Just a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities and Madison and three hours from Milwaukee, the ATV trails of the Jackson County Forest and the Black River State Forest are some of the most popular in the Midwest. Not only are they proximal to Interstate 94, the trail system here is extensive, the scenery is lovely, and campgrounds are everywhere.
The rolling terrain, wide trails and towering trees make you feel like you’re miles from civilization. Eight access points give you plenty of trailhead choices. Four trailheads are just off I-94, making them popular with day-trippers. But no matter where you start, the scenic beauty of the trails that roll through Jackson County and the Black River State Forest will dazzle you.
The 120,000-acre Jackson County Forest nearly surrounds the 67,000-acre Black River State Forest. The area is on the edge of Glacial Lake Wisconsin, an enormous lake that formed 12,000 years ago when the last glacier melted. The lake drained suddenly and catastrophically carved the rock formations of the Wisconsin River, altering the course of the Mississippi River and creating the area’s buttes and sandstone hills.
The 100-mile trail system in Jackson County dodges in and out of the hardwoods and pines allowing glimpses of the open landscape. Throughout the trail system, you’ll encounter sandy and rocky terrain that provides plenty of fun. Just to the west is the picturesque Black River. Beginning its journey in central Wisconsin, it carves its way to the mighty Mississippi. Anglers fish the river for walleye, bass, and the elusive musky.
From Black River Falls, trails run east into both forests. To the north, Lake Arbutus is a popular destination as it connects to another 135 miles of ATV and off-road motorcycle trails in Clark County. Its two trailheads and parking areas can be packed on busy weekends. In addition, Lake Arbutus is home to three campsites: at Russell County Park in Clark County, at East Arbutus County Park in Jackson County, and at the East Fork State Forest Campground. Take your pick.
Due south of Lake Arbutus about eight miles is the Wazee Lake County Campground. Wazee Lake is a former iron mine. At 350 feet, it is the deepest lake in Wisconsin, popular with scuba divers for its clarity. If you choose to set up camp here, you might catch a glimpse of lots of wildlife, including deer, turkey, grouse and timber wolves. A fee or park sticker is required to stay in the campground.
Jackson County trails are well marked and many signs point the way to area businesses that are ATV friendly. You can spend several fun days touring and staying in the Black River Falls area.
Off your quad, you’ll want to visit the Sand Creek Brewing Company in Black River Falls. They brew a dozen micro-beers in the historic 1856 Oderbolz Brewery. Enjoy free tours on Fridays (3pm). Their tasting room and gift shop are open Monday-Friday. Players can enjoy blackjack, bingo, craps, poker and slots at Ho-Chunk Gaming, also known as Majestic Pines Hotel, Bingo & Casino.
If You Go...
Distance: 100 miles.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Trailhead location(s): There are eight access areas with parking: East 7th St near Castle Mound State Park; off Hwy 12 two miles west of Millston; junction Cty O and North Settlement Rd, one mile east of Millston; Ott Trail parking lot on Airport Rd, east of Black River Falls; Hwy 54 ten miles east of Black River Falls, just east of Wildcat-Spangler Rd; West Clay School Rd near East Arbutus Campground, southeast of Hatfield; East Arbutus Campground, north of West Clay School Rd; and Crawford Hills County Park, 20 miles east of Black River Falls on Hwy 54.
Season: Open mid-May--mid-October, and mid-December--mid-March.
Other trails in this region: Connects to the Clark County ATV trails.
Note: Trails are marked with blue locator posts with red numbers. The top number is the trail segment; the bottom number is the mile marker. In an emergency, dial 9-1-1 and give the dispatcher the post number, then follow their instructions.
Be sure to read the DNRs tips on what to know before you go.
Caution: It is highly recommended to carry extra fuel with you.