Chapter Trail Section
The North Country Trail in Northwest Wisconsin is a route to historic waterways, inspiring vistas and whispering pine forests. On the Trail, you’ll pass through open prairies and enter deep, intimate headwaters boglands. You’ll walk in the footsteps of Native and European explorers, and roam into Wisconsin Lake Country. The Trail enters from Minnesota in the St. Louis River Valley, then passes through the ponds of the MacQuarrie Wetlands. A 12-mile roadwalk through the Nemadji Valley across the basin of glacial Lake Duluth leads to Pattison State Park, with Wisconsin’s highest waterfall. An additional 32-mile roadwalk through the remote Douglas County Forest leads to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and the start of more than 100 miles of continuous trail. Follow the St. Croix River to the Douglas County Wildlife Area, a prairie barrens managed for sharp-tailed grouse. Solon Springs, a Trail Town, is the gateway to the Brule River State Forest. Cross the cedar bog at the headwaters of the Bois Brule and St. Croix rivers on a boardwalk, then follow the historic Brule St. Croix Portage, perhaps the oldest preserved trail in the Upper Midwest. Continue north along the Brule Valley, then turn east into the Bayfield County Forest. Deeper woods and glacial moraines lead into the Iron River area, where the Brule St. Croix segment ends at Lake Ruth Trailhead, near the boundary of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
Read the history of the Loop Line, part of the original Great Northern Railway, here.
Trail Town: Solon Springs
Solon Springs, population 600, is a Northern Wisconsin summer resort community on the west shore of Upper St. Croix Lake, 30 miles south of Superior. Originally known as White Birch when founded in 1855, the town changed its name in the early 1900s, when Thomas Solon started a spring water bottling works where Leo Creek enters the lake.
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Use the Report Trail Condition form to alert NCTA and the Chapter to poor trail conditions. Visit the Trail Alerts page while planning your adventure.
UW-Superior MacQuarrie Wetlands: 4.7 miles, easy. The ponds of MacQuarrie Wetlands are home to native waterfowl: ducks, geese, loons and trumpeter swans. The Trail winds through the ponds to the Oswald Viewing Platform, a vantage point for wildlife watching. Farther east, an overlook provides a view of the remote Nemadji River Valley. From downtown Superior, drive 8 miles south on Wisconsin Highway 35 to County Highway C. To the west end: Take Highway C west 9 miles to a former railroad grade which is the Saunders State Trail. Watch for the concrete railroad bridge on the left. To the east end: At 7 miles on County C, turn south (left) on County Highway W and drive 1.2 miles to the marked trail crossing. If hiking, follow the railroad grade south 0.3 miles. The NCT leaves the grade to the right (west), climbs to higher ground and parallels the grade 0.3 miles before descending and crossing the grade into dense woodlands, following the south bluff of Clear Creek. After 0.8 miles, the woods open into the ponds of the MacQuarrie Wetlands. Follow the dikes of the wetlands another 0.6 miles to the MacQuarrie Trailhead at the end of Hilpiper Road. An information kiosk and small parking area are there. The trail heads south across a small bridge. A short spur to the east leads to the Oswald Viewing Platform with its wide vista of the marshland. After 0.7 miles, the Trail descends the dikes to the right (southeast) and enters mixed forest of ash, aspen and maple, following the north bluff above Mud Creek, a tributary of the Nemadji River. An overlook of the Nemadji Valley is reached after a mile, then 0.9 miles of further hiking brings a descent down a narrow hogback to County Highway W.
Douglas County Wildlife Area: 3.3 miles, easy. This westward hike from an easily accessed trailhead passes through open forest into the prairie barrens of the Wildlife Area, offering long vistas to the south and west. West end: The US-53 Trailhead is just outside Solon Springs on the four-lane highway, north of Holly Lucius Road. Large highway signs mark the trailhead. East end: Drive south on US-53 3 miles to County Highway M. Turn west (right), 0.6 miles to Bird Road. Turn right on Bird Road and drive 0.3 miles to the Bird Road trailhead and parking area. If hiking, from the US-53 Trailhead, take the spur trail 0.1 miles to its intersection with the North Country Trail, then turn right (west). The Trail passes through a recently logged area, then over a small hill. At 0.9 miles, the Leo Creek Campsite is on a small rise to the left. Leo Creek is crossed on the berm of the Wild Rivers State Trail, a motorized rail-trail. After crossing the Wild Rivers Trail, the woods open out to pine-oak savanna as you enter the Douglas County Wildlife Area. The Trail crosses high ground, then circles the basin of a small pond. At 2.4 miles, Cut Away Road is crossed. The Trail enters aspen woods, then a red pine plantation. At 3 miles, a spur trail to the left (south) leads out of the red pine and into open prairie to the Bird Road trailhead at 3.3 miles.
Brule Bog Boardwalk: 5.2 miles (out and back), easy. Explore the Brule Glacial Spillway State Natural Area. It’s the cedar bog that is the source of both the Bois Brule and St. Croix Rivers. It’s also the channel of an ancient glacial river that flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. From Solon Springs, follow County Highway A northeast 4 miles to Palmers Landing Road. Park at the trailhead on the entry drive to the landing. If hiking, follow the spur trail from the trailhead 0.25 miles across Highway A to a trail junction. Turn left and hike along the base of the bluff. The high ground to your right is a thick layer of sand deposited by glacial outwash from the basin now occupied by Lake Superior. Springs flow out at the base of the sand and feed the bog. You’ll soon be walking on boardwalk across sphagnum moss though ancient cedar and spruce trees. After 0.6 miles, cross St. Croix Creek, the headwaters of the river. In the next several hundred yards, cross a small rise that is a rock bar deposited at the bottom of the glacial river. At 0.9 miles, turn right at a junction with a hunter walking trail. After 0.2 miles, the Trail turns left and descends to another boardwalk section. County Highway P is crossed at 1.3 miles. Boardwalk continues for the next 0.4 miles, then the Trail enters ash forest. It crosses Porcupine Creek and follows an abandoned beaver dam to the west side of the glacial spillway. The Trail turns southwest, parallel to the west slope of the valley. At 1.8 miles the Catlin Creek Campsite is passed on the left. The Trail crosses spring-fed Catlin Creek on a small bridge, then circles a spruce swamp before reaching Olson Road, an extension of Crowshaw Road, at 2.6 miles. Return the way you came. Visit the Wisconsin DNR website for more information on the Brule Glacial Spillway.
Historic Brule St. Croix Portage: 4 miles (out and back), moderate. This is one of the most ancient pathways you may ever hike. The first recorded use was by Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Lhut, in 1680. Native Americans created the trail, hundreds or even thousands of years earlier, as a direct connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed. From Solon Springs, follow County Highway A northeast 4 miles to Palmers Landing Road. Park at the trailhead on the entry drive to the landing. If hiking, at the trailhead, pick up the Portage Guide to learn the history of the trail, and the nine historic trail users recognized by commemorative plaques along the route. Follow the spur trail from the trailhead 0.25 miles across Highway A to a trail junction. Hike straight ahead up the hill, through a gully created by the moccasins of countless native people and voyageurs. The Trail passes through open woodlands to a high point, bench and register box near the Schoolcraft plaque, then descends rapidly. When you reach a bench on a slope at the side of the trail, you are near the point where both the St. Croix and Bois Brule rise in the bog. Take a virtual tour of the headwaters springs, thanks to UW professor John Lindquist. At 2 miles, a short trail to the left leads to a boardwalk and platform at the launch point for canoe travel downstream. As you return the way you came, think of the challenge of carrying two 90-pound packs of furs or supplies over the portage while moving at a trot. Or picture the Schoolcraft party traveling north in 1832 to seek the source of the Mississippi.
Brule Valley Overlooks: 5 miles, moderate. On your left is the ancient glacial riverway of the Brule Valley, with several overlooks. On your right, vast jackpine barrens. West end: From Brule, drive south on Wisconsin Highway 27 5 miles to Rush Lake Road. Take the road left a half-mile to a small parking area marked with an NCT sign. East end: From Brule, drive south on Wisconsin Highway 27 2 miles to Troy Pit Road, marked with NCT signs. Turn right immediately onto Samples Road and drive a half-mile to the trailhead at the top of the hill. If hiking, cross the road and hike north, following the Trail through a mix of jackpine openings and red pine woodlands. At 0.8 miles you will reach the first of several overlooks of the Brule Valley to the west. Look for glimpses of Big Lake, a widening of the river. The Trail follows an up-and-down route, passing in and out of glacial channels that once drained meltwaters from the lands to the east. Several woods roads are crossed. At 4 miles, the Winneboujou Bluff campsite is passed on the right. Following the campsite are two overlooks of Hoodoo Lake, a bog lake set within the Brule Valley. At 5 miles, a short spur trail leads right to the Samples Road Trailhead.
Chapter Maps and Guidance
View our section of the Trail on the interactive online map
Brule St. Croix Portage brochure
Chapter area map
Get a nice look of our section with these videos created by volunteer and hiker Kevin Smith
A Week in the Wilderness
North Country National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin
Hike 100 Challenge, Part 1: Introduction
Hike 100 Challenge, Part 2: MacQuarrie Wetlands
Hike 100 Challenge, Part 3: Pattison State Park
Hike 100 Challenge, Part 4: St. Croix National Scenic Riverway
Hike 100 Challenge, Part 5: Bird Sanctuary
Hike 100 Challenge, Part 6: Solon Springs Trail Town
Hike 100 Challenge, Part 7: Historic Portage Trail
Additional Local Resources
Pattison State Park
Brule River State Forest
Superior-Douglas County Visitors Bureau
Bayfield County Tourism