What to do in Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest

Established in 1925 to protect the streamflow at the headwaters of the Wisconsin, Flambeau and Manitowish Rivers, the Northern-Highland American Legion (NHAL) State Forest occupies 225,000 acres. This is the largest state property in Wisconsin and the most visited. Over two million visitors come to the state forest each year to enjoy a wide array of recreational activities.

The forest is characterized by its abundance of scenic lakes and streams. There are 930 lakes that lie within the forest boundary and 247 miles of waterways. These water resources lend sports enthusiasts and recreationists to a variety of activities on this magnificent state forest.

A wide variety of wildlife and bird species that occur in northern Wisconsin can be found within the forest. Common wildlife that can be seen include deer, beaver, otter, fox, coyote and black bear. Goshawks, blue jays, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, chickadees and song sparrows are just a few of the hundred or so bird species that can be seen or heard in the forest. Be sure to keep your eyes open to see a soaring bald eagle or your ears tuned in to hear a loon or two.

Northern Highland / American Legion State Forest is one of Wisconsin's most popular outdoor playgrounds. Nearly every outdoor pursuit may be enjoyed on the Forest.

There are 18 campgrounds offering 900 campsites. Varying styles of camping is offered: 100 primitive canoe campsites are found along the 247 miles of waterways; two group camps accommodate 100 people; winter camping is permitted at designated grounds; and wilderness sites afford a backcountry experience. Five family campgrounds (Crystal Lake, Muskie Lake, Clear Lake, Firefly Lake, and Indian Mounds), two group campgrounds, and four wilderness campgrounds accept reservations through the Wisconsin State Park's central reservation system. Thirteen campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Canoe campers have over 70 sites for one night only at each site camping. There is no charge for these sites, but campers must access them by canoe or boat. Backpack camping is permitted at no charge using the Lumberjack Trail or existing snowmobile trails. A permit is required for this type of camping. Special permits may be obtained at the Trout Lake Headquarters, the Woodruff Service Center or at one of the contact stations. Firewood is sold daily, Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends. A wood pin with posted hours is available at the North Trout Campground. Collection of dead and down wood is permitted. Wood cannot be collected from an active logging site. Chainsaws are not permitted in the campgrounds.

The Forest has four picnic areas with drinking water and vault toilets. The Crystal Lake, Clear Lake, Indian Mounds and Little Star Picnic areas also have swimming beaches.

There are four nature trails ranging in length from 1.5-mile to 2.5-miles. Hundreds of miles of other trails are available including old logging roads suitable for mountain biking. Designated mountain bike trails include McNaughton, Madeline and Lumberjack. There are two trails on or near the Forest that have surfaces good for all bicycles. The Bearskin State Trail has trailheads in Minocqua and on Hwy. K near Hwy. 51. Also, the town of Boulder Junction maintains a paved bike trail that runs from the Crystal Lake Campground to Boulder Junction.

The Forest has a full-time naturalist on staff that during the summer offers day and evening programs at the Crystal Lake Nature Center and Clear Lake Campground. Migrant and resident bird life includes hummers, raptors, songbirds, and waterfowl. More than 50 species of mammals and 27 species of retiles and amphibians pervade the park For information about the nature programs and guided hikes look for information boards located throughout the Forest or call 715-385-2727.

Boaters and canoeists will find over a dozen launch ramps on the Forest. A popular stretch of waterway is the Manitowish River that travels from High Lake to Flambeau Flowage offering 44 miles of slow moving water. The majority of canoe campsites are on this river and the Manitowish Chain of Lakes.

With the Forest offering 930 lakes, sport fishing reigns. Popular catches include northern pike, bass, muskie, perch, crappie, and bluegill. The Manitowish River system supports populations of trout and sturgeon.

The Forest lends itself to many winter activities. Hunting, subject to certain regulations, is permitted. Cross-country skiers will find more than 40 miles of groomed and marked trails and another 30 miles of winter use trails. The forest keeps three trail parking lots plowed especially for snowshoers. Snowmobilers have nearly 400 miles of trails that connect with an extensive network of county and local club trails. Ice fishing is another popular pastime.

Pets are welcome but must be kept on an eight-foot leash. Pets are not permitted on the nature trails.

Magnificent outdoor opportunities on Northern Highland / American Legion State Forest involve hiking, backpacking, camping, canoeing, canoe camping, waterskiing, boating, swimming, fishing, hunting, bird watching, wildlife and nature study, scenic driving, off-roading, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and more.

Northern Highland / American Legion SF is located in Northeast Wisconsin in Iron, Oneida and Vilas counties. The headquarters is on Trout Lake, several miles south of Boulder Junction.

Northeast Wisconsin has four distinct seasons with warm summers and long winters. Great Lakes Michigan and Superior tend to make summers cooler and winters milder close to shore. January's average temperature is in the teens F (-teens C). Average July temperature is 68-70 degrees F (20 degrees C). During summer, temperatures can climb to above 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) for a several day stretch. The area's average yearly precipitation ranges from 30-32". Annual snowfalls in the Northeast Region have a wide range; the southern areas may receive 50" while the northern areas may receive in excess of 180". Nighttime summer temperatures can dip below freezing. Dressing in layers is a good way to remain comfortable in Wisconsin.

Trout Lake Forestry Headquarters
4125 CTY HWY M
Boulder Junction, WI 54512

Phone: 715-385-2727

  • Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest Travel Q&A