCT). Encircled by protected lands with bigger name value—Porcupine Mountains SP, Lake Gogebic SP, and Bond Falls SP—the Trap Hills section of the NCT offers isolated backpacking. Explore the trail’s basalt and sandstone ridges (the result of a volcanic rift a billion years ago) on an inverted lollipop from the NCT Crossing off FR 326. Head east through the Trap Hills—named either for their abundant trap rocks (dark volcanic slabs) or because the Ojibwe people trapped beaver and otter here in the 17th century—to a lookout at .5 mile. Glimpse the Porkies and finger-shaped Weidman Lake to the northwest, and then wind south where gaps in the oak and fir forest reveal panoramic views of Lake Gogebic. Look for eagles, hawks, and falcons soaring on thermals, and, at 5.5 miles, scan northwest across Bush Creek to Lake Superior. Set up camp on one of the lookouts (if you hit FR 400, you’ve gone too far; backtrack a mile), and listen for nocturnal whip-poor-will birds foraging for insects. Next morning, follow the NCT west 4 miles, keeping an eye out for tracks of black bear, bobcat, lynx, and timber wolf. Turn northwest onto the Hack Site Trail for a mile to FR 326. Continue 2 miles along the dirt road through serene woodlands to your car. Contact (616) 897-5987; bit.ly/TrapHills