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High color in Cable

Fall frames the abundant beauty around a northwest Wisconsin town.

Fall color along County Road D in Cable.

© Beth Gauper

Along County Road D between Grand View and Cable, trees stay golden into the third weekend of October.

In the forests and lakes around the northwestern Wisconsin town of Cable, the reds, oranges and yellows of fall are mere gilding on the lily.

This landscape, much of it part of Chequamegon National Forest, is beautiful in any season.

In winter, cross-country skiers glide along forest paths and the 52-kilometer Birkebeiner trail, on which North America's largest and most famous Nordic-skiing race is held each February.

In spring, the mountain-biking season starts, culminating in September with the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, the nation's largest.

But fall is for lingerers. It's hard to move fast when there are so many glowing colors to gape at.

Before loggers came in the 1880s, there was only a sea of green needles. But the vast tracts of white pine vanished into the sawmills; hardwoods replaced them, and lake resorts replaced the logging camps.

I drove and hiked my way around Cable one fall, as leaves were starting to pop into their fall palette. Following a route mapped out by the chamber of commerce, I set out along County Road M, passing a canoe landing into the Namekagon River, part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

Along Garmisch Road, the route passed the two-mile Forest Lodge Nature Trail, which turned out to be a marvel, from a dark hemlock grove worthy of Hansel and Gretel to a magical little bog circled by spruce and covered with cotton grass, their tufted white heads waving on slender stems.

Everywhere I walked, consulting the excellent trail booklet left in a box by the Cable Natural History Museum, I flushed chipmunks, who ran squealing across the path and up trees.

Another mile along the road, I came to the gates of Garmisch USA.

This gloriously atmospheric resort was built by Chicago businessman Jacob Loeb in 1927, three years after he saved his teen-age nephew, Richard Loeb, from the electric chair. Loeb and friend Nathan Leopold had been convicted in a sensational trial of murdering a young boy for the thrill of it.

The lodge was sold in 1955 to a wealthy young skier named Jean Funk, who gave it the look of a medieval hunting lodge, with iron chandeliers, suits of armor and stuffed animals snarling from corners.

The Blarney Castle at Garmisch Resort.

© Beth Gauper

The Blarney Castle at Garmisch Resort.

Its rooms have been updated without compromising the Never-Neverland feel. I dropped my bag in Room 7, which has a stone fireplace and a fabulous view of Lake Namekagon, and continued on my route.

Turning up Forest Road 192, I stopped at Atkins Lake, a perfectly clear little orb with picnic tables alongside a sandy beach.

A little farther along, I crossed the North Country National Scenic Trail, which someday will stretch 3,200 miles from North Dakota to New York; 60 miles now run through Chequamegon National Forest.

I got out to walk, the map having promised a "delightful vista,'' and after a 15-minute stroll through quiet forest reached a craggy bald hilltop with not just a vista, but a panoramic view of the surrounding forest.

The route wound north along gravel roads to Grand View, a milltown until the last mill closed in 1912.

There's a wood statue of Chief Namekagon in a little park two blocks north of Wisconsin 63, with a plaque telling a story no doubt meant to be titillating, but actually sad.

The chief, ostracized by his tribe, lived on an island in the big lake and regularly walked the 25 miles to Ashland to buy goods, especially whiskey, always paying with pure silver ore. 

In old age, he tried to show a white friend his mine, but before he could, he made one last whiskey run and was found frozen on the trail home. Therefore, reads the plaque, "Someday, someone will find Chief Namekagon's silver mine. It may be you. Who knows?''

Today, businesses in Grand View sell cheese curds, antiques and, yes, whiskey.

The route then heads south on County Road D, passing the eastern border of Porcupine Lake Wilderness Area; to reach a -mile trail to Porcupine Lake, travel four miles west on Forest Road 213. The North Country National Scenic Trail winds through the wilderness area just north of the lake.

In Cable, I stopped by the handsome little Cable Natural History Museum and followed a phenology from April 29 ("The ice went out on the lake last night, and in the morning the loons arrived'') to Oct. 11 ("The tamaracks are gold now'').

Back at Garmisch, I spent a quiet night with my wood fire and view and thought how lucky I was to be there. My sentiments were echoed the next morning by another guest who says she makes a hobby of looking for atmospheric old lodges.

Fall color along a lake near Cable.

© Beth Gauper

Leaf color is reflected in a lake east of Cable.

"Oh, this place is incredible,'' said Gloria Roder, who runs an antiques shop in Bayfield and says she's been coming to Garmisch since she heard about it from a customer. "There's nothing else like this, truly.''

Trip Tips: Fall in Cable, Wisconsin

2017 events: Sept. 16, Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. Sept. 23, Fall Festival in Hayward. Sept. 29-30, Cable Area Fall Fest

When to go: Thanks to tamaracks that turn yellow in mid-October, this area has one of the region's longest lasting displays of fall color.

Fall-color drives: The Cable tourism bureau puts out a brochure that maps out three fall-color tours.

Accommodations: Garmisch USA, 10 miles east of Cable, has seven rooms and a suite in the lodge and 12 guest homes, including the five-bedroom, five-bathroom Blarney Castle. Its atmospheric restaurant serves German cuisine and has a great view of the lake.

The Cable Nature Lodge, seven miles east of Cable, has seven rooms and the Rookery Pub and Cafe.

Horseback riding in northwest Wisconsin.

© Beth Gauper

A trail ride winds through the forest east of Cable.

Also off County Road M, big Lakewoods Resort on Lake Namekagon has a golf course and cottages and condos as well as hotel rooms. In October, it offers a Northwoods Nature Retreat that includes yoga and meditation.

Recreation Rental Properties in Cable has 50 properties in the area.

Dining: All of the lodges above have restaurants, but the Cable Nature Lodge's Rookery has the most interesting menu and is known for its fresh-fish "UN-Fry'' with such entrees as pan-seared mahi-mahi with saffron risotto and avocado-mango salsa.

In town, The Rivers Eatery serves excellent 9-inch thin-crust pizzas baked in a stone oven. It also sells craft beers and wine and is the gathering spot for local silent-sports aficionados.

Just up U.S. 63 in Drummond, the Delta Diner is a classic roadside diner with a modern sensibility.

Hiking: The Forest Lodge Nature Trail is seven miles east of Cable on County Road M and reached from Garmisch Road.

The North Country National Scenic Trail includes 60 miles through Chequamegon National Forest, including the popular Porcupine Lakes hike.

In fall, there's a great view of the colorful treetops from St. Peter's Dome, a relatively easy 3-mile round-trip hike that also passes Morgan Falls, a 70- to 100-foot flume that zigzags down from one red-granite ledge to another in a forest clearing.

The trailhead is 22 miles north of Cable on Minnesota 63. At County Road  E, drive six miles east to Ashland-Bayfield Road. Turn south and drive 4.2 miles to the parking lot.

Horseback-riding: On Wisconsin 77, Spider Lake Ranch offers guided trail rides.

Mountain biking: The CAMBA trails include more than 300 miles of marked and mapped routes. For more, see On a roll in Hayward and Cable.

Information: Cable tourism, 800-533-7454.


Last updated on September 19, 2017