Chapter Trail Section
The 61-mile National Forest section of the North Country 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, to Forest Road 390, some 2 miles west of Mellen. The Trail offers an excellent summer hiking and backpacking experience. It is primarily a hiking trail and horse use is discouraged. Soils on the east end 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. Dogsled 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. In this section, the 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, as they are not allowed by the U.S. Forest Service. Instead you will find rustic NCT signs with arrows on cedar posts at confusing intersections. Please do not count on cell phone service. There are a number of “dead spots” on the NCT in the National Forest.
Trail Town: Mellen
Mellen was established in 1886 and is the second oldest city in Ashland County. Located just 25 miles South of Lake Superior and the City of Ashland, Mellen is situated near the Penokee Mountain Range and the Bad River that flows east to the well-known Copper Falls State Park and Loon Lake. The historic Mellen City Hall was built in 1892 and is located along the city portion of the North Country Trail, and has a museum on the upper floor. Mellen is a small, friendly town that offers a great stepping off point for your next great outdoor adventure.
Connect and Get Involved
Donate and join the Chapter
Read the Chapter newsletter and trail reports
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.
Camping is permitted along the Trail. Campsites must be kept at least 100 feet away from the trail or water’s edge. Two Adirondack shelters are along the Trail: One just off the Trail by the Marengo River and one just west of Forest Road 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 it will usually be exposed in time through animal or frost action. Human waste must be buried in a hole located at least 100 feet from any open water, trail, or campsite. Fires are allowed on National Forest land with caution. 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. Bears frequent the area along the NCT. 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, but be careful about getting between a mother bear and her cubs. There is no charge for most parking areas shown on the map, however, several of the more developed parking areas have fees. The following areas require either a daily fee or an annual sticker: Penokee Mountain Ski Trailhead (winter only), Lake Owen Picnic Ground, and Drummond Ski Trailhead.
Copper Falls Doughboys Hike to Copper Falls State Park: 2.3 miles. Doughboys Trail was first established by Veterans of WWI around the Gorge of the Bad River. In 1929 the State of Wisconsin purchased the land around the gorge and it officially became Copper Falls State Park. During the 1930s CCC Company 692 made many more improvements to the trail and built several structures within the park. Not only is this trail the most popular within the park, it is also a segment of certified NCT through the area. Waterfalls, 100+ foot canyon walls and unique geological features dominate the landscape. A 65-foot CCC-constructed observation tower with 250 steps offers views of the Penokee Range and Chequamegon Bay.
Mirror Lake Hike: 3.3 miles, easy to moderate. There are great views along this 3.3-mile segment of gradual climbs, dominated by gently rolling hills, woods and occasional canopy openings. You will hike past Stratton Ponds, Nelson Lake, Bullhead Lake, Mirror Lake, Esox Lake and Overby Lake. This section includes two trail reroutes built in 2009, two wooden puncheon built in 2008 and an earthen puncheon built in 2009. The first wooden bench installed along the NCT in the Chequamegon National Forest sits above Mirror Lake on this section of trail.
Porcupine Lake Wilderness: 4.3 miles. This section is located entirely within the Porcupine Lake Wilderness Area where blue blazes and mechanized equipment are prohibited. You will hike 4.3 miles through mature upland hardwood forest, skirt West Davis Lake, cross below the remnants of one beaver dam and across the top of two secondary beaver dams. The wilderness is home to the Porcupine Lake wolf pack, estimated in 2009 to contain six members. Wolves are seldom seen but their tracks and scat are frequently encountered on the Trail. This hike ends near Porcupine Lake, a gem of a lake with good fishing for panfish and largemouth, with several good camping sites. A nice rustic two log bridge crosses over Porcupine Creek flowing out of the lake and a spur trail follows the creek to the trailhead on Forest Road 213.
Rainbow Lake Wilderness: 3.8 miles, easy to moderate. This section of the Rainbow Lake Wilderness is best known for its picturesque lakes and the wolf pack that can sometimes be heard howling at night. The hike will begin along Anderson Grade Trail, an old railroad bed, and then will hook into the NCT in the Wilderness and head south toward Reynard Lake Road. On the way you will pass by Clay Lake, Flakefjord Lake, with a short hike into Bufo Lake to take a peak, and then on to Reynard Lake and Wishbone Lake. The route is relatively flat and forested.
Marengo River, Marengo Semi-Primitive Area: 3.7 miles, moderate to difficult. This hike makes a first stop at Juniper Rock Overlook (where weddings have occurred) and gives you a breathtaking view of the Marengo River Valley. The next stop will be on a bridge over the Marengo River followed by a tour of the Swedish Settlement from the late 1800s. There are two more scenic overlooks of the Marengo River Valley before the end of this hike. This is one of the Chequamegon’s most popular sections of NCT in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
Lake Owen: 3 miles, easy to moderate. The Lake Owen section was included in the first certified miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail. History runs deep with archeological evidence of American Indians living in villages along the Lake Owen shore more than 4,000 years ago. A section of this hike missed the heavy logging that took place in the 1880s. You will pass through Wisconsin’s only seven-acre stand of huge majestic virgin red pine, white pine and the rarer hemlock pine that survived the state’s clear-cut logging era. This hike offers scenic views of the majestic Lake Owen.
Chapter Maps and Guidance
View our section of the Trail on the interactive online map
Chapter section trail wiki
Mileage between sections
Additional Local Resources
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
USFS Washburn Ranger District
USFS Great Divide Ranger District