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When the last glaciers melted from Wisconsin 13,000 years ago, their icy fingers left an indelible mark on the land: a 150-mile-long moraine, or glacial ridge, rising hundreds of feet above the surrounding landscape. Today, hikers can explore the Kettle Moraine and its namesakes—water-filled depressions left behind by the retreating ice—on a 45.6-mile section of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
Go in late spring or early summer to see wildflowers blooming across the prairie or hold out for fall foliage, suggests Pat Witkowski, volunteer trail coordinator with the Ice Age Trail Alliance.
Turn-by-turn From the trail crossing on Highway P, head east through oak woodlands to Shelter #3 at mile 7.3. Take an evening side-hike to explore the Oleson Cabin, an 1846 two-story log homestead located .3 mile north of the shelter. Next day, see native flora like puccoon, little bluestem prairie grass, and blazing star atop 1,050-foot Bald Bluff (mile 10.3) before overnighting at Shelter #2 (mile 18.3). Day three, continue through restored prairie to Shelter #1 (mile 26.1). On day four, head through a mix of farmland and dense pine forest to 1,233-foot Lapham Peak and the view from its observation tower. Camp nearby at the backcountry site (call 262-646-3025 to reserve) at mile 40.7. Hike out to the Nagawaukee Park and Ride your last day, where you’ll catch the Oconomowoc Milwaukee Express 905 back to Milwaukee ($4, 1 hr; weekday departures 6 to 8:10 a.m.).
Get there From the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, take the Wisconsin Coach Lines bus ($18, 1 hr 50 mins; daily departures at 9:10 a.m.) to Whitewater. Walk, taxi, or hitch 4.9 miles south on Highway P to the trail crossing.
Additional option You can also hike northbound 45 miles from Nagawaukee along the Ice Age Trail to a Park and Ride in West Bend.
Permits $18/night + $10 reservation fee for shelters (call 888-947-2757 to reserve)