A hidden gem for hikers in western Wisconsin is Levis Mound, seven miles east of Merrillan, and is the focal point of the 135,000-acre Levis/Trow Mound Recreational Area in Clark County. The numerous sandstone rock outcroppings and cliffs, steep sides and extensive trail system make this a great opportunity for hikers to tailor a hike or climb to their own preferences. The 39-mile trail system has been primarily developed by mountain bikers, who often flock to the site on weekends. However, there is enough trail mileage that conditions are never crowded. Weekdays offer quite a bit of solitude. 24 miles of the trails are singletrack, while 15 miles of wider trails were designed for winter skiing (which are off-limits to hikers in winter).
According to Lists of John, Levis Mound has 210 feet of prominence. While many summits in Wisconsin are monadnocks, Levis Mound is actually a nunatak. A nunatak, also known as a “stack”, is the top of a rocky ridge or peak that was once surrounded by glacial ice, but not covered by it. This part of Wisconsin has a number of nunataks that stood just to the east of what is known as the “Driftless Area” during the Ice Age. These harder rock summits in the area often rise up to 300 feet above the forests surrounding them. The banded sandstone found there is often called “zebra rock” because of alternating layers of white-yellow quartz and red iron oxide. The nunataks are covered with forests of white and red pine, oaks, aspen, maples and some spruce.
The steep slopes and rocky walls set in a dense forest surrounding, provides explorers a beautiful outing and a good workout. It also makes for an excellent wildlife habitat. Animals commonly seen here include deer, wild turkeys, fishers, coyotes and raccoons. Stray wolves and bears have been seen, but are not common because of the number of visitors to the area.
A quick check of the map of the trail system will show numerous trail links to the Trow Mounds about a mile north of Levis Mound. The Trow Mound highpoint at 1,285 feet is 70 feet higher than the Levis Mound highpoint, though it is not readily apparent in viewing the two. There are multiple trails on Trow Mound, but the trail system is not as extensive there. Upper Hermosa and Sidewinder seem to be the most popular trails there and offer scenic views that rival the best views on Levis Mound. This nearby summit and the trails network make it convenient for those who have the time to explore there also.
The Levis Mound Recreation Area is most often reached from Interstate 94 by turning east on Exit 98 and traveling east on Highways 121 and 95 for 54 miles to the entrance.
The trail system on the mound began as renegade tracks created by early mountain bikers. Once the bikers organized, they were able to readily get permission to develop more, so long as the forest service was not required to invest resources in their efforts. In numerous places, the trails are narrow and pass under cliffs and sandstone overhangs, or hang on ledges, with log or plank bridges and teeter-totters to help hikers and bikers safely pass.
Because of the abundance of trails, there are a variety of approaches to reach the summit of Levis Mound. The trail map provided by Clark County gives a good overview of the trail system, though it might take a while to get used to it. Some of the more scenic and difficult of the trails would include Cliffhanger, Switchback, South Point, Porky Point, Clarence, Corkscrew and Toad Road (see map on this page). On Toad Road, watch for the huge sandstone rock called “Plumbers Crack”. At several locations on different trails, one will find rocky overlooks of the area around Levis Mound.
There are no fees to hike, but there are county park regulations to be aware of. You may download them by clicking here:
It is recommended not to hike during firearm deer season, which generally runs from around Thanksgiving to New Years. Of course, hiking during bad storms is also unwise. Otherwise, hiking is permitted year-around at both Levis and Trow Mounds. However, there is an annual bike race called the Buzzard Buster in May, bringing in hundreds of rider and hikers may find some routes blocked for the event. The trails are also pretty busy on weekends and especially on holidays. It pays to check ahead. While there are trail use fees for bikers, snowshoers and skiers, hiking is free.
For weather information, click here: Levis Mound / Trow Mound Area Weather Forecast
Camping opportunities exist at the Levis & Trow Mounds Trailhead and include 8 non-electric sites, as well as back-country camping. There are flush toilets and showers at the trailhead, plus an open-air shelter, as well as a winter warming chalet. For more information, click here:
Excellent camping is also found nearby at Russell Memorial Park, which is five miles south on County Road J. This is a much larger campsite, with 230 campsites available. The campground has showers also. Visitors can also use the beaches on the large lake there. Firewood is available at the camp store there. For more information, click here:
Day visitors’ facilities at the Levis Mound Trail Center include plenty of parking, flush toilets and a picnic area. For questions, call the Clark County Forestry Department at (715) 743-5140.
To download the Levis Mound trail map and recreation area info, click here: