With the winter of our Covid discontent on the horizon, I wanted to backpack, hike, and camp one more time. I settled on a Kettle Moraine backpacking shelter adventure in the North Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin. I hiked an out and back section on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail to shelter five.
The Kettle Moraine State Forest
The Kettle Moraine State Forest is a series of protected areas and parks within the Wisconsin State Park system surrounding Milwaukee in southeast Wisconsin. The southern unit is located adjacent to Whitewater, Wisconsin. Kettle Moraine north is just north of West Bend, Wisconsin. Lapham Peak is directly south of Delafield, Wisconsin off I-94. Pike Lake is next to Hartford, Wisconsin.
The term “kettle moraine” derives from ice age created terrain from the last receding glacier 10,000 years ago. Retreating glaciers pushed sediment and created bluffs called moraines. Melting glacial ice created depressions in the ground making kettles.
Kettle moraines are basically glacial hills and valleys. The somewhat rugged landscape also created ideal cross-country skiing terrain.
Kettle Moraine backpacking shelters reservation system
The Kettle Moraine State Forest is part of the Wisconsin State Park system; therefore, it is necessary to make reservations for camping online. The process is simple. Below is a step-by-step tutorial.
The shelter system in Kettle Moraine consists of six shelters in the northern unit, three in the southern unit, one in the Lapham Peak Unit, and three backpacking campsites at Pike Lake. Only one shelter in the northern unit is off the Ice Age Trail. The rest are on the Ice Age Trail or only a short hike away. Reservations are available year-round.
How to make a shelter reservation
To make a backpacking reservation, click on reserve online from any state park camping site or go directly to the reservation site. Click on the reserve button to access the site directly. Once there, click the backpacking option under campsite and then use the drop-down selection under “park” tab to find Kettle Moraine. There are four Kettle Moraine options.
A map of the park will come up. Once this is in view, click on the “backpacking sites” section. If there is no availability, the dot will be red, if at least one shelter is open, the dot will be green. Once this is clicked, another map will show the listed shelters. Each shelter will be red or green depending on availability.
Click on the desired shelter, and the system will hold that shelter for you for that date. Once the shelter is secured, complete the remaining steps to finalize. The system is pretty self-explanatory. The only slightly confusing part is there are a few clicks needed to get to the actual selection of the shelter.
More information on Kettle Moraine backpacking shelters
The system automatically produces a confirmation once the reservation is complete. Print a copy of the reservation. It is required that you have confirmation of the reservation on hand. If you do not have access to a printer, I would take a photo of the reservation. Cell data is decent in the park, but it would be best to have a record on your phone in case you cannot access email.
The cost of the reservation for the shelters is $15.00 for Wisconsin residents and $20.00 for out of state residents. A Wisconsin State Park sticker is required to enter the forest units and for parking at the trailheads.
Related: Wisconsin State Park Stickers
It is best to reserve during the week if possible as the shelters are popular on the weekend and in the summer. I booked a Friday night, and it was available a week ahead of time. Each shelter allows one reservation per night, and the maximum amount of people on a reservation is ten.
What to expect from the backpacking shelters
The shelters are four-sided with an open door and a roof. They include a fire ring outside and a pit toilet. The pit toilet usually is stocked with toilet paper, but always have a reserve. A bench circles the inside of the shelter with a gravel floor. Campers can lay their sleeping pad on the bench or directly on the floor.
Outside the shelter is another bench perfect for cooking. There is water within walking distance of each shelter and this is noted on the description of each shelter.
Enjoy a backpacking shelter in the Kettle Moraine State Forest along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. For trail itineraries on the trail, check out the website.