Hiking and walking are hugely popular in the Merrill area. What better way to appreciate your time spent living or visiting the northwoods than to get outside, breathe in the fresh air, slow down the speed of life, and take in the scenery?
With an abundance of paved, graveled, and rustic walking trails, it’s not a question of IF you want to go walking or hiking, but where?
One area hiking enthusiast from Gleason is passionate about getting out into the countryside where varied terrain and views make the hike particularly enjoyable.
Read on to learn more about some of his favorite trails.
Take a Hike! Near Merrill, that is
BY CHRIS SCHOTZ
The Underdown Recreation Area: A Hike for Every Season and So. Much. More.
A maze of countless hills and meandering bogs makes the Underdown Recreation Area a year-round adventure destination. With 37 miles of remote mountain bike single track, 25 miles of noteworthy horse trails, and an Ice Age Trail segment, there is much to discover on bike, on horseback, or on foot. Lush greenery in the summer and an explosion of autumn colors reflect on five accessible lakes on Horn Lake Road and on the brink of the roaring canyon of the Prairie Dells.
Bike trails begin at the North Trailhead on Copper Lake Road with a rugged roll in old-school style over 70 hills, also open to hikers. A machine-built vibe engages the flow just south of Horn Lake Road all the way to the South Trailhead on Heineman Road and the brink of Prairie Dells. The Heinemania segment, created in 2023, takes the scenery and fun factor to a new pinnacle, linking Merrill Memorial Forest to Lincoln County Forest. Numerous locator maps will keep a wanderer on course, assuming they don’t get swept away by hidden gems and lose all track of time and space.
Bike and hike trails were built and maintained by volunteers along with the totally separate horse trail system maintained by the Underdown Horse Club, which includes four single-file diversions for equestrians up for a challenge. An expansive campground includes a pavilion and sites large enough for trailers on Copper Lake Road. All users should be mindful that, although it may seem like there is not another soul for miles, we are sharing this gorgeous location with others and should model good humor and patience upon those chance encounters between bike and horse and bear.
The Underdown doesn’t go into hibernation when fall gives way to winter. Lincoln County grooms a lengthy ski network with unbeatable classic skiing far into the backcountry. Journeys on skis start from the east end of the Copper Lake Road parking lot, while snowshoers start their hikes from the west end and take in winter-only views from frozen lakes and bogs, over a system of stacked loops up to the five-mile Dog Lake jaunt or eight-mile Mist Lake escapade. Skiers and hikers may cross paths with fat bikers who generally start their rides at the Prairie Dells Trailhead on Heineman Road. A full 25 miles of fat bike trails are groomed when conditions allow, notably the lines over remote lakes and along the Prairie River that are only accessible in winter. Bikes are not allowed on the groomed snowmobile and ski trails that they traverse except for a short section of Horn Lake Road.
For more information, check out these resources:
Ice Age Trail
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail winds a path from the St. Croix River, through the heart of the state, and all the way back up to Door County through Wisconsin’s great outdoors and is still being developed and extended. Traversing around and through lakes, river valleys, gently rolling hills, and ridges are reminders that just 12,000 years ago, during the Ice Age, much of North America lay under a huge glacier.
Explore the topographical treasures bestowed on Lincoln County by the earth’s last major glaciations hiking segments of the Ice Age Trail north of Merrill. Over 600 lakes and many of the most famous features of Wisconsin’s nearly 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail are right here in Lincoln County where volunteers from the Northwoods Chapter maintain around 50 miles of remote hiking trail from Langlade to Taylor Counties which each claim 50+ miles of their own. The continuous trail across these three counties can take a hiker away from civilization for a couple hours or a couple weeks.
Starting from Hwy 17 on the east, the 15-mile Harrison Hills Segment is one of the most vertically challenging segments with the highest point on the entire Ice Age Trail between Sturgeon Bay and St. Croix Falls, Lookout Mountain, which is also Wisconsin’s fourth highest county high point. This segment passes eight remote lakes, four of which have remote campsites, including the memorial shelter between Bus Lake and Turtle Lake Road.
After historic Pay Springs, the trail takes in 100-year-old railroad history along the Prairie River on the Alta Junction Segment where you’ll pass the fork where cargo trains turned west toward Tomahawk and tourist trains took the east fork to the lakes.
A two-mile road hike brings hikers to the Underdown Segment with six miles of hilly terrain and the Schotz Shelter at Dog Lake. Eight miles of quiet road connects Underdown to the majestic Grandfather Falls Segment where trail follows both banks of the Wisconsin River past billion-year-old Precambrian stone carved into abstract forms by a river now diverted into massive hydroelectric penstocks that take advantage of the largest drop of the entire Wisconsin River.
Plausible legend has it that the Turtle Rock Segment passes the site of pre-contact offerings before the trail finishes its journey toward Taylor County through lumber camp history across imposing New Wood Country.
As a point-to-point trail, the Ice Age Trail can be a logistical challenge for day hikers seeking loops instead of an out-and-back. With a map and some basic navigational skills, hikers can find nice jaunts of an hour or two around the old mountain up Ski Hill Road or through the Underdown where miles of bike and horse trail give countless route choices for day hikes. Refresh yourself in the Ice Age Trail Community of Merrill after your time on the trail.
For more information, go to: iceagetrail.org.
I’m not sure about you, but I think it’s time for me to take a hike, right here where I live in the heart of Wisconsin in Lincoln County “Where the Northwoods Start and Your Adventure Begins!”