This 1.5 million-acre national forest, situated in the northern portion of Wisconsin is comprised of two separate forests, the Chequamegon and the Nicolet forests. Each of these forests was established by presidential proclamation in 1933, but they have been managed as a single unit since 1993. The ecosystems in this vast forest are varied, ranging from bogs and wetlands to pine savannas and flowering meadows. While much of the old-growth forests in this area were destroyed by logging in the early part of the 20th century, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted many trees in an attempt to restore the forest.
Some areas, such as the Cathedral Pines Natural Area, were spared the destruction and contain trees that are believed to be around 300 years old. There are over 800 miles of trails that meander through the forest and more than 600 lakes dot the landscape, providing ample opportunities to hike and fish in this region. When you visit Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in your campervan, you'll have loads of outdoor activities to choose from to geocaching and gold panning to swimming and ATVing.
While we have highlighted just a few of the campgrounds in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, there are actually dozens of great campgrounds for RVs and trailers in this huge national forest. The campgrounds range from tiny areas with just a handful of sites to larger campgrounds with 50 to 80 campsites.
The state and U.S. highways that travel to and through this vast forest are well-maintained, paved roads that tend to have very few twists or turns, making them easy to navigate even in a big rig or if towing a trailer. Some of the roads that lead off of these main highways, both paved and unpaved, may not get as much attention and are not always as well-maintained. There are many spots to turn off the road and park your RV or trailer for a few minutes while you stretch your legs, particularly around the lakes and waterways that are commonly used for fishing.
This forest is home to a great variety of wildlife, so it is important to keep your eyes on the road as you drive. White-tailed deer and elk are known to cross roads without warning in these forests, particularly during the hours around dawn and dusk. Some of the campgrounds, such as the Kentuck Lake Campground, have paved roads and driveways, while others, like the tiny Chipmunk Rapids Recreation Area, have dirt and gravel roads instead.
The Boulder Lake Recreation area is situated in the southern portion of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, less than five miles northeast of the tiny community of Markton, WI. This is the largest campground in the forest and is comprised of 89 single-family sites, six sites for smaller groups up to 16 individuals, and four sites that can accommodate larger groups of up to 30 campers. Twenty-one of the 89 single family sites have electric hookups available, and there is a sanitary dumping station in the campground. Many of the campsites are very nearby the shores of the 362-acre Boulder Lake, making this a popular campground for anglers. Each site provides a campfire ring, a grill, and picnic table for visitors to use. Boulder Lake Recreation Area has showers and potable drinking water available for the campers, as well as several vault toilets. While this is the largest campground in the forest, it does fill up quickly, and reservations should be made early to ensure a spot.
The Birch Grove Recreation area is nestled between two good-sized lakes in the northern portion of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, just eight miles west of the town of Washburn, WI. There are 15 sites available that can accommodate RVs or trailers up to 35 feet in length, as well as one smaller site for RVs or trailers that are 25 feet or smaller. These are primitive sites, meaning that they have no electrical, water, or sewer hookups, but they are well-maintained flat sites each with a fire ring and picnic table. There is potable drinking water available in the campground, as well as vault toilets and a small group picnic area. Both lakes provide good fishing opportunities for bass, panfish, and northern pike, as well as swimming beaches and small boat access. While leashed pets are allowed in the developed areas of national forests like the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forests, they are not allowed to be in designated swimming areas.
The Kentuck Lake Campground is made up of 31 campsites sheltered in a stand of maple trees on the east shore of Kentuck Lake in the northern portion of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. These are beautiful, spacious campsites that each come equipped with a fire ring, a grill, and a picnic table, but they do not have electrical, water, or sewer hookups. There is pressurized drinking water available in the campgrounds as well as vault toilets. Both non-motorized and motorized boats are allowed on the 955-acre Kentuck Lake. This lake has a healthy population of musky, walleye, bass, and northern pike, as well as a paved boat launch, making this a popular campground for fishermen. Several of the campsites at the Kentuck Lake Campgrounds, particularly those that are near the water, are frequently inundated with mosquitos, however, so you will want to be sure and bring your bug spray when camping, fishing, or hiking in this area.
Anglers will want to be sure that their rods and reels are packed in their trailers if they are visiting Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. There are many lakes, rivers, and streams that punctuate this sprawling wilderness area, with a wide variety of fish species available for harvesting. Nearly 1,400 miles of the streams and rivers are designated as trout waters, and the more than 600 lakes that dot the landscape provide homes for over 50 species of fish, including walleye, crappie, bass, perch, and northern pike.
Be sure that you bring your hiking boots in your campervan when you visit the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. There are 800 miles of trails that wind their way through this 1.5 million-acre national forest, allowing visitors to explore the vast territory. There are trails for all skill levels, each with their own charms. The Nicolet State Trail in the eastern segment of the forest will take adventurers past the Cathedral Pines State Natural Area, a 40-acre grove of old-growth red and white pines and hemlock. The Black Lake Trail in the western segment of the forest is an interpretive trail marked by educational information about the history of logging and reforestation in this area.
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest provides a home for many different species of animals, both large and small. Elk and wolves have both been reintroduced to this forest and are thriving. White-tailed deer and bears are also abundant in this forest, as are smaller animals such as squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits. Those looking for reptiles or amphibians will be thrilled to discover many different species of frogs, toads, and turtles. If you are lucky and alert you may even spot a member of the only species still on Wisconsin’s endangered species list, the pine martin.
Bird watching enthusiasts will want to be certain that their kit is packed in their trailer when they visit the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. There is an incredible variety of avian species that make this forest their home. On the many lakes and streams, you may see blue herons, ducks, or common loons, while grosbeaks, chickadees, and warblers sing to you from the trees. In the daytime, raptors such as kestrels, bald eagles, and hawks hunt for prey, while birders who choose to stay out late may spot short-eared or barred owls searching for their supper.
Geocaching is an international treasure hunt that is made possible by modern cellular technology. With the help of modern technology, participants search for caches that have been hidden by other players, each containing a logbook or log sheet that they can record their find on. Many of the caches also contain small trinkets that players can swap out with items of similar value. Some even contain trackable tokens that can be transferred from one geocache to another, an entertaining pastime for RVers who are frequently on the move. There are many geocaches hidden throughout the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, as well as great places to hide new caches if you are inclined to do so.
There’s no need to let colder weather stop you from fishing in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Once the ice on the lakes reaches six inches thick, ice fishing can commence. Several species of fish that inhabit these lakes seem to be easier to catch in the winter months, including walleyes, yellow perch, and northern pike. Remember to use good safety practices when fishing in the colder months, and be sure to bring along a life jacket, ice rescue picks or claws, and a fishing buddy.