Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest – Pike Lake – Northern Unit – Springtime Windy Hiking

I’ll be honest, the Kettle Moraine forest is kind of overwhelming to me. It’s so large and has so many different campgrounds and trail systems, I never feel like I know where I’m going or what I’m doing. When I make the choice to explore it, I just pick a place, do minimal research, and try it out. That’s how I ended up here, at Pike Lake!

The Kettle Moraine State Forest, or “the kettles,” is broken up into two units; the northern unit and the southern unit. The focal point of this trip, Pike Lake, is located in the northern unit, just outside the town of Hartford, WI. Covering more than 30,000 acres, the northern unit is the larger of the two and has some form of recreation for just about anyone. The Pike Lake Unit is only 678 acres of that 30,000 acres. See? Overwhelming!

Where are we in the world? About 40 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

For this trip, we planned on both hiking and camping. I already covered the Pike Lake campground in a previous post. (Check it out here.) Reflecting back, I would absolutely camp there again. The campground was small and very well maintained. Anyway, we’re talking Pike Lake hiking today.

Links to follow along or plan your own trip:
Pike Lake Property Map
Pike Lake DNR Website

This is one of those trail systems that uses a series of loops, allowing you to add them together or do one stand alone to choose your own adventure and length. Starting from the campground, we did some of the brown loop, to the orange loop, to the green loop. Everyone’s a critic, but I don’t love trail systems organized like this. I find the maps more confusing, especially when they rely on color and you print the map in black and white. See those multicolor dashes tryin to say that the trail is part of the green, orange, blue, and brown loops? Confusing and useless on my black and white map. Maybe this is telling me I should just buy colored ink for once.

The Ice Age trail cuts through this park too. It’s the black and yellow dash on the map.

Let’s hike! Leaving from the campground, we started on the brown/blue loop heading towards the lake. I know you can’t tell from pictures but it was SUPER windy this day. We actually lost a few tent poles on this trip. Snapped in the wind.

This was the first hike of the season (the last week of April into the first week of May) so everything was just starting to bud. My absolute favorite time of the year!

The trail was nice, wide and flat. Once our initial trail met the Ice Age Trail, we decided to head towards Powder Hill. The trail becomes a bit of a climb here, but nothing extreme.

The highest point in the park is Powder Hill. An observation tower sits atop the 1,350 foot hill allowing for an unobstructed panoramic view of the park. If you don’t love heights, I wouldn’t recommend going up here on an incredibly windy day like this day was. I didn’t blow off the deck, but I sure felt like I was going to.

The lake is visible in it’s entirety from this vantage point above the trees. Definitely worth the climb.

From the height of Powder Hill, we hopped back on the Ice Age Trail/orange trail and descended towards the lake.

As you get lower, a few small collections of water can be found along the trail. Possible kettles? Maybe just ponds. I’m no geologist.

Despite the alluring green and brown color of the water, Moxxi could not resist the siren song of the chance to get wet.

Planning to meet some family at the lake for fishing and a picnic, we didn’t hike all the way to the lake but returned to the campsite to drive there instead. From the lower part of the park, the hike back to the campsite was a small uphill climb. Again, nothing extreme.

The look of someone hopeful for more time in the water.

Arriving at the lake, you can expect a large parking lot, human beach areas, a dog beach area, shelters, and fishing piers. All activities were in full swing on this warm day despite the high winds. I guess this was to be expected on such a nice spring weekend.

At the lake, some of the party engaged in fishing, or attempted fishing. I was just there for the snacks. This is a view of the lake from one of the fishing piers. The winds were making the lake especially choppy that day.

A small stream feeding into the larger lake. The early spring bright green color is always a hopeful sight.

Not having luck at the fishing pier, we made our way to the other side of the lake towards the dog beach. Luck was also in short supply on this side of the lake too. Too windy? Too cold? Who knows!

When the fish aren’t biting, you can still have fun in the water! That’s what Moxxi tells me, anyway. Carpe diem! Or carp diem in this case….because of the fish….they aren’t biting so you do something else to still have fun….you get it! It’s still a joke if you feel the need to explain it, right?

Anyway, overall this is a great park! Camping, hiking, fishing, swimming, watersports and other activities make it so there is something for everyone here. It’s very close proximity to a town makes it easy to pop in to a restaurant for breakfast or dinner if you choose, or allows you to feel remote enough to cook your own campfire meal. The most telling question, would I hike/camp here again? Absolutely.

Leave a Reply