4 Seasons of Fun in Hayward, Wisconsin
Updated: Dec 4, 2022
We are fortunate to spend lots of time at our cabin in Hayward, WI! Although the town is home to only about 2,500 people, the population balloons on weekends as people flock to vacation homes on the area’s many lakes and to seasonal outdoor activities. Hayward has developed a full calendar of events to draw visitors throughout the year. Keep reading to learn about things to do in the Hayward Lakes area all year round!
The Hayward area is home to more than 25 lakes, including several sizable ones like Lac Courte Oreilles, Round Lake, Grindstone Lake, Nelson Lake, Lake Namakagon, and the Chippewa Flowage. Fisherpeople flock to the area for muskie, northerns, walleye, and large and smallmouth bass. There’s plenty of other water recreation to be had beyond fishing - pontoons are plentiful and some lakes are excellent for water skiing and tubing. We love to take our Paddle North paddleboards out along the shoreline, and Bert and Ernie like to ride along too.
Hayward is home to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, a delightful museum with some fantastic trophy mounts, a cool collection of vintage gear, and the World’s Largest Musky. (For the uninitiated, “musky” is short for muskellunge, which is a big toothy fish. It’s spelled musky when you’re talking about a single fish and muskie when referring to multiple.) Visitors can walk up inside the nearly five-story-tall musky and look out at Lake Hayward from a viewing platform inside its mouth which accommodates 20 people. In the wintertime, Santa Claus has been known to appear inside the big musky’s mouth! The museum also includes grounds with other large fiberglass fish sculptures and fish ponds. Note that it is closed from November through part of April.
Muskie and fishing are a big part of Hayward’s heritage, so they are the centerpiece of the town’s summer festival Musky Fest. This classic small town festival has been running for more than 70 years. Events include several fishing contests, a beer & brat tent (of course), a carnival, live music, and a Dilly bar eating contest.
The other major mainstay of summer in Hayward is the Lumberjack World Championships. Held in Hayward at the Lumberjack Bowl every July. The Northwoods of Wisconsin have long been timber territory, so there is a long history of lumberjacks and woodcutters in the area. Hayward has been home to this competition for more than 60 years. Over the course of three days, amateurs and professionals compete in lumberjack sports across four disciplines: sawing, chopping, climbing, and rolling. Our favorite events are the springboard chop and the Jack & Jill saw! It’s a ton of fun to attend year after year and see our favorite lumberjacks and lumberjills in action.
When autumn rolls around and the boats are out of the water, Hayward is a beautiful place to hike and bike.
The Birkie Trail runs more than 100 km through the woods and along lakes and ponds from Cable, WI to Hayward. Maintained by the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, the trail is available for year-round recreation including hiking, biking, trail running, and perhaps most famously cross-country skiing. More on that later! Visitors need trail passes from December through March, but that means spring, summer, and fall trail access is FREE.
The Birkie Trail is about 20 feet wide at a minimum (often much wider) and the surface is mowed grass. It’s well marked with plenty of parking lots and trail access points for out-and-back hikes. Dogs are permitted as long as they are on leash. We like to park at either the Mosquito Brook or Hatchery Creek trailheads for hiking. In late September, the ABSFl hosts the Birkie Trail Run Festival, a two day event with 7 different races ranging from a 5K to a full marathon.
In the fall, be sure to keep hunter safety in mind as the Birkie Trail abuts public land in many places.
Bert and Ernie wear blaze orange Safety Pup vests (affiliate link) for visibility! If hunting is of interest to you, Wisconsin has seasons for deer, bear, game birds, and furbearers. The Hayward area has several professional guides and game farms.
The Northwoods boasts spectacular fall colors as the leaves change in September and October. The local tourism bureau has created six driving routes for Color Tours - take a look at the maps online or follow posted signs on highways. The routes range from about an hour to more than two hours and generally follow a loop pattern through different parts of Sawyer County. Pack yourself some snacks and hit the road!
The Northwoods is a winter recreation paradise! The great fishing doesn’t stop just because the lakes ice over, and those newly-solid lakes act as trails for snowshoers and snowmobilers. Wisconsin has two free fishing weekends each year when anglers do not need licenses - the first full weekend of June and the third weekend in January. We gave ice fishing a try this winter - pop a hole in the ice with an auger, drop a short line or a tip up in, and wait for the bites!
We love to let the dogs play on the frozen lake in the winter. Our lake has a big thoroughfare for snowmobiles, so we steer clear of that and let Bert and Ernie run wild through the snow. They have such a blast charging around off leash! We usually strap on our snowshoes for these lake walks as the snow can be quite deep. This is where we get most of our winter hiking/outdoor time with the dogs because in the wintertime, the Birkie Trail is closed to hikers/snowshoers and dogs because it’s ski season!
Every hotel and lodge room in the area is full at the end of February each year as skiers, spectators, and volunteers from all around the world flock to Northern Wisconsin for the American Birkebeiner. The “Birkie” as it is commonly known is the largest cross country ski marathon in North America. The 50K/55K main event and the “half marathon” Kortelopet races draw a world class group of competitors (including several olympians!).
The town transforms to welcome so many skiers and visitors for Birkie week and all of the associated events.
One year, we got trained up to ski the Kortelopet, but it was the second time in nearly 50 years of Birkie history that the race was canceled due to lack of snow! Maybe next year we’ll give the Barkie Birkie a try and see if Bert and Ernie would skijor with us - we’d definitely opt for the shortest distance :) Other fun events throughout the week include the Barnebirkie (kid’s event) and the costumed Giant Ski competition on Main Street. We have also volunteered at aid stations along the way for skiers in previous years, preparing bananas and cups of warm water and energy drink for competitors. The Birkie has more than 4,000 volunteers each year!
The highlight for spectators is to watch the elite skiers finish the Birkie on Saturday.
The church bells in downtown Hayward begin to ring as the first skiers are crossing Lake Hayward, and the crowd cheers and rings cowbells as the competitors climb the International Bridge and race down Main Street to the finish line.
Downtown restaurants and bars open up to go windows on the big day, so spectators can grab a bloody mary or a beer to help them stay warm while cheering. Dogs are very welcome, and Bert and Ernie made lots of friends this year!
The Birkie ski races in late February typically mark the end of cross country ski season as the weather can be spotty for skiing going forward. By mid March, there’s usually still snow on the ground but ski conditions are questionable, so the Birkie Trail hosts the Fat Bike Birkie, the premier on snow bike event in North America. Fat tire bikers who have been training all winter long can take it to the trails for the 47K Big Fat Race, the 21K Half Fat, or the 10K Fun Fat Tour.
If there’s an off season in Hayward, it’s spring. Residents and visitors alike wait for snow and ice to melt and things to bloom again. Once the mud has dried, the Birkie Trail is open for hiking again and is FREE to access from April through November. Beware of ticks along the trail in spring and early summer! Because ticks are so common in this part of the country and because it’s next to impossible to find every tick on fluffy black dogs, we have Ernie and Bert vaccinated against Lyme Disease in addition to giving them monthly preventative medication. We also spray them with dog-safe mosquito and tick spray (affiliate link) before our spring and summer hikes as an added layer of protection. For humans, we recommend high socks and bug spray with DEET.
Mountain bikers will find plenty of trails in the Hayward area thanks to CAMBA, the Chequamagon Area Mountain Bike Association. This group maintains more than 130 miles of mountain biking trails in the region. Parts of the Birkie Trail are designated for biking in the summertime too.
Downtown Hayward has a charming Main Street strip with retail, restaurants, and souvenir shops. You’ll find plenty of outdoor goods and gear here including Riverbrook Bike & Ski right on the corner and several clothing retailers. Outside of downtown, check out New Moon Ski & Bike Shop - both New Moon and Riverbrook can help tune up your bike or wax your skis, and New Moon offers bike, ski, and snowshoe rentals.
Downtown Hayward has a couple of shops that are not to be missed: Firehouse Bakery (try the cranberry wild rice bread), Tremblay’s Sweet Shop (fudge and turtles are our faves), and West’s Hayward Dairy, a seasonal ice cream shop. At any time of year, stop by the Moccasin Bar for a display of a world record musky and some of the most fascinating taxidermy you’ve ever seen - guaranteed.
The Hayward lakes area is really special to us, and we hope it becomes a place you love too. Let us know what you decide to do when you visit!