Bearskin State Trail

Wisconsin

Bearskin State Trail Facts

States: Wisconsin
Counties: Lincoln, Oneida
Length: 26.5 miles
Trail end points: Front St. and Flambeau St. (Minocqua) and County Road N between Heafford Road and Beach Road (Heafford Junction)
Trail surfaces: Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6017379
Trail activities: Bike, Fishing, Wheelchair Accessible, Mountain Biking, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Bearskin State Trail Description

The Bearskin State Trail follows a route blazed into the heart of the great North Woods, first by pioneers and loggers, and then by passengers and outdoors enthusiasts on trains with such names as the Hiawatha and Fisherman’s Special. Now it’s bicyclists, hikers, and snowboarders who disappear into the woods on a mostly crushed-gravel trail that runs for some 26 miles between Minocqua and Heafford Junction.

The trail follows an old spur of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (the Milwaukee Road) built from New Lisbon to Minocqua in 1887 to haul logs and lumber. As the timber industry declined, residents of big cities escaped to the area, encouraging the Milwaukee Road to run a Fishermen’s Special on weekends. Later, the streamlined North Woods Hiawatha ran vacationers north.

Passenger service ended in 1955 because of slumping ridership, and the Milwaukee Road ceased freight service to Minocqua in 1971. The state of Wisconsin acquired the rail bed and opened a trail in the late 1970s. The state extended the route 8.5 miles, including 4.5 miles on road, in 2016.

The trail traverses a sparsely populated area known for dense forests and a proliferation of lakes. Those lakes are a destination for fishermen as well as birders, especially during migratory season. In addition to spotting bald eagles and loons from the lakeside, you might spot deer from the trail. You’ll cross 16 converted railroad trestles, 8 alone spanning Bearskin Creek, the trail’s namesake.

Beginning in Minocqua, you’ll cross the longest of those trestles—375 feet long, to be exact—spanning Minocqua Lake. Although occasional clearings can be found next to marshes or lakes, the trail is mostly forested. Tree branches arching over the trail give the impression of passing through a tunnel.

Restrooms, drinking water, and food are scarce. Hazelhurst, at 5.1 miles, is the last town with full services until the end. A pit toilet and pump water are available at a picnic spot next to South Blue Lake (8.9 miles), and Goodnow (13.6 miles) has a restaurant.

You’ll gain insight into the former backwoods life from interpretive signs posted along the trail. A century-old railroad line shed, about 9.5 miles from Minocqua, attests to the rustic living conditions of some railroad workers. Elsewhere, you can read about the flora and fauna.

A rest stop is located on Old Highway K at 18 miles, and 1 mile later you’ll arrive at a 4.5-mile on-road segment. The final 2.5 miles of off-road gravel trail start again on Lake Nokomis Road and cross the lake on two trestles, one which completes a 0.3-mile causeway. The trail ends in Heafford Junction, which has food and lodging, where you join the Hiawatha Trail.

NOTE: A State Trail Pass ($25 annually/$5 daily) is required for bicyclists ages 16 and older. Snowmobilers must display either a Wisconsin registration or a snowmobile State Trail Pass. For information, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/trailpass.html.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the trailhead in Minocqua from US 51, turn westbound onto Front St. in Minocqua (about 2 miles south of Woodruff or 0.3 mile after crossing Minocqua Lake heading north). Turn right into the trailhead parking lot (behind the post office) 1 block after you pass Flambeau St. The trail starts at the west end of the parking lot.


To reach the trailhead in Heafford Junction from US 51, take Exit 234 westbound to US 8. Go 2.5 miles, and turn right onto County Road L. Go 1.6 miles, cross a bridge, and look for parking on the right, just past an ice-cream shop. The southern trail end is about a 1 mile south, at County Road N.

Bearskin State Trail Reviews

Trail in great shape. Early june. From Harshaw to Minocqua and back. Fabulous!

I rode this trail in Aug. of 2016. I started in Hazelhurst and rode to the northern trailhead in Minocqua. I then rode down to the southern trailhead at highway K and proceeded a few more miles south down the Hiawatha trail before turning back and riding back to Hazelhurst. I rode about 44 miles all together and loved every moment of the ride. There are plenty of rest stops along the way and there is a scenic overlook just north of pinewood golf course where I sat on the bench in the marsh and had an apple. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful ride. I wish I could do that ride every day. I loved it...

We road this in late July and I echo everything the last two reviewers mentioned. It's a nice trail, the parking lot on K is not well marked so you have to search, but it's a good ride. Unfortunately the bugs that time of year were FEROCIOUS and if you even paused for a minute you were swarmed. Much better to go in fall!

Accordion

We rode the Bearskin Trail, approx. nine miles from Minocqua to South Blue Lake, on June 18, 2016. The trail was well shaded and in good condition. Work is still being done on the Hwy. 51 overpass and, as others have said, it does not hinder moving along the trail. The "rest area" at South Blue Lake is a great place for a picnic, wading in the lake, fresh water, etc.

Road the trail on May 13th starting at County K and riding to the highway 51 overpass. The overpass is being replaced, but you can still get through by walking your bike across the bridge. The trail is in good condition with a few soft spots where the ground is low. The south end of the trail is kept pretty clear of branches by volunteer walkers. However, anytime there is a big storm you can expect branches and even trees down on the trail.

The South Blue Lake rest area has to be one of the nicest rest areas on any rail to trail. If you'd like to escape the hustle and bustle of Minocqua, I suggest packing a picnic lunch and eating it here. There are strategically located picnic tables scattered throughout the rest area. There is a well kept outhouse and pump water available as well. If it is summer, you could also pack a swim suit and take a dip in the lake. There is a shallow sandy bottom by the picnic tables.

There is not much in the way of restaurants on the south end of the trail. Ten Point bar and grill is open and you can get a burger there. The trail crosses Church Road where it meets Harshaw road. Ten Point is about a half mile south on Harshaw road. We've also eaten at the Pinewood Golf course, but I'm not sure if they still have a restaurant. To get there, go south on Lakewood road where it crosses the trail.

It is hard to find the parking lot for the trail on County K. The signage is not very well placed. Look carefully or take Harshaw road north and park at Church road. There is a restroom at the County K parking lot but not at Church road.

It has been about 20 years since I first rode the Bearskin Creek State Trail and at least 15 since I did end to end in both directions on the same day. I'm older now.

The trees have grown to form an arboreal tunnel for most of the distance which creates a lot of shade and some shelter from the wind. The forest understory is absolutely beautiful in it's lush greens, and water views abound. The lake at the 9 mile rest stop offers an opportunity for a quick dip to cool off and the water at the well was delicious and cold. Watched an eagle hunt and followed a doe and twin fawns for some distance before they left the trail.

The newer aggregate added to the trail is a bit course, but those areas are few. Pavement would be the first improvement I would ask for.

Rode our tandem recumbant trike from the Hwy K trailhead almost to Hwy 51 overpass for a 21 mile round trip. Scenery was outstanding, but the trail was littered with heavy debris from recent rains & one section had been covered with ballast about 2 feet thick. The trestles were nice having been redecked with parallel boards. The approaches to the trestles needed help with more ballast to smooth out the bumps. The paved hill around the roadbed between the 7 & 8 mile markers was a little steep for the trike. Did make it up coming back. All-in-all a good experience. Only saw 2 other groups of bikes.

The spot where the map indicates 4 tunnels is actually a steep hill up and then back down less than a half mile later where trail had to be routed off the railroad bed due to a property dispute over 20 years ago. There are no tunnels on this trail.

Good trail and well taken care of. Just an FYI we road on 10-July-2014 from the south trail head and the trail was underwater about 3miles in. Looked to be about 6-8 inches deep in the center and about 15-20 feet long.

Good trail and well taken care of. Just an FYI we road on 10-July-2014 from the south trail head and the trail was underwater about 3miles in. Looked to be about 6-8 inches deep in the center and about 15-20 feet long.

On day one, we started this ride at the southern end of the trail at County Road K and rode north to the overpass at US Rt. 51 just south of Hazelhurst which was a 22 mile round trip. The surface is crushed granite which the locals call "dirty granite" and it is a very hard packed surface even a day after a heavy downpour.
There is only one hill of any consequence in each direction and both segments of the trail at these locations are blacktopped for safety reasons (ie: 38 mph). The remainder of the route was relatively level with areas having very little incline with a 1.5% or less grade. The scenery throughout the ride was absolutely wonderful with canopied old growth forest of Jack Pine, Maple, White Birch and numerous other trees lining the entire route.
The trestles that spanned Bearskin Creek ranged from 35 ft to over 750 ft in length and were inviting stops for taking in the scenery or for taking pics. There was very little traffic which made for a very relaxing and enjoyable ride and lunch at the Hazelhurst Pub at the overpass is worth the while.
On day two, we started at the north end of the trail at the nice town of Minocqua riding south for about nine miles before turning around. This took us about three miles beyond our turnaround point of the previous day, but as I said before, it is beautiful. This section was a little more busy, but not enough to ruin a good ride. This trail is a very worthwhile one day ride consisting of about a 36 mile round trip starting at and ending with dinner in Minocqua.

This trail is easy to pass up, I missed the sign, turn by the BP station. Although the trail can be soft and sometimes water is over the trail, I have never been disappointed with the experience. It is a beautiful ride through a marshy pine bog forest. You might see beaver, muskrat, deer, frogs and snakes. The trail passes through a golf course a few miles out, FORE! There is another trail not too far away that is not a part of the rails to trails system but worth checking out it starts in Boulder Junction, WI which is north of Minoqua. When I visit this area I usually spend more time in Boulder as that trail is paved and is much longer (34mi I think) and goes through Crystal and Trout Lakes.

We did this trail on a very hot day, but the trees provided shade and with a slight breeze the weather was perfect! Your map shows four tunnels and these are actually trestles that cross streams and marshes. There is even a lookout area where you can stop and observe wildlife so you may want to bring binoculars which we didn't have this time. The trial is not busy and is shared with walkers and snowmobiles in the winter. There are several historical markers that describe trains that served the area for logging and passenger travel. There is parking off highway K at the south end of the trail and the southern half was my favorite section. This is a trail you should definitely check out!

I have a question about bearskin trail. Is there a hill called polnow hill. There was something about land right of way or dispute and the trail had to be rerouted up his hill? Glen Polnow monroetreeplanter@tds.net

I rode this trail a couple of weeks ago. It is well worth it. Minocqua has many good hotels and places to eat. We stayed at the Best Western it is just blocks away from the trail and nice. I would give the trail an "A" overall. The surface is crushed granite unlike the trails in southern Wisconsin. It doesn't pack down as well as the limestone. So there are loose areas that can cause a cyclist to fall if you're are not careful. Some of the bridges have the planks running with the trail instead of across it. There are gaps in the planking that could catch a skinny road tire and cause a fall. The trail doesn't go through any other towns so you have to bring your own drinks and such unless you don't mind about 6 block rides off the trail to find something. If you carry your own supplies and use a large size tire you'll love this trail. I saw several wild turkeys and a bald eagle but no deer or bears. The number of people on the trail is light even near Minocqua.

"Loved this trail! Saw my first bear in WI ever!
The deer just stand still and watch you go by! We will go back for sure!"

"You will not be disappointed with this trail whatsoever! My girlfriend and I rode the Sparta trail earlier in the summer and we liked the Bearskin much better overall! Incredible views and awesome bridges. Like others said, the pictures don't do the trail justice.

The bridges are just amazing to ride over. (see the photo gallery) I have a cabin in Tomahawk on Hwy. 86 West. So we loaded up the bikes and drove for 15-20 minutes to ride. Soon, the Hiwatha trail will connect to the Bearskin, allowing for roughly a 30 mile continious trail! That way I'll only have to drive 8 miles from the cabin to the start point!

This trail is a MUST ride for serious bike & trail riders. You will have a hard time finding a trail like this one!"

"My wife Yvonne and I rode this trail from the south end (County Road K) to Minocqua
on August 3, 2006. We forgot to bring our camera and wound up using a cheap
disposable. The pictures don’t do the trail justice. It was well worth the six hour drive up
from our home in Waukegan, IL. We are going back to do it again so we can get some
good photos. This trail gets five stars in our book. Be prepared for a hard climb at mile 7
northbound and mile 11 southbound. The trail makes a detour off the roadbed due to a
property dispute and goes over the hump instead of around it. If you’re in shape you can
do it, if not it’s a short push to the top and a steep ride down.

Dan & Yvonne Sylvester"

"From Minocqua to County K, the trail has a nice crushed granite surface that road bikes can handle. The scenery is a mix of pine and hardwood forest with a few lakes added for your viewing pleasure. I only wish the trail user did not have to stop for people's driveways (7 in 18 miles).

From County K in Oneida County to County N in Heafford Junction, the trail is a mix of dirt and sand. Too soft to ride my touring bike on. This section also has 2 gaps that need to be detoured on back roads (some paved and some gravel) or on County L (classic US 51).

From Heafford Junction to Tomahawk, the trail is locally known as the Hiawatha trail.
It has a nice crushed granite surface and a long bridge crossing the Wisconsin River. Watch for heavy traffic crossing US 8.
"

We have enjoyed this trail several times. There are lots of bridges and history of the railroad and area along the way. The views are unbeatable and Minocqua is full of hospitality with interesting shops and eateries.

This trail is made of crushed granite. The northern 11 miles are packed quite nicely. On the southern end the surface is soft in spots. Touring bikes can make this trip in spite of this. The small signs every so often help you appreciate the history of the railroad and area.

The trail on the southern end is just inches above the water/marsh in numerous places. It gives the feeling of being very close to nature -- cause you are!

One of the best marked trails I've ridden in a long time. Very nice for those staying south of town who arewithout water access to downtown Minocqua. The trail head is 2 blocks from the quiant downtown shopping district. Fees are steep ($3 day/$10 annual) and usually only mandatorily collected at the bridge. All grades are gradual and there is plenty of wildlife and sun from Minocqua south to bridge over US 51.

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