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The Bearskin State Trail follows a route blazed into the heart of the great Northwoods, 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.
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.
I left a previous review for a portion of this trail we did in June, 2022, riding from Minocqua South. On this trip we rode the first portion from South to North. Starting in Tomahawk. There is a big difference between the two starting locations.
We started the ride on the Hiawatha State Trail (a 6 mile trail, not 14) from our hotel on Menominee Court in Tomahawk. I left a review on that trail, it had its challenges. The trail connected to Bearskin without any hiccups. The 4.5 miles that are noted in this AP as being off road, has two sections, 3/4 mile each where surface is heavy loose gravel (1/2" gravel stones). Not a pleasant riding experience. The portion on County Rd L is 3/4 of a mile, expect there to be traffic. (to sum up, 4.5 miles of off road, with 1.5 miles on loose gravel, and 3/4 mile on a well travelled county road.) Half of that stretch (2.5 miles) isn't the best riding conditions. Our ride that day was 30 miles. We don't quit when faced with obstacles.
We started at the Bearskin Trailhead in Minocqua, going South. It was a great starting point with a large park, indoor toilet and picnic tables. We came upon a short detour (about 1/16 mile) on Lakewood Road, as there is a new bridge under construction. (not just a trellis, but concrete). There is a sandy road portion, we walked our bikes up. No biggie, just a few yards. Between miles 11-12 going South from Minocqua there is a challenging asphalt hill. One up and one going down a short distance from the other. Both are asphalt. Going South the hill is steeper on the downhill side. Be prepared when you traverse the other direction, it is a harder climb, to which we walked up. Surface is finely crushed stone. We rode 30 miles.
Not sure which trail 'marycooksupfun' was riding, but it was likely not the Bearskin Trail. This ride offers a very secluded and lightly traversed gravel 8' wide crushed granite trail with many rustic bridges crossing the Bearskin Creek. There is a 3 mile detour once you cross under highway 51 that takes you down Branch Rd (rarely trafficked) onto Highway L for 1/4 mile, then onto Lakewood Rd/ Rocky Rd until you are reconnected to the granite trail. Previous posted may have went on the private property portion of the trail, which only opens for snowmobilers.
We rode this trail for about 10 miles from Minocqua. It is a beautiful trail and very well kept. The portion of the trail that we rode was completely open.
We rode this trail today. Starting in Minocqua going south. 17 miles from Minocqua the trail is fine there was no closures. A previous reviewer may have found a bridge repair that cost a portion of the trail to be closed. Homeowners along the trail have stopped access to their property going to various businesses off the trail. As a private property that is their prerogative. The trail is fairly flat with gentle inclines. There is one paved hill in each direction that we went that is challenging.
My husband and I have put over 2000 miles enjoying a variety of trails all over WI last year and we’ve never been more disappointed than we were with the Bearskin. We were really looking forward to this trail because of the promise of wonderful wilderness. First we tried leaving out of Minocqua. We were fine for a while but then the trail forked off. The original trail was closed and labeled no trespassing. The trail replacement was a steep rollercoaster that wasn’t anything close to the 3% grade typically indicative to a trails-to-trails. We also noticed that every few feet we encounter signs pointing to bars, pubs, distilleries and strip joints. We’d never seen anything like this on other trails and spoiled what was probably a pristine landscape at one point. Because it was May and we’d had rain the path turned to swamp and we had to turn back. The next day we tried the trail from the other end. The first 4 miles was beautiful but then the trail was again closed and we were diverted to a gravel road through a subdivision and out onto highway L that exposed us to 70 Mph logging trucks wizzing by and the blast of air that comes with each pass. At that point we said, ‘oh he** no” and went back. When we got back to where we started, the gal at the BP asked how our ride went. She then explained that the reason so much of the Bearskin is closed is because it is also a snowmobile trail and the ‘beilers’ go from bar-to-bar and then end up ‘drunk beiling.’ The ‘beilers’ divert from the trail, tear up the fields and private property. Apparently there have also been excessive accidents and deaths on the trails and on the private lands adjacent to the trail so the landowners pulled the rites — and frankly I can’t blame them — I mean seriously, ‘those damn drunk hikers and bicycles just speeded onto my land, trashed my field then spun out of control, flipped their bike and killed themselves,’ said no land owner — ever. It’s a shame this trail has been spoiled.
Great trail. Very peaceful, tranquil and scenic. Many lakes to view along the way.
This is my wife's new favorite trail EVER, and we've done many of the famous ones. It is crushed stone, so of course it's not as fast as asphalt, but it is in fantastic shape, wide enough to ride and converse, and like all rail trails, flat for a gentle sight-seeing cruise speed. There was the START of a chipmunk hole, only a divot, really, but someone put a warning flag on it. One spot was soft, and one a very slight drainage rut, neither consequential, yet someone had put out a flag. The approach to and the the trestles themselves impeccably maintained, and any shoulder or maintenance work had been replanted in native sedges so invasives were kept at bay. And scenery! Lakes , century old white pines, tamarack/spruce bogs, deer, turkeys...we can't wait to return. I hope those responsible see this review. Thanks!!!!
Great trail for year round biking and hiking.
We started at the parking lot at highway K and rode north to Blue Lake. This section (roughly 10 miles) was beautiful—a mix of woods opening to many trestles. We saw a deer on the trail and a water snake at the observation point. Bathroom facilities were located at Highway K and Blue Lake. The “steep hill” on the map wasn’t so bad (although we 60 year olds walked our bikes up); the rest of the trail was minimal grade change with a good surface (and paved in the hill).
This is a fun trail for all ages! Convenient location in downtown Minocqua. Lots of water views, the trail is well maintained and mostly flat surface.
Started in Minocqua and biked south to the trailhead at the Cty L/Cty N junction. The trail was beautiful and well maintained with several bridges crossing Bearskin Creek & other streams. Looking out away from the trail were outstanding views of the WI north woods. Lots of deer, birds, a turtle & frogs.
The trail needs to be better marked after you begin riding the road section. There was no sign on Hwy L directing a biker to turn off onto a different road to continue riding other roads towards the gravel trail section again. There should be a sign visible on Hwy L telling bikers to turn, not a sign on the road that we should have turned onto to correctly follow that road. We ended up following Hwy L for far too long on that busier road to Lake Nokomis, where we rediscovered the gravel trail again.
However, the Windmill ice scream shop @ Lake Nokomis is outstanding!! :)
Make sure to follow the Bike signs. Going North from Tomahawk, the trail makes a hard right onto a paved road. It’s easy to keep going straight onto the snowmobile trail which is private property.
We biked this trail and the scenery was breath taking. Loved the trestle bridges which were well marked with a sign saying the length of the bridge and what waterway the bridge went over. The trail is well maintained with crushed gravel, picnic tables along the route, and is well marked with signs. Highly recommend this trail. We will definitely go back.
Trail is in great shape!
Solid gravel base so your tires don't sink in, smooth and lots of wildlife.....no bears though...ha..ha..
Rode from county K to south blue lake. Saw snakes, frogs, and turtles and smelled a bear and saw fresh scat on the trail. Met up with maint guy who said that he too has seen bears on this trail, thus confirming my suspicions. This is the best trail in WI that i have ridden so far. Wild country, limited people, few bugs (although it was very windy). Trestles were cool. Got photos of canoeists on river and bikers on trail. Had to push my bike up the very steep hill (why is there a steep hill on a rail trail??). Will do again if in the area. Way too much fun!
I rode the Bear Skin Trail Oct. 6, 2017, starting at County K. I saw no other riders during my evening ride. The lakes and river scenery was spectacular. Bring a camera. I expected to see deer and was not disappointed. Most of the deer quickly disappeared into the forest, but one doe stood 20 feet from the trail and never moved as I passed. Her image will be in my mind forever. Riding the Bear Skin Trail in early morning or early evening should produce many wildlife sightings. The trail accommodates all bicycles with it's hard-packed surface.
Had a great time on this Trail. very nice
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!
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 email@example.com
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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