Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail by 4Runner

By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 10/20/16

A few years ago I rode the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail with a group of friends on our dual sport motorcycles. The north woods are a captivating place. Your senses really come alive up there. The horizon often obscured by the lodge pole pines. Your nose and skin becomes conscious of the crisp air. Your ears catch the sound of the loons wailing in the distance, drawing your attention to the endless system of lakes and waterways. Since riding the trail I have wanted to go back and drive the trail in my 4Runner.

Each year I try to take a short mid October trip to some nice Midwest destination and do a few days of hiking and camping to celebrate my dogs birthday. This year I decided to run the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail and invite my brother along. We would spend a few days in Clam Lake area to try and view some wildlife. The wolves and elk are regulars in this area. Based on the time of year we thought it would also be possible to see some bear and maybe even a moose.

I left work an hour early and we packed up and headed out for Wisconsin about 5pm. Our goal for the first night was extreme Northeast Iowa. To grab a campsite at the Yellow River State Forest. It’s getting dark earlier and earlier these days, so we knew we would be in for a dark set up and cold night. Temps would be in the high 20’s. Yellow Rover State Forest has a nice collection of clear streams and water crossings as you enter the campground. It’s a bit over engineered, but it still gives you a little taste of adventure travel as you enter the park. We took a nice moon lit hike around the campground and settled in for the night. My brother Garrett was in his tent with a number of additional blankets and tarps to offset the cold. One of the nice benefits of car camping is how much extra crap you can bring along.

We woke about 8am. The campground is tucked in a valley so the sun does not get to your site until well after it rises. We crossed the Mississippi into Wisconsin in Prairie Du Chien and made our way to Black River Falls where we started the Trans Wisconsin Trail.

The man who pioneered the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail is Chad Berger. You can see his website and find the actual route here. He built a beautiful trail, designed to get you from the Iowa boarder all the way to Lake Superior – being off-road as much as possible. It’s nearly 600 miles of wilderness based off pavement travel. He also sends you in the direction of some excellent food choices. We had lunch at The Thorpedo in Thrope, WI. I never miss it if I’m in the area. Second only to the Delta Diner for food options on this trip.

We continued on the trail that afternoon and made our way through the Flambeau River State Forest and into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest of northern Wisconsin is a 1.5-million acre park. It teems with wildlife. Deer, elk, wolves, porcupine, badger, skunk, and grouse are abundant. The dense forest is comprised of mainly pine, spruce, tamarack, and sugar maple. The lakes, rivers, marshes, are clean but the water is stained dark from the tannin of the pines.

We pressed North, breezing through miles of forest and open wetlands. W decided to stay at the Moose Lake Campground. We had the place to ourselves and set up camp just off the lake.

After we set up camp, we hiked the area trails for a few hours. Then made our way over to the dock for the sunset. It did not disappoint.

We collected as much fire wood as we could and sat by a warm fire until about 10pm before settling in for the night. I was sleeping in the back of my 4Runner with the dog, Garrett in his tent.

We woke about 7:15am and started planning our adventures for wildlife viewing. We drove back roads of the Trans Wisconsin up towards Clam Lake. We figured our chances of seeing mega-fauna from the roadways was about as good as anywhere else. The roads were fantastic and the 4Runner ate them up, but no wildlife sightings.

We pulled off the road and did about 3 hours of hiking on a side trail. The grouse were particularly active and the ravens liked to keep an eye on us from above, but no signs of bear, elk, or wolves. It rained on us most of the morning. Light rain that eventually made your cloths wet but nothing serious. The actual hardship was the wet grass. It soaked our pant legs above the knee from walking the trail. Garrett’s shoes and socks where also soaked. Since I am the older brother, my boots were obviously waterproof.

After the long hike deep into the back country on the Little Moose River Trail, we headed back to the car and made our way into Clam Lake and had lunch at The Elkhorn. For a one horse town, this place truly has excellent food. Garrett chatted with locals about where to see the wolves and elk. “Oh I saw the elk this morning about 5 miles North of here”. “The wolves are as thick as deer right now. Just get out towards Stockfarm Bridge and start howling… them wolves will come running”. Based on the comments from the locals, Garrett and I started to feel like we had been pretty unlucky to have not seen any large wildlife thus far. We are both pretty savvy in the woods and have a great amount of experience between us seeing animals in the wild.

After lunch we drove out the Stockfarm Bridge and hiked around for a few hours. Nothing. No tracks. Very little scat. No howls. No wolves.

About 4pm we got back in the car and made our way North of Clam Lake along the wildlife loop, hoping to catch the elk at dusk. We didn’t see them, but did find the National Forest Campground called East Twin. We again had the place to ourselves and picked out a nice spot on the East Twin Lake. We hiked the surrounding roads until sunset and returned to camp and made dinner and a fire.

We turned in early with the plan of being up at 6am to head back to the Stockfarm Bridge area to try and catch the wolves in motion.

6am arrived and we quickly packed up camp and headed out. It was still dark as we travelled. We drove slowly on the fire roads to try and catch a glimpse of a wolf crossing our path or in the forest underbrush to our sides. Light began to shine through the trees as we reached the bridge. We hike for about 45 minutes and did our best wolf impressions. No luck.

We tucked our tails between our legs and packed in for the long ride back to SE Iowa. Garrett and I have both seen extensive amounts of wildlife so the shutout was no great tragedy. We have both seen wolves and many elk in the past. This trip did not afford us that opportunity, but the gratitude for just being able to spend time in nature is reward enough.

We took the express route home, but did manage to hit The Thorpedo a second time 🙂

It was a terrific 11th birthday trip for my dog. The North woods are a special place and I look forward to more trips that way.

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