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Wild Side: Now is a great time to take a hike

The southeast point of Stock Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. River Falls Journal photo by Dan Wilcox

Now is a great time to take a hike.

Corky abscission layers are forming between leaf petioles and twigs on deciduous trees and shrubs, cutting down the flow of nutrients and water into the leaves. 

Green chlorophyll pigment degrades revealing the yellow xanthophylls and the orange beta-carotene pigments. Red anthocyanin pigments form as the chlorophyll degrades. The winding-down of the photosynthetic system in leaves releases amino acids that are stored in the trees over winter, available for making new leaves in the spring.

Now that fall is here, the air is brisk and the leaves are turning color, it's a fine time to go for a hike. We are fortunate to live in a part of the world where deciduous trees turn brilliant colors in the fall. The scenery is spectacular on bright days when the autumn colors of poplars, aspen, maples, ash, hickory and oak leaves shine, contrasting with the dark greens of pines, spruce, firs, and hemlocks. There's something special about hiking through a forest on a colorful leaf carpet with dappled sunlight filtering through red and yellow leaves.

There are many scenic places to hike and view the fall colors. There are fine trails overlooking the Kinnickinnic River within the city of River Falls and at Kinnickinnic State Park. The view over the confluence of the Kinnickinnic River with the St. Croix River is sublime.

To our east is the Red Cedar State Trail, running 14.5 miles south from Menomonie to the Dunnville State Wildlife Area, where it links up with the Chippewa River State Trail which extends about 40 miles from Eau Claire to Durand. These are easy trails on old railroad grades along the Red Cedar and Chippewa Rivers.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is entirely in Wisconsin and is one of the 42 Wisconsin State Scenic Trails. The trail winds for over 1,000 miles following the edge of the last continental glaciations from Interstate State Park on the Minnesota border to Potawatomie State Park on Lake Michigan. The trail passes through the new Straight Lake State Park north of Luck where there are pristine forest, ponds, wetlands and Straight River.

The south part of the Gandy Dancer State Scenic Trail follows an old railroad grade 47 miles from St. Croix Falls through Centuria, Milltown, Luck, Frederic, Siren and Webster, ending in Danbury where it crosses a trestle bridge into Minnesota. The northern segment of the trail runs 31 miles along the St. Croix River before crossing back into Douglas County Wisconsin for another 15 miles.

Farther north, the North Country National Scenic trail travels more than 4,000 miles through seven northern states from Lake Sakakewea State Park on the Missouri River in North Dakota to Crown Point on the Hudson River in New York.  The North Country Trail is one of only eight National Scenic Trails and is a Wisconsin State Scenic Trail.

The North Country Trail winds for 200 miles through Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland and Iron Counties. It passes through Pattison State Park, the Brule River State Forest, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and Copper Falls State Park. The waterfalls in Pattison and Copper Falls State Parks are spectacular.

There are over 50 miles of maintained hiking trails in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore north of Bayfield. You can hike on the mainland to see the sea caves north of Meyers Beach near Cornucopia. Water taxis can bring you out to the islands from Cornucopia, Bayfield or LaPointe on Madeline Island. One of our favorite places to hike is on Stockton Island, where you can hike around rocky Anderson Point, follow a long curving beach with dunes along Julian Bay and hike back on the tombolo through a forest with Canada yew along a tamarack bog.

It's really not an insult to ask someone to take a hike, especially this time of year.

Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at

--By Dan Wilcox, Outdoor Columnist