It might be the best-kept secret in the Northland.
Sure, it’s no secret that Hayward, Wis., has big-time fishing — the two largest muskies on record were caught here, and the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum is right in the heart of this northern Wisconsin city of about 2,300.
And that alone makes it an outdoors destination for many. Besides monster muskies, you’ll find big walleyes in these area fisheries, too. And a booming smallmouth bass population. Lots of panfish, too. Yes, that hall/museum is a good fit here.
The Hayward area also includes the Lake Chippewa Flowage, regarded as the largest wilderness lake in Wisconsin. It was there that the world-record 69-pound, 11-ounce musky was landed all the way back in 1949.
And besides fishing, other water sports, such as boating, kayaking and canoeing, have a strong presence in this area, too.
But look beyond the water and here’s what you’ll find:
Just outside Hayward and covering 1.5 million acres, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is, well, a national forest, full of adventure and possibilities. And, interestingly, elk, too.
The area has embraced this herd, which was introduced to Wisconsin and the national forest about 20 years ago. The locals seem to take great pride in their unique, majestic neighbors, and the animals have fit right into the diverse wildlife landscape here.
Also interestingly, the herd has been able to coexist with a growing number of forest users, including all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile riders and mountain bikers — miles and miles of trails now wind through the national forest.
The ATV, snowmobile and mountain bike trails in Chequamegon are spectacular and add to the allure of the national forest. But they stretch far beyond that forest, and in pretty much every direction, zig-zagging all around Hayward as well as Sawyer County.
The county reportedly has about 600 miles of ATV/snowmobile trails, and Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA) single-track trails total about 100 miles, winding mostly north and east of Hayward — a serious single-track presence. The area also includes the American Birkebeiner trail system. The “Birkie” is best known for being the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America.
Besides the “Birkie,” the area also is home to the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, held in late summer on those world-class mountain bike trails — and across the communities of Hayward and nearby Cable, Wis. In its 34th year, the festival is a pioneer and regarded as one of the nation’s great grassroots biking events. It reportedly draws thousands of fat-bike types. And for the races, the sold-out, limited field is chosen by random lottery.
Other major gatherings in Hayward include the Lumberjack World Championships, the LCO Honor the Earth Pow Wow, the marquee Fishing Has No Boundaries event (the organization’s national headquarters are in Hayward) and, of course, the long-running, hugely-popular Musky Festival.
A more than 100-foot-long, 45-foot-tall likeness of a musky is the centerpiece of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum. Each year, people come from all over the country — and world — to see the big musky and everything else the hall/museum has to offer.
If you like big fish, you’ll like the big mounts of all varieties of freshwater fish that cover wall after wall of space in the expansive museum. And visitors can climb through the interior of the big musky, four-and-a-half stories up to its open mouth, which overlooks the grounds and Lake Hayward.
And an oasis of other possibilities in northern Wisconsin.