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5 routes to ride on the Heart of Vilas County Trail


  • Article
  • Biking
  • Trails

Want to explore this great National Recreation Trail in the Northwoods? Here are a few suggested rides.

Heart of Vilas County Bike Trail in northern Wisconsin

Vilas County is one of the best places in the state to explore on two wheels. In fact, one of the county’s signature trails, The Heart of Vilas County Paved Bike Trail System, has been named a National Recreation Trail—an honor given to the nation’s top trails.

The entire Heart of Vilas Trail runs more than 50 miles, which means there are lots of routes to explore. Get the most out of your ride with the free Map It Vilas County trails app, which has helpful trail information like places to park as well as interactive GPS maps to keep you on track. Here are five great options for your next ride.

A short beach excursion

Boulder Junction is a great place to start a ride—the community has bike rentals, lodging, restaurants, and shops where you can pick up supplies. If you’ve got some young kids and are looking for a segment of trail with a nice reward at the end, ride the 2.2 miles from downtown Boulder Junction to Nichols Road. At the end of Nichols Lake Road is a beautiful little park with a swimming beach (Nichols Beach). There’s also a bike repair station nearby if you need to make any bike adjustments. Parking in Boulder Junction is plentiful–a good spot is the Sports and Recreation Park next to the Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce office on Highway M.

An unforgettable lake adventure

The Heart of Vilas passes through downtown Sayner, near attractions like the Vilas County Historical Museum, as well as good spots to get food and ice cream. Park at the intersection of Froelich Drive and Highway N, behind the log building, then head west for a 4-mile ride on the trail. The trail will take you to one of the most popular sites in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest—Crystal Lake is a stunning little lake, with water as clear as the name suggests. It’s an ideal place to get off your bike and walk around. On warm days, it can be a pleasant place for swimming, relaxing in the picnic area or taking in the sun on the soft sand beach.

A worthwhile challenge

In St. Germain, the trail passes some great restaurants. Be sure to fuel up if you take the trail north—the segment to Sayner is 8.5 miles from downtown St. Germain. Find the main trailhead behind the St. Germain Chamber of Commerce, where Highway 70 meets Highway 155. This route includes some rolling terrain and a few steep hills, making it a bit more challenging than some segments, but riders are treated to unforgettable Northwoods scenery.

A long tour

The segment between Boulder Junction and Manitowish Waters is nearly 16 miles, but it’s filled with spectacular scenery, with bridges that cross wetlands and stretches that wind through mature trees. While the segment is longer than many, it’s relatively flat and there are some good places to rest along the route. Manitowish Waters has a lot of really good dining options, whether you’re looking for a cold beer and a juicy burger, a relaxing supper club experience or a hot latte and a fresh scone.

Crossing the line

The western end of the trail will take you across the county line into the Iron County community of Mercer, the western terminus of the trail. The segment between Manitowish Waters and Mercer is about 7 miles and includes paved trail and lightly used roads. You can start the ride from several points in Manitowish Waters, including the Manitowish Waters Community Center, Koller Park, Rest Lake Park and the North Lakeland Discovery Center.