Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest Vilas County WI

Your guide to the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest

Published: May 28, 2020

Vilas County is home to a true Northwoods gem. The Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest spans more than 200,000 acres across three northern Wisconsin counties and has long been a popular destination for visitors looking to connect with nature. Here’s what you need to know about this wonderful wilderness.

What is the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest (NHAL)?

The Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest is a 232,000-acre wild area in northern Wisconsin that was established in 1925 to protect the headwaters of the Wisconsin, Flambeau and Manitowish Rivers. The NHAL is home to the highest concentration of lakes in Wisconsin and nearly 90 miles of multi-use trails.

Where is it located? How do I get there?

As the forest is spread across three counties, there are many access points. (In fact, you might be hiking or boating in the forest and not even know it.) There are two visitor stations—the Clear Lake Visitor Station south of Woodruff in Oneida County and the Crystal Lake Visitor Station in Vilas County, located on Highway N between Boulder Junction and Sayner.

See visitor information here.

The Crystal Lake campground is also home to the forest’s nature center, which is open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend and offers free educational exhibits, nature programs and information sessions.

What can I do in the NHAL?

The NHAL is a popular destination for outdoors enthusiasts, offering opportunities for biking (road/hybrid biking and mountain biking), boating (the NHAL is home to more than 900 lakes!), canoeing and kayaking, hiking, equestrian activities and more.

ATVing is not allowed anywhere on forest grounds.

In winter, the NHAL is open to snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The forest has 70 miles of cross-country ski trails and more than 400 miles of snowmobile trails.

Find more information about recreation opportunities here.

What are some of the popular areas to visit?

A top spot for hikers and bikers is the Lumberjack Trail, which winds along the Manitowish River, Fishtrap Flowage and the shores of White Sand Lake. The gently rolling surface is easy enough for hikers but gives mountain bikers plenty to explore as well.

Trout Lake is a massive 3,800-acre lake near Boulder Junction that is a popular musky fishing spot. It also has panfish, smallmouth bass, pike, walleye and (you guessed it) trout. It’s easily accessible from three boat landings, and there are several campsites on the lake as well. Don’t miss the chance to explore the towering pines at Cathedral Point Park, which sits on a peninsula separating the northern and southern sections of the lake. At the end of the day, catch a sunset on Ben Bendrick Drive, which skirts the east side of the lake.

The forest is also home to five shorter nature trails that still provide a beautiful Northwoods backdrop for a stroll—North Trout, Fallison, Raven, Star Lake (pictured above) and Tom Roberts. See descriptions for all forest trails here.

Is there an admission fee to the NHAL?

A Wisconsin State Park System vehicle admission sticker is required for all the forest’s family campgrounds and beaches and picnic areas with posted fees. Trail passes are required on mountain bike trails and groomed cross-country ski trails; they can be purchased at self-registration stations at trailheads.

Nightly fees vary by campground. See more camping information here.