|Snarky Bridge-Mud Lake|
Late summer is made for exploring and I was lucky enough to discover not one, but two little trail gems in northern Wisconsin recently. RASTA (Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association) in Onieda County had dished me up a riding treat at their Washburn Trail west of the city in a previous trip (featured here on WOF) so I was anxious to put wheels down on a newer trail- Mud Lake.
The Mud Lake Trail is located north of Rhinelander, with a trailhead on Crystal Lake Road (4693 Crystal Lake Rd, Rhinelander,WI). I meandered some of the back roads to find the trail, figuring as a long ago staff member at the nearby Camp Tesomas, I'd remember my way. With extensive help from a GPS, of course I did. A much more direct route would be to take Cty. Hwy W north out of Rhinelander, left onto River Road and then right on Crystal lake road near the Hodag Fest grounds. A small trailhead will be on your left containing a map and room for a few cars to park. Further down the road at 5061 Crystal Lake road is another parking area.
RASTA's primary goals are to: “Contact/coordinate with silent sports groups in Oneida County, develop, sign and maintain sustainable single track mountain bike and snowshoe trails on public trail systems, and organize volunteer work groups for the maintenance of the trails.” Although they also work on several XC ski trails (Including Washburn Lake) it seems like the real movers and shakers in this group are the singletrack builders. Of course, what was once just the realm of warm weather months, singletrack in the northwoods is now home to year round use with fatbikes and snowshoers hitting the trail in snow season as well.
Mud Lake consists of around 8-10 miles of nearly 100% singletrack-there are a couple small sections (that I rode) of old wider skidder trail and logging road crossings. Not knowing the trail (remember- “exploring” here!) I just took off west, figuring I'd, ...well, figure it out. A local had told me trails on one side were tougher, and the other, easier-I forgot which was which. Like other trails in the area, there are a lot of constant ups and downs and babyheads poking through all over ready to launch one's bike. The Mud Lake appeared quickly, a beautiful small bog lake with pine and hardwoods lining the shore. The trail stewards had built a snarky little bridge connecting to an old log to cross a drainage into the lake-I loved it. A small thing, but it immediately gave this trail some flavor.
The trail makes use of of the terrain very well, twisting and turning out a lot of milage in a small footprint of land. Old race direction arrows pointed here and there and I soon settled into following them since I had no idea where I was-luckily the sun helped give me an idea how to get back if needed. I stumbled onto a newly constructed section, the mini excavator still resting nearby after moving dirt and rock for a flow segment. As a trail builder myself, I just had to take a peak at their work. Well done, with smooth banked corners, good water drainage and rock armoring. The trail eventually meanders toward and into a pine forest section, a fun tight singletrack area with some good speed if you let off the brakes. If bouldering is your thing, there are also a few opportunities to check your skills on and off them here.
Somewhere along the line I missed a turn-if I could make any suggestion for the trail, it would be to add some signage-more maps and trail names on sections. There are few along the course, but frequent trail/two track crossings lead me astray and into the Camp Tesomas system-not entirely a bad thing when one is rambling on two wheels. Eventually the Mud Lake trail dropped me back off at the trailhead, just in time to beat the light showers starting-no rather just sweat off the helmet! This is as hard or as easy a trail as one wants to make it (although it would be a second tier trail for true beginners). There are harder cut offs that loop riders back to the main trail with some tough fall line climbs requiring extra effort if singlespeeding it. Well built by the volunteers, constantly tweaked ( a trail like this is never “done”) by the singletrack builders and highly recommended as a destination for any mountain bike enthusiast.