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Primitive Camping

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest

Campers who are looking for a more secluded experience on their camping trip may choose between two types of primitive campsites, non-reservable water access or reservable water access, or skip a developed campsite altogether and do a little backcountry camping. Primitive campsites are generally widely dispersed with minimal clearing and a primitive soil surface. Facilities at primitive campsites are limited to a tent clearing, fire ring, box wilderness latrine and a picnic table. See individual types below for the length of stay, reservation information and what fees may be required. The rules for backcountry camping are also below.

Primitive Camping.

Reservable water-access campsites

The NHAL has 17 reservable water-access primitive campsites. They are on Allequash, Day, Nebish, Clear Lakes and in the Bittersweet Wild Lakes Area. They are accessible only by water. These sites may be occupied for up to 14 nights per visit. Regular nightly camping fees apply. A maximum of six people are allowed per campsite. Reservations can be made for the same day of your arrival or up to 11 months in advance of your planned date of occupancy. Campers must make a reservation before setting up on any site.

These campsites are open from April 30-Nov. 1.

Reserve a campsite online or by calling 1-888-947-2757.

Allequash Lake reservable water-access campsites

Allequash Lake is found between Minocqua and Boulder Junction east of Highway M in Vilas County. There is no development on this lake except for the boat landing.

Sites here are large enough for two small tents each and are far apart from each other. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. An open-air toilet is located nearby.

GPS coordinates

Site Coordinates
611 N46° 01.961’ W89° 38.304’
612 N46° 02.202’ W89° 37.581’
613 N46° 02.750’ W89° 37.776’
614 N46° 02.163’ W89° 37.083’

Get Directions - Allequash Lake Campsites

Bittersweet Wild Lakes Area reservable water-access campsites

There are five sites on four different lakes, Prong Lake, Smith Lake, Oberlin Lake and Bittersweet Lake, which are referred to as the "Bittersweet Wild Lakes Area." The largest of the four, Bittersweet, is found northeast of Minocqua, north of Highway 70. Use caution, the road to the boat launch parking lot is rough and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.

The "Sunken Rowboat" site is on Prong Lake. "Big Rock" and "Trappers Cabin" sites are on Bittersweet Lake. "Loon Song" is on Smith Lake and "Sunset Point" is on Oberlin Lake. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring.

GPS coordinates

Site Coordinates
Prong Lake - Site #651 (Sunken Rowboat) N45° 55.315’ W89° 35.682’
Bittersweet Lake - Site #652 (Big Rock) N45° 55.709’ W89° 36.311’
Bittersweet Lake - Site #653 (Trapper’s Cabin) N45° 55.710’ W89° 35.932’
Smith Lake - Site #654 (Loon Song) N45° 56.145’ W89° 36.406’
Oberlin Lake - Site #655 (Sunset Point) N45° 56.415’ W89° 35.776’

Get Directions - Bittersweet Wild Lakes Area Campsites

Clear Lake reservable water-access campsites

Clear Lake, in Oneida County, is approximately four miles east of Minocqua off Highway J. Campers should access the sites from the boat landing near the Clear Lake Picnic Area off Highway J.

All four sites are along the east shore of the lake. Tent pads for several small tents, picnic tables and fire rings can be found at each site. An open-air toilet is located along a path adjacent to each site. Both Clear and Little Bass lakes have special fishing regulations. Consult fishing regulations for details.

GPS coordinates

Site Coordinates
641 N45° 52.249’ W89° 36.799’
642 N45° 52.076’ W89° 36.856’
643 N45° 51.890’ W89° 36.956’
644 N45° 51.747’ W89° 37.118’

Get Directions - Clear Lake Remote Campsites

Day Lake reservable water-access campsites

Day Lake is an electric motors only lake located south of North Creek Road between Highways M and H in Vilas County.

There are two campsites on this lake approximately 150 yards apart. Each site has a tent pad large enough for two small tents and a picnic table. Open-air toilets are located nearby. The motor restriction and distance from a paved road make these sites quiet and isolated.

GPS coordinates

Site Coordinates
621 N46° 03.940’ W89° 42.444’
622 N46° 03.855’ W89° 42.404’

Get Directions - Day Lake Campsites

Nebish Lake reservable water-access campsites

Nebish Lake in Vilas County is approximately three miles east of Highway M. Entrance to the campsites is on Nebish Lake Road found directly across from the Trout Lake Forestry Headquarters on Highway M.

There are two sites on Nebish. Both sites have picnic tables, a fire ring and an open-air toilet located nearby. There is no development on Nebish Lake except for the boat landing.

This lake is an experimental research lake so visitors must register at the fish checking station at the Escanaba Lake boat landing before and after each fishing day. See fishing regulations for more details on the special rule.

GPS coordinates

Site Coordinates
631 N46° 03.161’ W89° 35.853’
632 N46° 03.128’ W89° 35.770’

Get Directions - Nebish Lake Campsites

Non-reservable water-access campsites

The NHAL offers paddlers the opportunity to camp along rivers and lakes at designated non-reservable water-access campsites. There are currently 88 non-reservable water-access campsites located on more than 20 lakes and rivers across the NHAL. To use these sites, campers must access them by watercraft. Stays are limited to one night only with no more than six people to a site. Sites are marked with yellow signs displaying a tent. No campsite reservations are accepted. No fee is required. Trash must be packed out. A maximum of six people are allowed per campsite.

NHAL paddling routes.

Backcountry camping

Your interest in backcountry camping indicates you enjoy nature, seek solitude and enjoy the challenge of roughing it. As one who appreciates the forest environment, you are cordially welcome to the state forest.

The NHAL is a "working forest," managed for scenic beauty, recreation, wildlife, clean water and timber. You may come upon timber sales or other management activities during your trip. If you would like more information on these activities, please don’t hesitate to ask the forest staff.

Backcountry camping regulations

  1. You must have a permit before setting up camp. Permits are issued at the Clear and Crystal Lake Visitor Stations. You may also fill out a permit online [PDF] and email a filled-out copy to Rosy Richter or send it by regular mail to the address on the permit.
  2. Camping is limited to 14 nights and no more than six individuals or one family. You must move your camp every night.
  3. Have an idea of where you would like to camp before applying for your permit. Camping is not allowed within sight of any trail or body of water. Campsites must be at least 0.5 miles from your vehicle.
  4. Practice Leave No Trace low-impact camping:
    • Plan. An unprepared camper creates a higher risk for impact.
    • Travel on durable surfaces. Avoid stream banks and wetlands.
    • Dispose of waste properly. Pack out what you bring in. Wash dishes and answer nature's call at least 200 feet from the trail, camp or any water source. Cover solid human waste with forest duff.
    • Minimize fire impact. Keep fires small and make sure they are dead out before leaving the campsite.
    • Respect wildlife. Observe animals from a distance and never feed them. Once a squirrel or bear gets a taste for human food, they actively seek them out, which can lead to dangerous behavior.
    • Be considerate of other visitors. Keep noise levels down. Remember we’re all trying to enjoy a finite resource.
    • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering the campsite should be unnecessary.

Deer hunter camping

A unique and primitive camping opportunity is offered during the nine-day gun-deer season in November. Deer camps have been a tradition on the NHAL for decades. Hunter camping is allowed only along certain roads in the forest. Both tents and camper units are allowed. Hunters must obtain a permit from the Clear Lake Visitor Station to camp during the gun-deer season. For questions about deer hunter camping, contact the Clear Lake Visitor Station at 715-356-3668.