The Trap Hills, an area of Ontonagon County stretching roughtly from Rockland to the Porcupine Mountains, were born from the same ancient volcanic and glacial activity that created the Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale.
Though the Trap Hills' basalt-rock landforms bear a familiar resemblance to those farther north, they have their own character, defined by interrupted ridges and isolated domes of rock rising out of relatively flat, glacier-scoured land.
The views in the Trap Hills are expansive. Seeing them requires only some hiking and a little knowledge of the Forest Service roads in the Ottawa National Forest.
My first experience with the Trap Hills started at the North Country Trail (NCT) trailhead on Forest Road 630, a few miles west of Norwich Road in central Ontonagon County. There are two scenic overlooks on the NCT between that trailhead and the next one 3.3 miles farther west on Forest Road 400.
I am told the ascent to the first overlook, about a mile in from Forest Road 630, is the steepest grade anywhere on the North Country National Scenic Trail (the NCT winds all the way from eastern upstate New York to central North Dakota). Hikers approaching this climb with a full backpack might well question the sanity of whoever chose this steep, rock-strewn route for the trail. Until they reach the top.
At the top, from an elevation of about 1,350 feet, the view stretches for miles over undulating, forested terrain, where signs of human impact are few.
Looking down from this bluff, the evergreens tracing the path of the west branch of the Ontonagon River stand out in the midst of a forest that is mostly hardwoods. I have stood on this overlook early in the morning and heard at least a dozen different woodpeckers at work down in those trees.
Three quarters of a mile south of the NCT trailhead on Forest Road 400 is a trail that provides a taste of the Trap Hills experience, requires only a short hike, and throws a waterfall into the bargain.
In the space of less than two kilometers - for some reason the trail signs of the Cascade Falls Trail give distances in kilometers - there are two overlooks, to the southwest and to the west. And a roaring falls spans Cascade Creek, 0.7 kilometers from the trailhead. It should be mentioned the access road from Forest Road 400 to the Cascade Falls trailhead requires a vehicle with some ground clearance, but it is only a third of a mile long so it does not add greatly to the hike if you park on the Forest Service road.
Hiking a few miles westward on the North Country Trail from Forest Road 400 will achieve fantastic views in the Trap Hills. The trail passes towering trees that have toppled, roots and all, for lack of ability to put down deep roots in the thin soil that blankets these basalt-rock hills.
East of the trailhead on Norwich Road, the only paved road mentioned in this column, the trail ascends to further impressive lookout points. It also passes near the last traces of the Norwich Mine, evidence that the geological activity which formed the Keweenaw Peninsula, Isle Royale and the Trap Hills also hid copper in the midst of the basalt rock.
For maps and additional information helpful for hiking in the Trap Hills, visit the web site of the Peter Wolfe Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, northcountrytrail.org/pwf. There you will also find a biography of the chapter's namesake, Peter Wolfe, who chose to make his home not far from the Trap Hills after hiking, in 1978, the entire 4,300 mile North Country Trail route, which at that time existed only as a proposal.