Currently, I am caring for my elderly mom who is showing initial signs of dementia. This has temporarily halted my travel while I assist her and find a more suitable living environment. I have not camped once this year; however, my Aunt and Uncle took care of her this weekend allowing me a much needed weekend respite. I headed for nearby Kettle Moraine State Forest for a Kettle Moraine camping and hiking adventure in the Southern Unit.
Kettle Moraine South camping and hiking adventure at Ottawa Lake
I booked two nights at the Ottawa Lake Recreation Area campground. Ottawa Lake is a tiny scenic lake open year round featuring 65 electrical sites, flush toilets, two shower buildings, and a winter vault toilet.
The shower facilities are nice and clean. Nice that there are no pit toilets here. Ottawa Lake is on the northern end of the park, so it is not centrally located, but it is right next to the Scuppernong scenic trail.
Other camp areas in the Southern Unit include Pinewoods Campground, Horseriders campground, and Whitewater Lake Campground. There are no group camps at Ottawa Lake, but those are offered at Pinewoods and Whitewater Lake. There are also lake camping options in the Northern Unit at Mauthe Lake and Long Lake. You cannot go wrong at any of the Wisconsin State Parks
The campsite is ideal for families too as there is a swimming beach and playground. I camped at site 338, and it was spacious and shaded. Even though the site was close to four other campsites, it had enough privacy due to the thick vegetation between the sites.
Related: Ten reasons the South Kettle Moraine State Forest is awesome
Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail
The best part about camping at Ottawa Lake is its proximity to the Scuppernong Springs nature trails. The nature trail trailhead is only a quarter mile away, so hikers can easily walk from the campground to the trails. The nature trail follows the Scuppernong River as it bubbles up from underground at the springs and flows into the Scuppernong Bog. Thanks to its spring fed origination, the river is crystal clear.
Since it was spring and Wisconsin has received a lot of rain lately, the area along the river and the springs was a lush green with a sprinkling of yellow flowers. The ground was wet, but plentiful boardwalks along the trail keep my feet dry. After following the springs for a half mile, the trail climbs a ridge with a scenic overlook of the Scuppernong Bog before backtracking to the parking lot.
Ice Age Hiking Trail adventure
Following this excursion, I drove to the southern end of the park and parked at the Esterly Road Ice Age Hiking Trail parking lot. Esterly Road is about two miles south of La Grange and U.S. 12. Just north of the U.S. 12 crossing is La Grange Lake. La Grange Lake is a picturesque undeveloped small lake. The trail follows it for about a half mile with several overlooks.
Related: Ice Age Trail hike in the Chequamegon National Forest
Some sort of event was taking place along the trail. The group was concentrated at the parking lot along Highway 12. As I was waiting in line for the one bathroom, a nice lady gave me homemade M&M cookies as they were packing up from whatever was going on. Just north of the lake a huge group of youth hikers with a few chaperones passed me headed south.
After this group passed, I had the trail mostly to myself except for a few trail runners. I am always amazed at how quickly one can find solitude even on busy trails on a Saturday afternoon after walking a mile or two.
The bird life along the trail near the lake was off the charts. Being migration season, many birds are on the move. The brush along the trail was alive with warblers. I identified only three, but I am sure I saw many more that I could not identify.
Warblers that I identified included yellow, prothonotary, and many chestnut-sided warblers. I was in a wave of chestnut-sided warblers. There may have been 50-100 birds moving through the brush.
When the trail climbed a hill, a whole new group of birds were singing from trees on the prairie. I saw Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and eastern bluebirds to just name a few. In addition, I saw a great egret fly across the lake.
The best sighting occurred later just north of the lake when the trail returned to the woods. I looked to the side and saw a scarlet tanager, then another, and then another.
Out and back on the Ice Age Trail
I turned around about a mile north of the lake and then hiked back to my car on Esterly Road. The terrain along this stretch of about four or five miles was easy to moderate. There were a few climbs, but they were short in duration. Most of the trail was flat or gently slopped.
Back to Ottawa Lake for Kettle Moraine South camping
I stopped by downtown Whitewater and stepped into Second Salem Brewing Company for a pint and a growler. I was amazed at how cool downtown Whitewater was. It looks like it is out of the 1950s, in other words, I thought I walked into a Happy Days set.
When I arrived back at the campsite, it was getting late, so I hoped to catch a sunset over Ottawa Lake. Unfortunately, the cloud cover was too thick. It was extremely pleasant and peaceful though as the light dimmed and the clouds rolled over the lake.
I returned to my campsite for a campfire. I thoroughly enjoyed my short weekend in Kettle Moraine, and above all loved the Ottawa Lake campsite.
There are also 30 miles of bike trails in the Southern Unit, so if hiking is not your thing, there are plenty of other recreation opportunities. If you would like more information on the Kettle Moraine State Forest or to make a reservations, check out the Wisconsin DNR website.