Outdoor lovers often overlook the National Scenic Trails network, which has helped preserve and provide access to the wilderness since the federal government established the first of the trails more than 30 years ago. The Midwest claims all of one National Scenic Trail and several stretches of another. Each of the outings that follows is within a few miles of comfortable lodgings and restaurants, and a Midwest Living editor has hiked or biked each one.
The entire 1,000-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail arcs like a sound wave across Wisconsin, from the St. Croix River north of Minnesota's Twin Cities to near Sturgeon Bay in Door County. Northwest of Wausau, the trail twists for 50 miles along the crests of small ridges and through tall stands of hemlocks and pines. One of the easiest places to access the trail is west of Rib Lake (65 miles northwest of Wausau). You can follow the trail west into Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to nearby Mondeaux Recreation Area and a lake popular for camping and fishing.
Another excellent stretch of the trail begins just north of Rib Lake off County-D. From the trailhead beside Harper Lake Road, the wide, grassy route scales a hill, then bends into an open area. Serious hikers head north on the Timm's Hill Trail, a steep 10-mile side trip that leads to Wisconsin's highest point (1,951 feet). For maps and detailed information: Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Medford District Office (715/748-4875). Area travel information: Medford Chamber of Commerce (888/682-9567).
About 2,500 miles of the 3,200-mile North Country National Scenic Trail weave across Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. Some 875 miles pass through Michigan, with nearly 130 miles piercing Manistee National Forest in the west-central Lower Peninsula not far from the town of Manistee (about 80 miles north of Muskegon).
For a 13-mile hike with particularly lofty views, begin at the Marilla Trailhead (30 miles northeast of Manistee) and continue southwest to the Dilling Road Trailhead. East of that trailhead, you can pitch a tent at Seaton Creek Campground. For maps and detailed information: Manistee National Forest, Cadillac (231/775-2421). Area travel information: Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce (800/288-2286).