This 61 mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail traverses the northern half of the Chequamegon- Nicolet National Forest. The trail extends from County Highway “A”, near Lake Ruth, approximately 5 miles south of Iron River, Wisconsin, to FR 390 some 2 miles west of Mellen, Wisconsin. The trail offers an excellent summer hiking and backpacking experience. The North Country National Scenic Trail is primarily a hiking trail. Horse use on the trail is discouraged. Soils on the east end of the trail tend to be fairly wet and are not particularly suitable for riding. Mountain bikes are also discouraged and may not be ridden where the trail crosses wilderness areas. Cross country skiing is possible on the trail but is best in late winter when a crust has formed on the snow. Dog sled use is also allowed except where the trail follows the Penokee Mountain ski trail. Motorized use on the trail is prohibited under existing Forest Off-Road Vehicle Policy.
The North Country National Scenic Trail passes through the Rainbow Lake and Porcupine Lake Wildernesses. Only foot travel is allowed within wilderness—no motorized or mechanical transport, such as the use of bicycles, is allowed. Unlike the rest of our sections of NCT, you will NOT find blue blazes in the two wilderness sections (not allowed by the USFS). Instead you will find rustic NCT signs with pointing arrows on cedar posts at confusing intersections (like picture at top of page).
Camping is permitted along the trail. However, campsites must be kept at least 100 feet away from the trail or water’s edge in order to protect natural features. There are two Adirondack shelters along the trail. One is located just off the trail by the Marengo River and the second is located just west of FR 604.
Water is available from pumps at Lake Owen Picnic Ground, Two Lakes, Lake Three, and Beaver Lake Campgrounds. Water in streams and lakes along the trail is only safe to drink if it is boiled or treated.
Garbage and Waste
Pack out what you pack in. Burying garbage is not satisfactory because cans will usually be exposed in time through animal or frost action. Human wastes must be buried in a hole located at least 100 feet from any open water, the trail, or any campsite.
Fires are allowed on National Forest land but please be careful. Most locations along the trail have 1 to 4 inches of duff on top of mineral soil. The duff will burn if you build a fire on it. You must remove the duff to mineral soil before constructing a small fire. Rocks have no effect in containing a fire. All fires should be put completely out by thoroughly soaking the embers with water and then mixing them with mineral soil. In dry conditions we suggest that you use camp stoves rather than wood fires. In extremely dry conditions open fires may be prohibited (*see USFS contact information at bottom).
Bears frequent the area along the North Country Trail. Please be careful with food storage when you camp. It is best to suspend food supplies in a bag or pack between two trees at least 10 feet off the ground. The black bears that inhabit the area do not normally attack people, but be careful about getting between a mother bear and her cubs.
Several species of birds and animals make their home in the woods along the trail. A few of the animal species are white tailed deer, black bear, coyote, grey wolf, fox, fisher, gray squirrel, red squirrel, and chipmunk. Birds that may be seen are bald eagle, osprey, several species of hawk, raven, crow, owls, several species of ducks and shore birds, loon, heron, grouse, spruce grouse, jays, vireos, and warblers. The sighting of any wildlife depends upon the ability of the trail users to travel quietly and use their powers of observation. Wildlife, as a whole, are quite timid and will avoid you at every opportunity. They generally won’t bother you unless they feel their security threatened or are searching for carelessly located food stores.
There is no charge for most parking areas shown on the map, however, several of the more developed parking areas are fee areas. The following areas require either a daily fee or an annual sticker: Penokee Mountain Ski Trailhead (winter only), Lake Owen Picnic Ground, Drummond Ski Trailhead.
Please do not count on cell phones always working. There are a number of “dead spots” on NCT in the Chequamegon National Forest.
USFS Contact Information:
Washburn Ranger District - 715-373-2667
Great Divide Ranger District – 715-634-4821 (Hayward), 715-264-2511 (Glidden)