Jul 10, 2014
Vilas County – Jewel of the Northwoods
This wild corner of Wisconsin offers clear waters and towering forests
Sitting up at Wisconsin’s northern border, you’ll find a landscape of lush, green pine forests and blue water. The communities of Boulder Junction, Conover, Eagle River, Lac du Flambeau, Land O’Lakes, Manitowish Waters, Phelps, Presque Isle, Sayner, Star Lake, St. Germain, Winchester and the Minocqua area are surrounded by innumerable lakes. Few places in Wisconsin offer so much water and wilderness. This is Vilas County, a place seemingly designed to be the perfect destination for hunting and fishing.
Water is what really makes Vilas County stand out. The county is home to 73 rivers and streams and more than 1,300 lakes that date back to the last Ice Age. The clean, clear waters of these natural lakes truly set them apart from any other place in the Midwest. Vilas County’s waters give rise to the most important waterway in the state: From the gin-clear waters of Lake Vieux Desert flows the Wisconsin River, which runs for 420 miles to its confluence with the Mississippi River. These critical headwaters are protected by the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
The Northern Highland–American Legion State Forest was established in 1925 to protect the headwaters of the Wisconsin and Manitowish rivers. This 232,000-acre stretch of wilderness spanning three counties holds everything from emerald trout ponds to the 3,800-acre Trout Lake. An intrepid angler willing to do some exploration will find lakes seldom fished that willingly give up stocky bass and feisty crappie.
Vilas County’s extensive water resources would be unavailable to the general population if it weren’t for the outstanding public access. Throughout the county, you’ll find more than 200 public boat landings and access points. Nearly all of the largest lakes in the county have a landing, and those that don’t may be accessible via another lake or waterway. The choices are endless.
Vilas County has, arguably, the best fishing lakes in the state. The sheer number of lakes combined with the unmatched water quality produces a fishing destination extraordinaire. Anglers will find exceptional fishing for smallmouth, largemouth, northern pike, walleye, crappie, bluegill and, of course, musky. There are even deep, cold lakes that hold lake trout and whitefish.
While there is a long tradition of walleye fishing in Vilas County, northern pike and largemouth bass are also plentiful in the county’s lakes. Vilas County is well-known for its superb smallmouth bass fishing—the clear waters produce bronzebacks with extraordinarily beautiful coloration. Crappie, bluegill and perch can be caught on most lakes as well.
The fish that gets the most attention in Vilas County, however, is the musky, and for good reason. Every year, Vilas County’s lakes give up some of the season’s largest muskies. One of the reasons why Vilas County’s musky attain such gargantuan proportions is the excellent forage base. The word pristine gets thrown around a lot, but Vilas County’s lakes truly match that description. The pristine waters support a thriving ecology, and that leads to some big, fat fish.
The forests of Vilas County offer good hunting. The Northern Highland–American Legion State Forest, Chequamegon–Nicolet National Forest and county forest lands add up to over 245,000 acres of public land. A hunter will find plentiful game and plenty of room to roam.
Vilas County offers excellent deer hunting opportunities. During the gun deer season, the county posts some big bucks. The deep forest and varied landscape gives bucks a chance to grow. And, with all its elbow room and isolated forest glades, bowhunters love Vilas County.
Vilas County is well known for its tremendous ruffed grouse hunting. The mix of old-growth forest and newly cut parcels gives grouse just the right mix of food and cover in order to thrive. Some of the best grouse hunting opportunities in the county can be found along the many logging roads that run through the national, state, and county forests.
In addition to deer and grouse, Vilas County offers bear hunting. Vilas County is classic bear country, offering older forests and vast areas for bear to prosper unhindered by human activity. Wild turkey hunting is also available.
An angler or hunter looking for a family-friendly fishing or hunting destination will find Vilas County fits the bill. And, Vilas County offers more than just great fishing and hunting. It’s also the ideal family vacation destination.
Throughout the county, you’ll find 58 designated trails, including six paddling routes. Trails include rugged backcountry mountain bike trails as well as level walking paths.
Many families come to Vilas County simply for the biking trails. Families love pedaling along the Heart of Vilas County trail, an over 40-mile paved trail, connecting communities throughout the county and offering wonderful scenery. Mountain bikers will love the forested trails of Anvil Lake and Razorback Ridges.
Vilas County offers a number of canoeing and kayaking opportunities. Many of the quiet, undeveloped lakes in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest are perfect for family paddling.
Trail users have a number of ways to obtain trail maps and trail information. The county’s website, Vilas.org, provides maps of all area trails as well as complete trip-planning information. The recently published 23” x 38” map includes a map of each trail, driving directions and a map showing the location of every trail in the county. The new map includes six water trails for canoeists and kayakers. In addition, the county has released a trails app for iPhone that allows trail users to carry all of the county’s maps right in their pocket. Both the map and the iPhone app are free and can be ordered by visiting Vilas.org.
During the winter months, Vilas County transforms into the state’s premier winter vacation destination. The 1,300 lakes get ice early and hold ice till late in the season, making Vilas County unmatched as an ice fishing destination. Some of the county’s biggest walleyes of the year are caught through the ice.
Vilas County offers a number of well-groomed trails for cross-country skiing. Wherever you are in the county, you’re just minutes away from an outstanding ski trail. Snowshoers can explore more than 245,000 acres of public lands or trek designated snowshoe trails.
Snowmobilers love Vilas County. The County offers 600+ miles of groomed snowmobile trails. And, snowmobilers in Vilas County can connect to trails running throughout northern Wisconsin and far up into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The twelve resort communities of Vilas County have been catering to hunters and anglers for more than a century and know how to do it right. Since the first railways were built to reach the Northwoods, people have been heading north to hunt and fish. But visitors found more than just abundant fish and wildlife—they found innkeepers, guides, restaurants, shops and residents who welcomed them with open arms.
Ultimately, it’s the people of Vilas County that keep outdoorsmen and vacationers coming back, year after year. This is a special place, and the folks who live in Vilas County don’t mind sharing it with others.
For more information on all Vilas County has to offer, check out the website at Vilas.org or call 1-800-236-3649.