Little kids splashing through spring’s first thaw aren’t the only ones who get a thrill playing in mud puddles. Indeed, while some of us crossed the twenty-foot long pothole last summer slow and easy, and others gunned their ATVs to splatter the nearby aspen with brown muddy speckles, all of us emerged with grins as wide as two-year-olds. While we’d traded our three-wheelers in for all-terrain vehicles we didn’t have to pedal, there wasn’t one of us on our morning trail ride who didn’t recapture that sense of fun kids instinctively possess.

The Wisconsin North Woods have an extensive trail system that serves riders year-round, whether they’re mountain bikers or use motorized vehicles. ATVs (single passenger All-Terrain Vehicles) and UTVs (Utility Task Vehicles or side-by-side vehicles that carry two people and cargo) are popular in the summer, and snowmobilers flock to the area when the snow falls.  While some trails are designated for one type of vehicle, Wisconsin also has many shared-use, year-round trails.

My June visit preceded the event, but I heard a lot about the annual Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival held on the trail from Cable to Hayward every September for off-road bicyclists. Since the 16-mile race (there’s also a longer Chequamegon 40 event) is limited to 2500 participants, organizers hold a lottery every year to determine who gets to ride. I could only imagine how exciting it would be watch the start of the largest mass-start mountain bike race in the United States!

But since my bike pedaling skills had never passed that three-wheeler stage, I was happy to explore the trails with a motor and four wheels. My trail riding adventure—rated by Trip Advisor as the #1 rated tourist attraction in Hayward—started at Hayward Power Sports. Then, it was across the highway and onto the trail.

Riding in the forest is always scenic, with ash, maple, walnut and oak trees to line the trail edges and keep the dust thrown up by other riders down. The trail twisted and turned, with a new view around every bend. Half an hour into the ride, we pulled over beside a mud pit to give the most daring a chance to see what their machines would do.  I’ll admit I wasn’t the first—I had to see how deep the water really was on somebody else’s machine—but I was the second.

I dropped the ATV gently off the hard packed gravel trail into the water. Too fast and I knew I’d be covered in mud from the splash, turning into a golem-like mud monster. A few feet in I remembered, too late, that I should have lifted my feet up off the running boards, as thick, dark water oozed over my once-white running shoes.

Midway through, the ATV sunk deeper and deeper into the mud, slowing. I wasn’t on the same path the previous machine had taken! I revved the engine, but not a lot happened. Then, more throttle—but still the ATV slowed.

Finally, my snowmobiler’s instincts kicked in. My feet were already covered with mud, so I stuck them back onto the water-covered running boards and rocked the ATV from side to side. In seconds I was up the other bank of the mud hole, turning around, and heading back to what was now a cheering group of spectators.

Feeling once again a child, I reveled in the fact that there’s nothing like the sweet taste of success, no matter what age you are.

Learning to be a Lumberjack

When you already have wet feet you might as well get out on the water and learn how to roll logs, right? Well, take my word for it, if you can’t balance a two-wheeled bicycle, you’re unlikely to be able to spin logs on a pond and stay on top of them, instead of sitting in the water. I guess I was never meant to be a lumberjack!

Lumberjacking, though, is a traditional family sport in Hayward, as both spectators and participants at Fred Scheer’s Lumberjack show were mostly twenty-something or younger, and full of enthusiasm.

The show, which starts early season performances at the end of May, runs its hour-long event daily all summer (except Fridays) in the Lumberjack Bowl arena at Hayward (second location in Minocqua). The Hayward site is also the location of the Lumberjack World Championships held annually in July since 1960, as well as the Lumberjack Village.

Lumberjack fun begins with an ear-splitting, “Yo ho,” greeting, and picks up momentum with the crowd’s every cheer. From the laughter at Charlie trying to win a log-sawing contest with a chain saw between his legs, to the race to see which lumberjack can get to the top of a 60 foot pole the fastest, it’s a grand way to keep a traditional skill alive.

After the event I was lucky enough to attend log rolling “school” and meet some of the teachers, teen-aged girls already winning at the world championships. While our logs were fatter—thus slower spinning—than those used in the lumberjack show, none of us could make more than a few seconds upright on them. I figured I’d need to participate every week in open rolling nights, and on Saturdays, for the rest of my life, to even make it to a bull-rider’s eight-second minimum.

More Sports and Recreation Fun

I had so many things to do in the Hayward and Sawyer and Cable area, that I could have spent another week or two! Fishing, of course, is a must-do when you visit. I headed out on Lake Namakagon in search of walleye, bringing up nothing but an empty hook. On the other hand, my casting skill level increased dramatically. But others in my group pulled in trout on Big Brook (the Cable area has 70 rivers and countless streams home to more than 20 species of fish), along with musky and bass on the Namekagon and Chippewa rivers.

Although I didn’t catch any fish, I had my photo taken while I was in the jaws of a 200 foot long musky—a fiberglass, concrete and steel musky, that is, at the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum. Even family members who might groan at hearing a museum is on the day’s itinerary will find this one fascinating, with its boat motor museum (1000+ antique motors), 300 mounted fish, and my personal favorite artifact, the hairy statue of the first fisherman (perhaps a cousin of bigfoot?).

I didn’t see any sign of bigfoot during my hike on the Forest Lodge Nature Trail near Cable, but the easy forest walk led me through a variety of habitats from upland hardwood forest to lowland tamarack bog and hemlock swamp, both of which are rare finds. Visitors can pick up a free, 32-page booklet, at the trailhead to help identify the various trees and plants.

And these are just a few more activities I squeezed into my week:

  • Golf at Spider Lake Golf Resort (where I stayed in the very comfortable resort at Hayward)
  • Kayaking on the Namekagon River (just a few miles away from my awesome B & B hosts, Jan and Jerry Parman, at Drumming Woods Bed & Breakfast) with a naturalist from the Cable Natural History Museum
  • A “loon pontoon” boat ride with the Cable Natural History Museum

If You Go:

Hayward Power Sports:
Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival:
Fred Scheer’s Lumberjack Show:
Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum:
Forest Lodge Nature Trail:
Spider Lake Golf Resort:
Canoeing/Kayaking/Tubing on the Hayward Lakes:
Drumming Woods B & B:
Cable Natural History Museum:
Cable Area Fishing: