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Those dreaming of the quiet beauty of a northern Wisconsin lake will want to check out Vilas County's Spectacle Lake. Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest encompasses over a million acres in the Lake Superior Northwoods region along the Wisconsin-Michigan border. This small gem of a lake is surrounded by bigger lakes in the midst of Nicolet National Forest. Those lucky enough to discover the national forest campground, the private home rentals, or the condo timeshare location along the four-mile shoreline will quickly decide Spectacle Lake is one of the most beautiful locations in the entire Northwoods.
Vilas County is noted for having one of the highest numbers of lakes in the world. Nearby Eagle River holds a large number of connected lakes and is a favorite for boating and fishing. Spectacle Lake is far less busy than the more commercialized Eagle River Chain of Lakes. Only a small portion of the shoreline lies within the national forest; the rest is sparsely developed with private homes. It's considered 'in the middle of nowhere', which is exactly where Spectacle Lake fans want to be. Since the town is less than ten miles from the little town of Phelps, the remoteness is an illusion brought on by the endless sea of forest permeating the area. It's a place to get away from the crowds and enjoy the natural beauty that is northern Wisconsin.
Swimming, kayaking, fishing and wildlife watching are what take up the day at Spectacle Lake. Traffic is light along the gravel roads near the lake, perfect for bike riding and leisurely walks. The lake is relatively shallow, with average depths of 12 feet. Near-shore areas are ideal for swimming. Motors are allowed, so waterskiing, tubing and other watersports are enjoyed during daytime hours. No-wake limits are in place after five o'clock, perfect for sailing, pontooning, kayaking and canoeing in the early evening when wildlife is often most active. The one-lane public boat ramp cannot accommodate large boats, so the only powerboats on the lake are those belonging to property owners who live here.
Spectacle Lake consists of two 'bays' or basins connected by a narrow channel that resembles a pair of spectacles. The national forest campground occupies a corner of the northern bay. Thirty-three campsites share a loop on treed lots with plentiful shade. There is no on-site electricity or water and amenities are minimal, with vault toilets and two hand pumps for drinking water. All campsites contain a picnic table and grill. Reservations for this campground are not available, so wise patrons arrive early to get their favored campsites. A 500-foot sandy beach fronts a buoyed swim area. The boat ramp is nearby with a convenient fishing pier for shore fishing. The campground is the perfect place to allow children to explore nature and amuse themselves watching for turtles, minnows and frogs. A 2.5-mile hiking trail leads from the Spectacle Lake Campground to the campground on nearby Kentuck Lake. Wildlife is abundant, with loons often seen in the early morning, and a wide variety of songbirds and waterfowl visiting the lake every day.
The campground is open from late May to early September, but the Spectacle Lake-Kentuck Lake Trail is available in winter for snowshoeing. The route utilizes an old logging rail bed and displays a variety of wildflowers in spring and early summer. Fishing is popular year-round with summer targets mostly largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, trout, walleye, bluegill and sunfish. In winter, ice fishing is possible, although roads near the lake within the national forest may not be plowed. Nature lovers and hikers will enjoy using Spectacle Lake as home base for exploring the numerous hiking and biking trails in the surrounding area. A number of wilderness areas and natural areas nearby are open to hiking and nature viewing.
Within ten miles of Spectacle Lake, Beaver Creek State Natural Area, Blackjack Springs State Natural Area, and Blackjack Springs Wilderness feature sparkling trout streams, stands of second-growth forest, and wetlands harboring bear, fisher (weasel family), deer, ruffled grouse and many songbirds. No motorized vehicles are allowed in wilderness-designated areas, but primitive camping is allowed as is paddling using hand-carried canoes or kayaks. Many hiking trails and local scenic destinations are available nearby, including to the site of an old fire tower and a dilapidated loggers' cabin.
In winter, downhill ski hills are located nearby, as are numerous old logging roads for cross-country skiing. A number of groomed snowmobile trails are located in the Phelps area, along with most needed local services and supplies. The small City of Eagle River is only ten miles to the southwest, with all types of resort-style amenities, plenty of lodgings and choices of restaurants. The entire area is filled with winter activities such as ice fishing tournaments on the larger lakes, snowmobile races, and a Klondike Days winter festival. All year round, activities in the area of Phelps and Eagle River provide fun, food and excitement to every member of the family. Whether your sport is pond hockey, kayak racing, marathon running or professional muskie tournaments, you'll find it here in Vilas County. In addition, there is always an arts-or food-related festival or celebration coming up with fun for the entire family.
Real estate is sometimes available on the lakefront at Spectacle Lake. Hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts and lakefront resorts are numerous in the nearby areas, so lodgings of all types can easily be found. Other larger nearby lakes such as Kentuck Lake, Long Lake, Big Sand Lake, and North and South Twin Lakes may be better known, but no place beats Spectacle lake for sheer beauty, colorful fall foliage or pristine swimming beaches. So come check out Spectacle Lake and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Enjoy the peaceful and natural beauty that greets each day.
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