Returning to old haunts years after the adventure is a favorite option of mine. I used to backpack the Kettle Moraines with my dad growing up. I have not returned for many years as canoeing and cross-country skiing have dominated my local travels. When I do backpack, I usually go farther east or west. Earlier this year, I reserved shelter number five in the Kettle Moraine State Forest for a Wisconsin Ice Age Trail backpacking adventure.
Wisconsin Ice Age Trail backpacking adventure planning
I did not do a whole lot of planning since I am familiar with the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The northern unit was chosen because it is a state forest that has the closest to a wilderness feel to it. I consulted my Ice Age Trail guide and picked a ten-mile route starting at Division Road near Shelter Three and hiked to Shelter Five. I reserved the shelter for a Friday night. The plan was a simple out and back hike.
The over 1,000 mile Ice Age Trail goes through all of the Kettle Moraine State Forests, so I planned to hike a stretch of this scenic trail. There are other shorter trails in the park, but none that one can backpack on.
Wisconsin Ice Age Trail backpacking to Butler Lake
The first stretch of the Ice Age Trail took me through a series of scenic Kettle Lakes culminating at Butler Lake. The glacial features are on full display throughout this stretch of trail. I climbed up and down moraines into kettles and over kames and onto eskers all within a couple of miles.
Eskers are the remnants of glacial meltwater that left gravel and sediment in a ridge-like fashion. They are basically glacial rivers and are a hiker’s dream as they are relatively flat and smooth. I am so used to hiking the rugged Appalachian Mountains, so flat trails with few rocks and other obstacles are a welcome respite.
I hiked to the top of a moraine or kame, and Butler Lake came into view. Butler Lake is a small kettle lake with road access. There is a water pump here, a parking lot, boat ramp, and a picnic table.
Butler Lake out to the open prairie
Immediately after Butler Lake, the trail entered a marshy area that opened up into a prairie. Although Kettle Moraine State Forest is a forest, there are many areas in all the units where the topography is a combination of prairie, hardwood, and pine forest. I love the views of the prairie with interspersed pine trees throughout.
Since it was a Friday, there were not too many other hikers out. I would see a ton more on Saturday on my hike out. Despite being early November, the weather turned out to be a robust 70 degrees both days. Fearing a Covid lockdown winter, droves of hikers came out over the weekend. I am glad I got a jump on the hordes and enjoyed a peaceful Friday.
Wisconsin Ice Age Trail backpacking to Greenbush area and Shelter Five
The most scenic part of the trail was the last couple of miles before arriving at Greenbush and the backpacking shelter. The moraines are higher here and there is more pine forest. The trail at times entered these beautiful pine tunnels. After arriving at the shelter, there is a section of scenic praire on the way to the Greenbush parking lot.
As I neared shelter five, I ran into more hikers who had parked at the Greenbush lot. I arrived at my backpack shelter and foraged for wood and set up camp. A few hikers came by on the way back to their cars. As night fell, I had the shelter and the woods to myself.
The sun descended over the moraine in front of me, obscuring the sunset, but colorful clouds paraded over the treeline as I pulled a few tugs of whiskey from my flask. It was a peaceful enjoyable evening around the campfire. The temperature stayed steady in the upper 50s making for perfect outdoor weather.
Wisconsin Ice Age Trail backpacking adventure return trip
Out and back hikes are never as much fun on the return as you are walking over the same ground as the day before. Despite that, it is still interesting to see the trail from the opposite perspective. With hordes of hikers out enjoying the last summer-like days, it made the return even less interesting.
Unbelievably, I managed to see three deer during an interlude of the hiking parade. Even though I have seen it hundreds of times, I never get tired of seeing white-tailed deer running away in the forest.
Windy day and falling leaves
I was far too late in the season to enjoy the fall colors. On my hike back however, the wind, brought carried down a substantial amount of the remaining leaves. I tried to set up the GoPro to capture me hiking through the waterfall of falling leaves. Every time I did this though, the wind stopped, so I just got some hiking selfies.
Return to my car and home to Chicago
Even though I am in decent shape, twenty miles of backpacking takes its toll. I limped to the car with sore feet, a sore back, and chaffed legs. The plan was to find a car camping site at Mauthe Lake. I pulled in and the place was mobbed with campers. There were no sites available, so I drove to Ottawa Lake in South Kettle Moraine.
The same story ensued. I was unable to make reservations prior to my arrival as they do not accept reservations off-season, so I drove home to Chicago. I was glad I got one backpacking adventure in before the cross-country season begins.