Weekend Backpacker: Milwaukee

Kettle Moraine North
  |  Gorp.com

Why these two very separate forests were given such similar names I will never comprehend. Located about 85 miles north of the southern unit of the Kettle Moraine, the Kettle Moraine—Northern Unit offers 133 miles of trail for hikers, equestrians, bikers, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers. Trails wind through the kettle moraine, providing spectacular views of glacial landscapes and forest scenery. Hikers can explore the forest by trekking on the Butler Lake (3.1 miles), Parnell Tower (3.5 miles), Greenbush ( 11.5 miles), New Fane (8.7 miles), and the Zillmer (11.4 miles) loop trails in the state forest. In addition, a 31-mile segment of the Ice Age Trail traverses the forest, offering the best wilderness camping experience. Sprawling over 30,000 acres of land, the state forest was sculpted by the same glaciers that carved much of the region. Once again, geologic landmarks are visible throughout the park, so keep your eyes open for Dundee Mountain, a huge, conical hill called a kame along the Summit Nature Trail, as well as the Greenbush Kettle, a hole formed by the melting of buried ice chunks, near Shelter #5.

Recommended trip: Pick up the Ice Age Trail at Highway H, just east of Kewaskum. This segment of the trail features uplands and spectacular hilltop views. Look for Kewaskum and Cambellsport to the north and Dundee Mountain to the northeast. The Kewaskum segment joins the Milwaukee River segment in the southernmost section of the state forest. From here the trail runs almost parallel to the Milwaukee River through densely wooded hillsides with kame tops and kettle bottoms visible all around you. The total distance from the beginning of the trail to Mauthe Lake is about 10 miles. Camping is available at Mauthe Lake and shelters are located a few miles to the north and south.

The Parnell segment of the trail passes Forest Lake and Crooked Lake, which offer waterfowl observation opportunities. The most striking groups of moulin kames in the area lie here. A moulin kame is a cone-shape mound comprised of sorted sand and gravel. Johnson and McMullen Hills, which can be seen from the Parnell Observation Tower, are excellent examples.

Butler Lake is spring-fed and surrounded by bog on three sides. This lake lies between two eskers, sandy ridges shaped by tunnels that lay under the retreating glacier. The total length of the Parnell segment is about 13 miles. Three shelters are located along this segment.

From here, you can either turn around or continue on the Greenbush segment, where the spectacular Greenbush Kettle lies. The last segment is about nine miles and it is here that hikers can take a spur trail to Old Wade House, a historic 1850s stagecoach inn with a collection of carriages and a museum.

Camping: Camping is available in the forest at Mauthe Lake (137 sites). A Native American plains tipi is also available for rent. Long Lake has 200 campsites, flush toilets, and showers. Backpack shelters are available year-round for rustic camping along the Ice Age Trail and at the Zillmer Trail. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 1 (888) 947-2757.

Getting there: From Milwaukee take Highway 45 north toward Kewaskum. Head east on County Highway H and turn left on Oak Drive, where you will see the first shelter.

Permits: Camping permits are available at the park office. Trail passes are required for bikers 16 years or older. A vehicle admission sticker is required for all vehicles entering the state park.

Maps: Available at the Kettle Moraine State Forest—Northern Unit.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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