Chain O'Lakes State Park
Chain O'Lakes is a large (2,700+ acre) state park notable for – no surprise here – its lakes. Eleven dot the property, and channels link eight of them into a chain of sorts, making it possible to canoe nearly the entire width of the park. I have done this and heartily recommend it, though be prepared for tight spots where you may have to force your way through the emergent vegetation that lines narrow portions of some channels. These are kettle lakes, formed by melt water from gigantic, partially buried blocks of ice left behind when the glaciers retreated about ten thousand years ago.
Bridge over Channel
Most visitor activity focuses on Sand Lake, which features a beach and concession stand, among other attractions. Crowds usually throng this area during the warmer months, and the propensity of sound to carry over water will make it seem even busier. Fortunately, options exist. Trail 5 loops Sand Lake, and toward the west end of the lake, it intersects with the eastern terminus of Trail 4, an out-and-back trail of about one mile each way. During the spring, large-flowered trilliums festoon the area around this trail intersection. Trail 4 climbs and then continues atop a narrow ridge before dropping down to cross the channel at a canoe campground between Mud and Rivir Lakes, finally reaching its end at the Rally Campground picnic area.
Trail 6 (a 2.5 mile near-lollipop) starts with a muddy tread along the south side of Dock Lake, then heads east toward Long Lake. At one point, the path passes between Long Lake on your left and cabins perched high on the bluff to your right. Wildflowers cover the intervening slope in the spring; check the trees between the path and the lake in this area for a large vulture roost. The trail explores the southeast portion of the park before curving back to the cabin complex. Returning via Trail 1 allows you to enjoy a nice upland wood and avoid the mud on the south side of Dock Lake. On the other hand, it may pass a bit too close to the campground for some tastes, and its tread along the west side of Dock Lake is unexceptional.
Trail 8 is a short (0.5 mile) path that starts by the Nature Center and loops the westernmost of the two Finster Lakes. A short spur along a ridge with good views of Dock Lake connects Trail 8 to Trail 2; the latter loops Bowen Lake (nice views) and in turn links to Trail 7, also with impressive wildflower displays and lake views.
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