Ice Age Trail traverses Kettle Moraine, but not only
within the state forest. Here a segment passes over
might grimace at how rough winters can get these days, but
20,000 years ago much of the state was under a sheet of
ice thicker than a mile in some places. This Laurentide
Ice Sheet extended south of Chicago. One of the most
fascinating marks it left as the ice melted was the Kettle
"kettle" forms when debris from a grinding
glacier gathers in a deposit as the ice melts away. In
this case, a large chunk of ice at the center lasts a bit
longer under the pile and when it finally does shrink, it
creates a sunken bowl-shaped middle to the moraine. This
long north-to-south area between the crushing forces of
two major ice lobes — the Green Bay and Lake Michigan
lobes — is so rife with them that the entire region took
the term as a proper name.
and Pike lakes are two of the largest kettles. The
extensive collection of moraines, eskers and kames is a
natural geological textbook, and much of it has been set
aside as state forest. When the mosquitoes and hot
temperatures are gone for the season, hikers head for
Kettle Moraine for its excellent fall colors.
units make up Kettle Moraine State Forest: the Northern,
Southern, Lapham Peak, Loew Lake and Pike Lake Units.
Covering 56,000 acres, the units extend 100 miles along
glacially altered lands from Elkhart Lake in the north to
just south of Whitewater. But the state forest does not
encompass the entire Kettle Moraine and several areas
outside park borders make excellent hikes as well,
particularly along the rustic footpath of the Ice Age
National Scenic Trail, or IAT.
Zillmer, a Milwaukee attorney, had a dream. A passionate
conservationist, he worked to expand the area preserved in
Kettle Moraine State Forest, with the ultimate goal to
have a long recreational trail. He created a foundation
that would become the Ice Age Trail Alliance, the
organizing force behind the Wisconsin-based hiking trail
that has just over half of its 1,200 miles of proposed
path completed along an area that roughly follows the edge
of the last glaciers. Some of the longest continuous
sections of the IAT are within Kettle Moraine.
hikers may prefer through-hiking the IAT. The trail offers
stretches of slightly more than 30 miles of trail in the
Northern and Southern Units with shelters for overnight
camping along the route. But shorter hikes for
day-trippers or families with kids are plentiful as well.
Zillmer Trails, connected by a spur trail to the Ice Age
Visitor Center in the heart of the Northern Unit, have a
combined 11 miles of grass and dirt paths. Trail loops
vary in length from 1.2 to 5.4 miles, with the longest,
the yellow trail, offering the most time in the woodland
Greenbush Trails share their name with a famous nearby
kettle visible from the road. Start your hike either from
the trail parking lot or a nice picnic area along the
road. The green and purple loops run 3.6 and 5.1 miles,
respectively, but there are three shorter options. All of
them are wooded, but the longest route passes Bear Lake
and its marsh and offers a look into a kettle.
the Southern Unit, consider the IAT Segment starting from
Whitewater Lake Campground. The path straddles moraines
through the forest and looks out over an outwash plain at
the IAT often demands a shuttle or backtracking to your
starting point, there are occasional loops formed by
alternative connecting paths marked by white blazes rather
than the characteristic yellow blazes. One such option is
the Cedar Lakes segment, which forms a 3.8-mile lollipop
when the white-blaze trail is used for a return route.
Start south from the IAT parking lot at County Road NN,
4.3 miles northeast of the Pike Lake Unit.
overviews are typical along most of the trails, but a few
true high points are recommended for fall colors. Parnell
Tower is a 60-foot wooden structure at the highest point
in the forest, a short walk from its parking lot and
picnic area. If the climb is not enough, you can hike the
3.5-mile loop, which takes hikers through sharply rising
and falling topography in thick woods. Part of the trail
overlaps the Ice Age Trail as well.
miles west of Milwaukee, just off Interstate Highway 94,
is Lapham Peak Unit. Known for an excellent cross-country
ski trail system, the park offers the same routes, plus a
short nature trail and accessible trail, to hikers. At the
center of the park is a 45-foot observation tower on the
highest point in Waukesha County.
glacier melts, meltwater often rushes straight down
through the ice from high up on the surface, depositing
glacial drift at the bottom of the tube as the water seeks
its course underneath the glacier. These deposits are
called kames, and in some cases they may grow to be tall
conical hills that conspicuously tower above the
surrounding terrain when the glacier is long gone. One
such kame is Dundee Mountain, the tallest peak in the
Northern Unit of the state forest. Summit Trail, a 1-mile
nature trail, loops up and over the narrow peak offering
also make a pretty good place for an observation tower.
The wooden platform at Powder Hill, a kame in the Pike
Lake Unit, offers a 360-degree view over hardwood forest
and Pike Lake as well as a look at another distant kame on
the horizon: Holy Hill.
Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary sits atop this
kame, and visitors can climb up one of its towering
steeples for fantastic views that include downtown
Milwaukee on a clear day.
you’re not in the mood to hike or considering the route
to your trail head, be aware that the Kettle Moraine
Scenic Drive follows a 115-mile route from Elkhart Lake in
the north to Whitewater Lake in the south using various
local roads and county highways. All turns and routes are
marked clearly so drivers won’t lose their way. Most of
the hiking destinations lie along this route as well.
While the state forest offers rich woodlands full of fall
colors, the occasional post-harvest farm field often
features migrating birds, especially sandhill cranes.
up for email alerts or check out Travel Wisconsin’s Fall
Color Report to time your trip with peak colors.
Age Trail Alliance, www.iceagetrail.org. The Ice Age Trail
has its own trail guide and atlas available for purchase
on its website.
Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, 1525 Carmel Road,
Hubertus, 262-628-1838, www.holyhill.com
for all five units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is
available from the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources website: http://dnr.wi.gov
Age Visitor Center, N2875 Wisconsin Highway 67,
Peak Unit, W329 N846 C, County Road C, Delafield;
Unit, N1765 County Road G, Campbellsport; 262-626-2116
Lake Unit, 3544 Kettle Moraine Road, Slinger; 262-670-3400
Lake Visitor Center and Campground, W7796 Kettle Moraine
Drive, Whitewater; 262-473-7501