I had seen the paved bike trail winding along Highway M plenty of times during my summer in Boulder Junction, but didn’t give it another thought until August. Was it really likely to be much fun on my perilously outdated mountain bike?
Answer: Yes! Now I’m left to wonder why I didn’t take advantage earlier.
The trail, known as the Crystal Lake Trail, runs from the Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce to Crystal Lake Campground 11 miles away and is part of the Heart of Vilas County Bike and Hike Trail System.
From Crystal Lake, cyclists can continue to neighboring Sayner and then on to St. Germain. The trail system opened in 1994 and has steadily gained mileage, with four new miles in Sayner this year and more in the works.
Combined, the system encompasses 27 miles of trail that keeps cyclists off the roads and closer to the woods.
The local municipalities, Boulder Junction, Sayner and St. Germain, built their own sections of the line, using local tax dollars and state grants.
The trail is heavily used by both jersey-clad bike whizzes and brand-new athletes, young families and boomer couples. There are two reasons why, both the result of admirable foresight or common sense by the trail designers.
First, it is simply lovely. Only six feet wide in most places, the pavement is ensconced by trees and shrubs, with flat to manageably hilly terrain. While much of the trail runs within 20 feet of Highway M, the road is often out of view and traffic is light enough for an atmosphere of relaxation.
Photo by Sara Knutson
One trail segment joins a wide but rarely-used road right on the shore of Trout Lake. The ten feet of trees standing between the cyclists and one of Boulder Junction’s largest lakes provide constantly-changing peeks of the water.
Another segment runs along Crystal Lake with its beach, picnic tables, and the intimacy that comes with a much smaller but no less picturesque lake.
The second critical factor is the trail’s ample accessibility.
There are obvious trailheads at the Chamber of Commerce and the intersection of Highways M and N, complete with ample parking, bathrooms, and potable water. But beyond that, the system dips all the way to the entrance of at least five state campgrounds.
The result is that campers can safely access the trail without so much as crossing a road and bike to one of the many picnic areas, beaches, or even into Boulder Junction or Sayner.
As a result, bikers can go out for an hour or all day and have plenty to do and explore. But beware: on a trail this enjoyable, you may not want to turn back.
Sara Knutson, a Shorewood native, spent the summer guiding campers in Manitowish Waters. In earlier contributions to Off the Couch, she shared her experiences paddling in the Sylvania Wilderness and hiking in the Porcupine Mountains.