Fall is arguably the best time of year to explore Vilas County on foot. The air is crisp, the leaves are spectacular and the mosquitoes are a distant memory. If you’re a new visitor to Vilas County’s trails, you’re in for a treat. Vilas County has more than 240,000 acres of public land. No matter where you are in the county, you’re never far from a great hike. What do you need to get started? Not much – just a sense of wonder, a comfortable pair of shoes or hiking boots and some maps to help you explore this wild paradise. Vilas County publishes a free 23” x 38” map that includes a countywide map of trail locations as well as 55 individual trail maps. Click here to order the Vilas County Silent Sports Trail Map. Smartphone users: check out the free Map It Vilas County trails app. It will help you navigate 55 different Vilas County trails and works even without a cell signal. The app and map will help you navigate the wilds of Vilas County, as well as family-friendly trails like the Presque Isle Nature Trail, which has a wheelchair-accessible stretch, and the Spectacle Lake-Kentuck Lake Trail in Phelps, which follows a historic railroad bed.
Vilas County has been a land of trails for hundreds of years. Native Americans used well-established trails to navigate the forests, and early European settlers used trails as trade routes – the first European trader built a trading post in Vilas County near Lac du Flambeau in 1818. Today the trails navigate some wild and beautiful areas and offer an experience that’s connected to this deep tradition. If you’re looking for a fall hike that gives you a bit of wild forest experience without taking an entire day to navigate, you’re in luck. Vilas County has a lot of trail options that take 1-3 hours to explore. Perhaps the best time of day to embark on a fall hike is early in the morning when the sun is low and the leaves cast beautiful reflections in the water. A couple nice trails that offer nice half-day hiking options include the Madeline Lake Trail in the Minocqua area and the Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area in Presque Isle.
If you’re the kind of hiker who likes to head deep into an autumn forest and disappear for a while, welcome to Vilas County. We have plenty of forest for you to explore – more than 240,000 acres of public land, to be exact. Vilas County’s public lands include a large area of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, a forest created by presidential acts in 1905. The Civilian Conservation Corps began restoring heavily logged areas in the 1930s, creating the treasure we enjoy today. You can see evidence of their work in the now-massive pines they planted and in structures like the 120-foot Military Hill Fire Lookout Tower, built by the corps in 1936. You can still see the tower north of Phelps on Tower Road. A couple of good places to find extensive trail networks include the Trampers Trails in Sayner/Star Lake and the WinMan Trails between Winchester and Manitowish Waters.