Wednesday, August 12, 2015

2000 Backpacking Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest South - Ice Age Trail

Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest South Unit offers over 20,000 acres of glacial hills and lakes, and the Northern Unit, which is about 40 miles north, contains another 29,000 acres. Over 145 miles of trails are available, including 51 miles for equestrians, 23 miles for mountain bikes, 46 miles for snowmobiles, and 30 miles for cross country skiing. The area became buried under a glacier about 100,000 years ago, and when it receded 12,000 years ago, it left behind Wisconsin Glacier moraines (after which the state forest is named), eskers, drumlins, lakes, marshes, bogs, and gorges. Its southernmost edge is called terminal moraine and the 1000 mile Wisconsin Ice Age Trail, a National Scenic Trail ( of which 610 miles in 45 segments were completed as of 2000) runs atop this terminal moraine. About 32 miles of this trail traverse the Southern Unit and another 30 miles or so run through the Northern Unit.

Summer temperatures range from 75 to 95 degrees. Wildlife includes whitetail deer, hawks, turkey vultures, raccoons, squirrels, possoms, and turtles. There are no bears in the area. Wildflowers abound, as do straw grasses, sumac, poison ivy, maple, oak, and birch.

Three-sided shelters are interspersed along the Ice Age Trail, and in the Kettle Moraine, these are the only areas where backpackers are allowed to camp. Shelters are roofed, have a sand floor, and provide latrine, fire ring and space for two or three tents, both inside the shelter and outside. Water is not readily available at shelters number 2 and 3, which we stayed at. Shelter number 2 is a half mile from the forest headquarters where water is available from a spigot in back. Shelter number 3 is two miles away from the advertised water source, a washroom facility in the parking lot of the Muir Hiking/Biking Tail area trailhead (and more than two miles if you can't find the correct "loop" to take to the parking lot!) There is a pond a few hundred yards south of shelter 3, near Dutton Road, but the water did not look too appetizing.

A backpacking permit is required and a fee is charged for the use of the shelters ($18 for two nights, three people). Also, a parking fee is charged. In 2000 the parking fee was $7 per day for non-residents, or an annual pass for $25, and if you have two cars and put one at each end as we did, you of course incur two parking fees. Of my 60+ backpack trips, this one cost the most because of the fees imposed on "out-of'state" hikers, over $50!

The forest is magnificent, and though most is comprised of hardwoods, many sections were obviously replanted in pines many years ago and now provide quiet, majestic, sweet-smelling, pine-needled tread for enjoyable and scenic hiking as seen below. I will warn you, however, that our June backpack found the woods rife with mosquitoes, and though our 95% DEET bug dope kept us free of bites, they still swarmed and hovered around us constantly as we hiked. We each carried a kerchief which we kept waving over our shoulders to keep the bugs at bay. Shelter #2 was bug free for us thanks to the breeze which predominated there, and we welcomed our forays into the meadows (old glacial lake beds) which regularly break up the forest hiking and provide a much-appreciated respite from the bugs.

Low areas are protected by boardwalks like below.

Unfortunately, the one missing element of the Ice Age Trail was the lack of lakes along the trail. Lake
LaGrange seen below was the sole lake along the trail, and a short side trail makes it accessible to a public road so the lake is not a backcountry lake. It should be noted that the Ice Age Trail is maintained by volunteers who obviously take their job seriously. The trail is in excellent condition, there were very few trees across the trail, and the trail had few mud areas despite a very wet spring. The fact that bike riders and equestrians have separate trails also helps trail conditions.

Three happy hikers.

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