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August 2001

Hiking With Wisconsin’s Wolves

Feeling people-shy? Follow Wisconsin's wolves to this lonely section of the Ice Age Trail.

When it comes to getting the inside scoop on the quietest spots in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, there’s just one source I trust: the state’s widely roaming timber wolves. The wolves send a clear signal when a place—like the headwaters of the Yellow River—meets their high standards. They raise their pups there.

After just such an endorsement, I spent 4 days hiking the Ice Age Trail in the Yellow River area. Along the way, I found a glacier-scoured mosaic of hemlock groves, verdant wetlands, clear-running rivers, and so much wildlife you’ll be dazzled, even if you don’t see a wolf. Bald eagles circled over the streams while river otters left tracks on the banks. The primeval bark of sandhill cranes echoed across the marshes and a romping fisher crossed my path. I even spotted a goblin fern, a rare and otherworldly 4-inch-high gremlin that sprouts on the sheltered forest floor.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail corkscrews across Wisconsin from east to west, offering a 600-mile geology tour through the erratics, eskers, kettles, lakes, and drumlins left by receding glaciers. (Pick up a free Ice Age Trail brochure at the Medford Ranger District to bone up on your glacial vocabulary.)

My favorite weekend route, the Jerry Lake segment, starts at the North Fork of the Yellow River and winds southwest through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Thirteen shady, solitary miles later, the trail meets Jerry Lake, where you can leave a car if you don’t want to double back.

Add 5 miles to your trek by taking the Chippewa Lobe Loop. The side trail passes near a remote lake frequented by wood ducks and great blue herons. Pitch a tent here and muse about the twin beaver dams at the lake’s outlet, an engineering feat that probably took generations to craft. Just be sure to bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper. Somehow, I had forgotten how loudly a beaver slaps its flat tail on the water. I wonder if the wolves really have found peace and quiet here.

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