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Boulder Lake, in Wisconsin's Lake Superior Northwoods Region, is everything nature lovers could want. Only an hour-and-a-half from either Green Bay or Wausau, Boulder Lake is one of the jewels crowning the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The million-and-a-half-acre combined national forests enclose an area of unique lakes, bogs, swamps, and hardwood and softwood forests which allow city dwellers to taste the call of the wild close to civilization. Two private commercial resorts on the lake offer camping, rustic cabins and lakefront vacations to generations of visitors. Other visitors reserve camping space at the National Forest Service's Boulder Lake Campground months in advance. The 362-acre spring-fed lake draws visitors like a magnet.
The area within the two national forests consists of what was once logged-over lands that failed to provide a living to immigrant farmers. After being lost to unpaid taxes, the area was termed 'land nobody wanted'. Through the efforts of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, much of the area was replanted in pines. Bridges, dams, picnic shelters and small lakeside parks were built, and the Federal government actively began to promote the lands as ideal for outdoor recreation. It didn't take long for Boulder Lake, near the southern border of the Nicolet National Forest, to become a favorite getaway. In response to its popularity, the Forest Service has steadily improved one of its most popular campgrounds. Today, reservations are a must as campsite space is scheduled months in advance. Two fire towers built by the CCC remain near Boulder Lake and can be visited.
Boulder Lake is the main attraction of Boulder Lake Campground. A sandy beach area offers swimming and sun bathing space, while a boat launch allows private boats to access the waters. Power boating and water skiing are possible but pontoon boats, canoes and rowboats are likely just as common. The Campground doesn't rent boats, but one of the private resorts on the east shore has pontoons and canoes for hire. Canoes and kayaks may be the most popular craft on the water, but pontoons are the boat of choice for the relatively few homeowners with property along the shore.
Only 11 feet deep at its deepest, spring-fed Boulder Lake is ideal for fishing, with largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, blue gill, panfish, walleye and northern pike all caught. In winter the boat ramp parking area stays open to provide parking for the many ice fishermen who enjoy their sport year round. The campground officially closes in September, but the roads remain open and plowed for the benefit of cross-country skiers who enjoy the campground and the trails radiating from it. The Boulder Lake Trail is available for walkers and mountain bikes; the beginning of the trail starts out on a boardwalk across a bog area where unusual bog plants and mosses display a living carpet under the trees. The two-mile trail is rated easy to intermediate and is suitable for most reasonably fit individuals, including children. Also accessible from the campground is the Nicolet Roche Mountain Bike Trail, a difficult trail in spots that is sure to challenge the most experienced mountain bike fan.
Campers have the advantage of electricity at their sites, the only Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest campground so provisioned. Picnic tables, grills, drinking water outlets, an RV dump, flush toilets and showers round out the amenities at the campground. Fall is a favorite time to visit Boulder Lake when the mixed hardwoods around the lake reflect their riotous colors in the still waters. Although the campground closes in winter, a variety of lodgings nearby cater to outdoor sports enthusiasts year round. To the east, in the tiny hamlet of Mountain, the Nicolet State Trail ushers snowmobilers into the Oconto portion of the many miles of snowmobile trails in northern Wisconsin. The trail is open for horseback riding and hiking, sharing the path with the many cross-country skiers who enjoy its snowy solitude. A few miles to the west of Boulder Lake, the Wolf River provides plenty of opportunities for whitewater rafting. A number of outfitters offer rafting adventures, while a variety of lodgings and resorts provide for more private overnight stays.
The nearest town is Langlade, a village with a proud heritage of the immigrant farmers who managed to tame the harsh environment and stayed for generations. Langlade County calls itself "The county of trails" and has trails, outdoor recreation, beautiful scenery and freshwater fishing to please every member of the family. The area has many guest cabins and rentals to suite any taste in vacation luxury. Several bed & breakfasts, quaint inns and restaurants and cafes are open to fill up the hungriest crew in nearly any price range. Hundreds of lakes, streams and ponds offer something for every Lakelubber, making this one of the best unsung destinations for the northern Wisconsin vacationer.
The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest has several natural areas that focus on such natural features as swamps, nature's water-cleaning and filtering system. One of the most interesting is the Waupee Lake Swamp State Natural Area to the east of Boulder Lake. Although Waupee Lake itself is tiny, a vast area of protected swamp holds many unusual bog plants, birds and amphibians. To the south of Boulder Lake, the South Branch Beech Grove State Natural Area offers an entirely different kind of natural environment, with many old-growth trees towering above much smaller newer additions. The canopy is dense and the forest floor usually quite dark, carpeted with shade-loving plants - a welcome cool oasis on a hot summer's day.
Most of the natural areas are open to any visitor with a Forest Service pass, although some areas are occasionally closed to protect nesting wildlife or plants. Most have a variety of casual trails into the interior, but certain fragile areas require visitors to stay within marked boundaries. Here, city visitors can experience something similar to what the Native American travelers and the first European fur trappers and loggers saw when they arrived. It's an easy place to forget that bustling Green Bay is less than two hours away. So, come to Boulder Lake and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Restore your soul and get in touch with your inner adventurer. It's the kind of vacation that refreshes for months to come.
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