Ahhh... The Wetlands of The North! Who would have ever foreseen that two kids from Wisconsin, who couldn't wait to head West, would one day return and declare love for the land they left behind? Certainly not us! But here we are.
This particular part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is the first place I (DeAnn) ever rode a bike on gravel roads (my road bike with gravel tires), and it is also where we started to know we would be saying goodbye soon to our dear friend Loki (RIP 2018). For these reasons, and more, this place will always be a special place to us.
We returned again in 2020, with many gravel miles now behind me, and with a bike built specifically for me to ride gravel roads (thank you Kurt).
DeAnn CNNF, 2020.
Kurt, CNNF 2020.
In August of 2020 when we arrived here specifically to ride gravel, we had a great first day of riding. Unfortunately, on our second day we were rained out of our planned ride. From the moment we had to cancel our second day of riding, we knew we would be back to finish our unfinished business, and so we did in August 2021. It is with absoluteness that we can now confirm that this area is one of the most spectacular places to both relax, and gräventyr.
2021 ~ Sun's Out! Let's Do THIS!
Below are our Scouting Notes from the insight we have gained on our three trips to this area.
Scouting Notes: Black Lake, WI ~ Wetlands of The North
Travel Time: From Minneapolis ~ 4-ish hours with a camper in tow, and if you are going up through Grantsburg to have some ice cream and pick up some cheese.
Gravel Camp: Black Lake Campground, Winter, WI. Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
We have deemed this the ‘Wetlands of The North’. What does that mean? One, it means the terrain here is uniquely beautiful, and the gravel riding very doable (i.e. not huge up and down rolling hills). But, it also means that this area is full of deep dense woods and boggy territory, which in turn means ~ we would advise coming here on a dry year (like in 2021), during a dry Fall, and/or well after mosquitoes are likely to hatch. We would NOT advise coming here during a wet year, in the height of Summer, or immediately after a mosquito hatch. Trust us.
Skeeter Rating: 1-2 on this trip (the drought of 2021), but this area could go off the charts to 10+ depending on when you come. Our rating was definitely going up on our last day as the temperature increased and more mosquitoes and deer flies were finding us.
Bring bug spray to deter both mosquitoes and deer flies (D uses Buzz Away and sprays it liberally everywhere before our rides).
I have to say ~ for all these reasons, this is exactly why I like gravel riding. I am in the woods, but not IN the woods. No one could ever get me to go for a hike on a trail here, but you can for sure get me on a bike where there is wide open space around me and I can see the sky.
My notes from 2020 say:
“Despite my fear/anxiety of bugs and dense woods, I have had a lovely time here at Black Lake. We haven’t even been gone 48 hours, but it feels like we’ve been here a week. There is nothing more restorative than being in the woods.”
Our First Gravel Camp, 2018
Moose Lake Campground
In 2018 we stayed at Moose Lake Campground. We arrived fairly late in the day and I about had a heart attack when we opened the car door. The mosquitos were thick and the Wisconsin girl in me started to panic with childhood flashbacks. We hopped in the camper discussing possibly leaving the next day, but we had plans to bike, and be together as a family, so I tried to forget what was happening outside our door.
DeAnn's first gravel ride from Moose Lake Campground, 2018
The next day the mosquitoes were not great, but it was tolerable to walk around the campground. And more tolerable to hop on our bikes (just don’t stop....). And we were rewarded for our efforts. Biking here was fun, it was doable for me, it was beautiful. I fell deeply in love (with gravel biking, I already love Kurt).
Moose Lake Campground. Loki (RIP shortly after this trip) with his best friend Inge.
Moose Lake Gravel Camp 2018.
Moose Lake Campground is very small. When we stayed here in 2018 we were literally the only people camping here. Since 2018 this campground seems to have grown in popularity as it has been nearly full both times we have stopped (2020 & 2021).
But for our money, we would stay at Black Lake Campground, which we scouted out during our 2018 trip and have returned to twice.
Black Lake 2021. The view from our campsite (24).
Black Lake Campground
This is a great small campground bordering Black Lake.
Ideal stay would be a weekday trip, or Saturday - Monday (much quieter on many fronts).
Best sites: 10, 18, 19 *Kurt’s pick and likely the most popular site (we haven’t stayed here yet), **24 our pick and where we stayed in 2021.
The views from site 24 (Night, Dawn, Day)!
We stayed in Site 6 in 2020
- Sites are reservable
- Vault Toilets
- Pump water is of good drinkable quality. The only issue with the pump is you really need two people to operate it. We would always advise bringing a water funnel camping to fill bottles and large containers ~ that was especially important here. We had one person pumping, a funnel in our container that the second person was holding in place as they also held up the silver knob so that the water comes out. This is all to say, if you are one person, bring some water in or make sure you understand water will not come out unless you are pulling the knob up.
- Campfires? Yes. Wood is available at the Host Campsite when you drive in. $5 on our 2021 visit.
- Cell Signal. No. Enjoy it and be sure you bring a good map, and or have routes preloaded into your Wahoo, etc. before you arrive. For cell service you will need to drive into Clam Lake.
- Dump Station? No. We drive through Ojibwa Park Campground near Winter, WI on our way home. Bring $10 to drop at the self-pay booth on your way in. We usually come through here on a Monday and have never seen anyone here, so it’s a quick in/out.
Our general synopsis: A slightly undulating meander through low lying wetlands and heavily forested National Forest land.
I thought a lot on these rides about how gravel cycling is more and more being promoted as an ‘extreme’ sport for endurance and professional athletes, and people who like to push themselves to the max. Although that all has its place, it unfortunately makes it more intimidating to 98% of us 'ordinary' folks who just want to ride. Not to worry, that is why WE are here ~ for you.
What gravel cycling really is, is for everyone (read our post) ~ and riding here is a perfect example of that. There are no huge climbs or daring descents on these two routes, simply gravel roads that are peaceful, giving you a place to spend quality time with someone you care about, letting your mind unwind and putting years back on your life (at least it does for us).
(click on image above for route on Strava)
Route 1: Black Lake Loop
This is the Unfinished Business from 2020 we Finished in 2021. This is a great gentle loop that still makes you feel like you did something fun and rewarding.
- 16.43 miles
- 544 ft elevation gain
- Max Climbing grade 6.1% (for a split second)
(click on image above for route on Strava)
Route 2: Wetlands of The North Loop
Another great gentle loop taking you by many boggy areas, and for a short 2 miles down a paved road that on our trip was desolate (only one car) and smooth as butter, ending near Fishtrap Creek for a good photo-op.
- 15.94 miles
- 512 ft elevation gain
- Max Climing grade 6.1% (again, for a split second)
This was a three-day weekend trip for us (Saturday-Monday), but we could easily could have kept going for a week on the endless miles of gravel roads. We look forward to our next visit!