If you’re looking for that quintessential Northwoods camping experience with big trees, lakes, and wildlife, camping in the NHAL State Forest is it. The Northern Highland–American Legion (NHAL) State Forest is a beautiful space in northern Wisconsin.
Camping in the NHAL State Forest
There are many options, so this truly depends on what you’re looking to do and what type of amenities you want. Most of these campgrounds have sites you can reserve.
Want to be able to shower and use a regular flush toilet? These are the campgrounds you’ll need to check out. There are no electrical hookups, but you can get a free permit to run a generator if that’s your thing.
- Clear Lake
- Big Musky
- Crystal Lake
Just the essentials—hand-pumped water, pit toilets, and no electricity. However, these campgrounds usually offer wider site spacing than the modern campgrounds. This is what we opted for. Six campgrounds in this list (East Star through West Star) were non-reservable as of Fall 2020.
- Big Lake
- Buffalo Lake
- Carrol Lake
- Cunard Lake
- Indian Mounds
- Plum Lake
- Sandy Beach Lake
- South Trout
- East Star Lake
- North Trout Lake
- Razorback Lake
- Starrett Lake
- Upper Gresham Lake
- West Star Lake
Just the basics—tent clearing, fire ring, picnic table, box latrine.
- Allequash Lake
- Bittersweet Wild Lakes Area
- Clear Lake
- Day Lake
- Nebish Lake
Backcountry Camping in the NHAL State Forest
For those looking for even more solitude and adventure, you can request a permit for backcountry camping.
Camping with Dogs at Carrol Lake
While having a shower sounded luxurious while camping, we wanted a small campground—this meant fewer amenities, fewer people, and more seclusion (for the dogs and us). Carrol Lake won partially due to availability when we made our reservation and because it has some tremendous walk-in sites.
Don’t worry; you’re not going to be hauling gear across a football field. It’s more like walking the length of your house (if you have a small, 1300-sq-ft house like me). Easy peasy.
Our site, 102, had a lot of room and a lovely view of the lake. If all the sites there had been open, I might have chosen 103 because it had a little more grassy space and a more open view. However, it was slightly closer to the boat ramp (not that the boaters were noisy, or at least it didn’t sound like it from 102). Site 101 was a bit uphill from us, so more seclusion, but closer to the road. Even from our site, you could occasionally hear cars (noisy ones).
There were also regular campsites you could pull right up to and a few other walk-ins at the other end of camp. I don’t think those walk-ins had a great view of the lake. Plus, on our side (101-103), we were closer to the docks and dog-accessible waterfront. The actual beach area farther into camp does not allow dogs.
Carrol Lake is just a few minutes from town (Woodruff) and Clear Lake Campground, which has a ranger station and access to firewood.
Note: Pets must be on a leash. A State Parks and Forest sticker is required for camping (throughout the NHAL State Forest).
Hiking in NHAL State Forest
Our camp host gave us a great local newspaper guide filled with things to do, from local shops to local hikes. The Wisconsin DNR also has a great breakdown of hikes in NHAL State Forest. Try to check in with local guides whenever you can, whether it’s your camp host, a ranger, or some locals in town. They typically have a better grasp of current conditions and what’s accessible, plus they may have some “locals only” trail knowledge they can pass on.
While we spent part of our trip exploring the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness in Michigan, we did some local hiking as well. We headed up to Escanaba Lake for the first part of our day and then explored Minocqua in the second half. The Escanaba Hiking Trail offers several loops, from 2.36 to 8.48 miles. The trails are well-maintained and relatively wide. There is some logging regrowth you’ll hike through, but most of the time, it’s just beautiful forest views along with an occasional lake sighting.
Also, bring mosquito spray. There were zero bugs at our Carrol Lake campsite, but we encountered quite a few on the Escanaba hike.
Extra also: Don’t forget to bring some local(ish) brewskis!