“A great fifteen mile loop that has a little of everything!
— Chuck Hill
Not open in the spring until May 1 after frost break-up. The one mile walking Nature Trail loop near the start of the ride is 'no bikes'.
You'll enjoy the changing scenery on the Hidden Lakes Trail and riding past the pristine lakes. Much of the Hidden Lakes Trail can be ridden by those with growing mountain biking skills. But there are sections containing roots, rocks, and some challenging ups and downs.
Because the trail is in an older growth forested area, between fifty and one hundred trees normally fall on the trail annually. With limited volunteer effort to keep the trail clear it is likely that you'll see some trees that you'll need to go over, under, or around. Consider them to be trail features. What you'll not see are a lot of people. The trail gets little use and perhaps you'll see a hiker or two but encountering another MTBer is a rare event.
Many mountain bikers say that the Hidden Lakes Trail is their favorite in the northern Wisconsin area. It is a fifteen mile loop that takes you through a variety of forest types with many scenic views of area lakes. It was built over several years by the US Forest Service - not intended at the time to be a mountain bike trail but it works well for that as well as hiking. It is maintained by local volunteers which mostly consists of removing more than 50 tree falls annually and brushing any overgrowth. It is well marked with white diamonds and maps at some intersections.
There are several access points. This featured ride starts you at the Franklin Lake Nature Trail parking lot. From there take a left on the paved road and then turn right at the boat landing. On your left you'll find the trail. Shortly you cross a bridge over a creek that runs from Franklin Lake to nearby Butternut Lake. The creek was man-made in the logging days to empty water to Butternut Lake to provide enough to float logs from Butternut to the lake outlet and down the West Branch of the Pine River.
You'll cross that outlet after many miles. Because of years of drought there has been no water in the creek for some time. In a short distance there is a short rocky climb - some challenging roots at the top - and then more roots and rocks on the other side. You'll cross a paved road (Youngs Lane). There is a climb past an old road to a tee intersection.
Take a right and you are on the Ash Meadow trail - groomed in the winter for cross-country skiing. At the next tee intersection take a left and go up the Roller Coaster - more fun when going in the other direction. Then cross Butternut Lake Road - a right at the next tee - and down Toms Hill - careful! In less than two miles you'll find an Adirondack style shelter built by the Wisconsin CCC and local volunteers. Stop and leave a note. Then a few ups and downs past an area which is good for picking up deer flies when they are out.
At the top of a challenging hill, take a right onto the Dow Jones Trail - yes - it goes up and down. The Pat Shay Lake will be on your right. At the top of the last hill the trail goes right. After a short down you'll find yourself on old logging roads that are fairly level. Then cross Knapp Road and you'll be going west on a combination of old roads and singletrack. Eventually the trail takes a left - there is an alternate bike loop straight ahead but it overgrown from lack of use.
There will be short section of old road and then the trail goes to the right into some evergreens - easy to miss this turn. Enter a Hemlock forest and cross a couple foot bridges. On your left is first Harriet Lane and then Four Ducks Lake. Trail takes a left onto a short dipsy-do section that will make you wish that it would last longer. Cross Knapp road again. There will be a short old road that dates back to the 1970's when this area was the White Deer Girl Scout camp. You may be able to spy some old concrete block foundations and open areas where there had been buildings. Most of the buildings were located along Butternut Lake to your left. The US Forest Service purchased the many acres after the camp closed in 1974. After some interesting singletrack the trail goes left and along the west shore of White Deer Lake. Before the trail goes up at the northern end - take a break and enjoy the view of the lake. After that up and then a down the trail takes a sharp left. Cross a bridge and then Luna Lake is on your right.
After a distance the trail goes off to the left toward Butternut Lake. If you instead go straight there are some primitive camp sites at the north end of Luna Lake. You'll cross the bridge over the west branch of the Pine River. But first stop to read the interpretive signs and enjoy the view of Butternut Lake. This had been a wet crossing until 2005. This outlet of Butternut Lake was dug out in order to be able to float logs