One of the more frequent jumping-off points is the Entrance Station on the north side of the wilderness, about three miles off Highway 535. From here, you can ski out and back to any number of destination lakes, including Clark Lake, Crooked Lake, Loon Lake or Whitefish Lake.
For the more adventuresome, a point-to-point traverse of the wildness would require spotting a car at the adjacent Sylvania Outfitters trail system in Watersmeet. This is a very popular route and allows you to not only experience the Sylvania Wilderness to its fullest, but you also get to sample the trails at Sylvania Outfitters. This route is a good three- to four-hour trek, so plan your time and energy expenditure accordingly. I’ve done this route several times and just love the deep woods meanderings between the lakes amid the towering, old growth hemlocks and ancient white pines. Many of these trees are more than 200 years old with some dating back to the 1500s, providing a glimpse of what the northern forests were like prior to European settlement. Finishing at Sylvania Outfitters, with its intimate, white birch lined trails, is icing on the cake. For the truly adventuresome, numerous primitive campsites are available along the shores of the interior lakes should you want to overnight along the trails.
A north-south traverse of the wilderness is a route I have yet to tackle, and remains high on my cross country “to-do” list. This past March, however, my intrepid band of cross country misadventurers, friends Marv and Lorrie Franson and wife Kathy, got to explore Sylvania from the south. We were joined by Pete Moline, of nearby Afterglow Lake Resort (see Cross Country Skier October 2006), who took us on a loop originating at a somewhat obscure trailhead off County Hwy B, just north of the border town of Land O’Lakes. This loop allowed us to cover most of the southeast corner of the wilderness area. We played “connect the dots,” skiing from Deer Island Lake to Cub Lake to Big Bateau Lake to Florence Lake to Loon Lake and back to Deer Island Lake. Portage trails between the lakes ranged from as short as 125 feet to a quarter mile.
Our journey was not arduous. It started fairly flat, actually, before rolling into a few lesser hills. There were a couple of quick descents, but nothing a competent intermediate skier couldn’t handle. The several lake crossings were a bit blustery, but over quick enough. The entire trek was about 10 miles.
Because the Sylvania Wilderness is a mature forest, there is often a wide-open understory, allowing relatively easy route finding and cross-country travel. If you are competent with map and compass, your touring options are almost unlimited.
Skiing the Sylvania Wilderness is one of those experiences that just takes you back in time. The remote tranquility of the area, the rolling glacial topography and the big woods give it a feeling unto itself. It’s the kind of place that makes you glad you’re a cross country skier.
For more information:
Ottawa National Forest
Sylvania Recreation Area
Afterglow Lake Resort