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Weekends: Jerry Lake, Wisconsin

See this Ice Age highlight reel and camp above kettle lakes.

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Jerry Lake Wisconsin Illustration by Vikki Chu
Illustration by Vikki Chu

It’s hard to believe from this cozy perch, but before the dazzling cobalt pool and the brilliant yellow aspens and sugar maples 30 feet below me, there was only a sea of ice here. But the Ice Age did leave its mark, and I’ve experienced it on its namesake trail. Earlier in the day, midway along the 21.8-mile Jerry Lake segment of the Ice Age Trail, I catwalked an ancient, bridge-like glacial esker, skirted a swampy ravine of primordial ferns, and now I’m camped above a kettle lake that formed when the glaciers receded. Surrounding it, the trees spring from between milk crate-size erratics, oddball rocks dropped here by moving ice. Time—10,000 years, actually—has added the enchanting forest. Some things are better with age. BY KATY WELTER

From Sailor Creek Road

(1) Hike a few hundred feet north and turn east on the Ice Age Trail, tracing Jerry Lake, a 26-acre kettle lake (formed by retreating glaciers), and proceeding through white birch and hemlock forests to a viewpoint overlooking the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest at mile 2.9.
(2) Continue 6.6 miles to a glacial esker; walk along the natural bridge and trek 4.3 more miles north and east to a campsite sign; veer east (hiker’s right) to find the kettle lake camp.
(3) Hike 8 miles to the Mondeaux Dam and your shuttle car. (You’ll cross FS 106 at mile 19 and trace the mile-long Mondeaux Esker en route.)

Kettle Lake (mile 13.8)

Cap a long day in this glacial playground at this primo site, overlooking a little sapphire kettle. This established site is tucked amid 60-foot-tall white birches and pines and just 30 feet (via a steep footpath) uphill from clear water. If occupied, refill water and retrace your steps 200 yards to a pocket of dispersed spots in the forest.

Go with the flow
Trace the top of three giant eskers—50- to 100-foot-tall embankments of sand and gravel deposited by rivers that flowed beneath glaciers—on this section of the Ice Age Trail. Glacial eskers, like the 1.3-mile-long Mondeaux at mile 19, tend to run with the direction of the glacial movement, so you’re going with the glacial flow from between 10,000 and 60,000 years ago.

Rest break
Catwalk down Hemlock Esker and, at its high point near mile 8.2, grab a seat on a bench emblazoned with a quote from the grandfather of the Wilderness Act, Aldo Leopold (who lived in central Wisconsin when he wrote his famous A Sand County Almanac): “To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”

DO ITShuttle car 45.333541, -90.451673*; 47 miles northeast of Thorp off Park Rd. Trailhead 45.221808, -90.586845; 17 miles southwest on Sailor Creek Rd. Shuttle option Contact the trail association’s chapter coordinator and local historian Gerald “Buzz” Meyer at for trail conditions, beta, and a drop-off (free, but tip recommended). Gear up Chippewa Hardware & Sporting Goods in Chippewa Falls; acehardware.comSeason Mid-September through October for dry ground, turning leaves, and mosquito-free camping; deep snow can persist through April; summer brings storms and bugs. Permits None Custom-centered ($15) Contact (715) 748-4875;

*Plug these lat/long coordinates into Google Maps for turn-by-turn driving directions.

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