Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hiking Iron County, Wisconsin: Corridor 17 and the Mercer Bike Trail

View of Pine Lake from the Corridor 17 trail, a former railroad grade.
Now that I've left the North Country Trail, my route will take me south and a bit back east from Ironwood Michigan toward Eagle River, Wisconsin.

When I first started considering this route, I thought I would be doing nothing but walking along busy US 51 and then Wisconsin 70.  No big deal.  I figured it wouldn't be any worse than the North Country Trail's own 30+ mile road walk into Wisconsin.

Then I started doing my research.  The internet is made for this.  From my desk I am able to 'scout' a prospective route in great detail, and I'm often able to discover trails that I can hike along the way or trails that suggest new routes.  The discovery of Iron County's Snowmobile Trail map was what led me to Corridor 17.

Corridor 17 had my planned route covered like a frikkin' blanket.  It makes use of an old railroad grade, often well away from the highway, that runs south from Hurley (across the state line from Ironwood, Michigan) all the way to Mercer (which seems to be an ATV hotbed--the place was crawling with them).

From Mercer east to the Vilas County Line there is a brand new 7.2 mile paved bike route called the Mercer Bike Trail, barely a year old, that takes me right to another stunningly useful 42 mile bike trail called the 'Heart of Vilas' Trail.  44 more off-road miles!  That gets me beyond St. Germain; and from there to my childhood vacation spot is just a dozen more miles mostly through Vilas County Forest land on well maintained, well marked fire lanes and primitive roads.

Wow.  It's *all* covered.  I will barely have to set foot on a paved road, let alone a busy highway.

So ... back to Corridor 17.  In my experience snowmobile trails and ATV trails can be pretty sketchy. Where the NCT chose to follow them it was usually a bad experience.  But the 'corridor' designation seems to make a difference.  A corridor is more than a trail.  It's a preferred route; and I'm finding that this one gets lots of love.  Two snowmobile clubs do the work in Iron County--the Mercer Club had just graded their section yesterday.  Then I came to the start of the White Thunder Rider's section.

This is trail that the local enthusiasts use a lot, showcase for the tourists, and take great pride in.  Thank you, people.  I am in your debt for a fine hiking experience.

While on Corridor 17 I met a dozen or more ATV riders, all with friendly waves.  At Mercer the Corridor 17 trail continues on, but I switched over to the Mercer Bike Trail.  Turn right at the big Loon--right next to the Chamber of Commerce building.

Here I found I had company of a different sort, and not all too friendly from the looks of this little runt.

With fall in full swing, the lingering summer flowers are on their last legs, most looking dour and peaked.  But this spring-bloomer had decided that winter had magically come and gone.

Sorry, pal, but you're in for a nasty surprise one of these days.  Snow and bitter cold are as little as two weeks away here in the North Woods.  And when that sort of weather comes, you'll be stuck, but I'll be hitting the road south.

Meanwhile weather is still holding up, and I'm continuing my trek into Wisconsin.  Here are the GPS tracks of the two Corridor 17 hikes with the tagged on Mercer Bike Trail section on the second day.

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