Trail Mix — Central — March 2013

Your region's go-now guide: Explore ice caves on Wisconsin's Apostle Islands, overnight in peace in northern Missouri, and more.

Photo: Lars Jensen

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Nordhouse Dunes Trail (Photo by Lars Jensen)


InstaWinner Douglas Cornell: Custer State Park’s granite needles (Photo by Douglas Cornell)

Perfect Days

Grand Rapids, MI

Nordhouse Dunes Trail

Snowshoe this 9.5-mile modified loop through hemlock forest and across wide-open dunes with views of Lake Michigan. Then head to Ludington’s Mitten Bar (; 231-843-7616), which only serves brews made in-state. Trip ID1996469

Cincinnati, OH

E Trail

This 8.4-mile out-and-back just 10 minutes from downtown connects a handful of wooded hills and stream-carved valleys in Mt. Airy Forest. While you’re in the area, grab a cone and a burger at Putz’s Creamy Whip, an 80-year-old, family-owned stand (; 513-681-8668; opens for the season in late March).Trip ID8210

Houston, TX

Richards Loop, Sam Houston NF 

Take advantage of mild winter temps to wind through loblolly forest—where you may spot overwintering bald eagles—on this 6.4-mile loop. Then fish for largemouth bass and crappie on nearby Lake Conroe ( Trip ID32375


Douglas Cornell, 53, of Corunna, Michigan, nabbed this shot of Custer State Park’s granite needles from the 6,971-foot summit of Little Devils Tower. It’s lower than South Dakota’s highpoint, Harney Peak, but “we were totally alone as we scrambled up its rugged slabs,” he says. For a chance to be featured here, tag your hiking photo #BPmag on Instagram. Trip ID311930

See This Now

Ice Caves, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI

A glimpse of the Apostles’ iconic shoreline caves and sandstone arches usually comes from a kayak—and from a distance, as Lake Superior’s rollicking waves make it risky to paddle too close. But from late January to March, the lake sometimes freezes enough to allow up-close exploration as ice transforms the dramatic features. Depending on conditions, you might see the rust-red landforms draped in bulbous white sheets, hung with hundreds of ribbed icicles, or wrapped with glassy tentacles of ice. Get your fix on a six-mile hike (out-and-back) from Meyers Beach to the mainland’s best stretch of caves (call the park’s Ice Line first to check conditions: 715-799-3397, ext. 3). Trekking poles and mini-crampons (or skis or snowshoes after a storm) are a must. The caves begin a mile east of the trailhead and wind for two more. You’ll see everything from hands-and-knees tunnels that twist behind the sheer cliff face to 60-foot-high caverns like The Garage at mile 1.8, one of the largest. Go after an extended subzero spell to see the most intricate ice sculptures, and time your trip for sunset to catch the cliffs splashed in their most vibrant reds and yellows. Trip ID2015929

Secrets of the Rangers

Thousand Hills State Park, MO

Few hikers expect to find deep-woods solitude and panoramic vistas in northern Missouri, which is why the backcountry campsite on this overnight shuttle hike barely gets used, according to park superintendent Bruce Steacey. Escape for a weekend at this undiscovered gem near Kirksville. Begin your hike at Big Creek Conservation Area (a turkey hot spot—wear orange in hunting season, Oct. and April), and follow a grassy lane along a ridgecrest with panoramic views of the surrounding savanna. Hit the Thousand Hills Trail at mile 1.6 and continue north on dirt singletrack as it plunges through oak-hickory woodland on the way to Forest Lake. Trace the shoreline to the campsite at mile seven, tucked in a fern-studded hollow. The best views on the trail are along the lakeshore, says Steacey, and expect a lot of ups and downs: “They don’t call us Thousand Hills for nothing!” From the campsite, you can either loop back to your car or continue through the park to a shuttle trailhead at mile 10.8. Pack water—seasonal streams are unreliable and the lake is unpleasantly silty. Contact (660) 665-6995, ID1996590

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