Kettle Moraine State Forest

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The Kettle Moraine State Forest is located in south-eastern Wisconsin. It has a deep and rich history with the development of the geography of the region as well as the cultural development of various communities in southeast Wisconsin. The geology of the region was formed thousands of years ago but it still influences the culture of Americans today. It is composed of several units stretching between Walworth, Jefferson, Waukesha, Washington, Fond du Lac, and Sheboygan counties. [1] The forest units offer a range of activities for visitors including hiking, bicycling, camping, picnicking, boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and hunting and trapping. Some activities are limited or prohibited within certain areas of the forest, however. [2] The Ice Age Trail runs the length of the forest and there are also self-guided nature trails within each of the forest parks and recreation areas. [3]



Kettle Moraine is named after the geologic formation it resembles. Moraines are deposits of sediment and rocks placed by glaciers as they travel and melt. These sediments and rocks grouped together and created hills throughout the region, called "kettles."[4] As the glacier melted and deposited, it created various lakes and rivers. These waterways and lakes are the locations of many various recreational activities now as the Kettle Moraine has state park status.

State Park Status

Designation of the Kettle Moraine as a state forest began in the early and middle 20th century because of a man named Ray Zillmer. There were many attempts at naming the park, but the official designation became the Ice Age Scenic Trail which is still a part of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.[5] Ray Zillmer didn't start with nothing, some land was already publicly available thanks to the efforts of the Milwaukee Chapter of the Izaak Walton League who purchased 800 acres of land around modern day Mauthe Lake, which resides in the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.[6] In 1936 arrangements were made for the state to acquire these 800 acres of land from the League so that it may be designated as public land. This is the beginning of the northern unit. In 1937, state legislature approved the purchase of more land using the forestry mill tax to pay for it. The first three sections of land would be called the Northern, Southern, and White River units. All subsequent purchases have been in the northern or southern units, and the White River unit was never actually established. By the end of 1952, a total of 20,683 acres had been purchased by the state for public use. This land purchase and development amounted to about $900,000, and spanned 16 counties.[7]

Forest Units

Northern Unit

The Northern Unit consists of three recreation areas: the Ice Age Visitor Center, the Mauthe Lake Recreation Area, and Long Lake Recreation Area. [8] A variety of activities are available within designated sections of the forest and vary by park. Connecting these recreation parks are 14 trails that are open to various activities such as horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and hiking.[9]

  • Ice Age Visitor Center: The Henry S. Reuss Ice Age Visitor Center is located near Dundee, Wisconsin, along State Highway 67. It boasts a variety of activities and educational programs which vary from year to year. Located inside the visitor center is an exhibit about the history of the Wisconsin glaciers as well as booklets with further information about the Wisconsin landscape and nature. The Ice Age Visitor Center also features a gift shop. [10]
  • Mauthe Lake Recreation Area: Mauthe Lake Recreation Area features 135 campsites and is open year-round. [11] Available amenities include a bathroom building with toilets and showers as well as water fountains spread throughout the park. Also at Mauthe Lake is a swimming beach, a picnic area, a children's playground, a shelter building which can be reserved for events, and access to nature trails. Visitors can also use the fishing pier, boat launch and bike trails.
  • Long Lake Recreation Area: Long Lake Recreation Area features 200 campsites and is open from early May to mid-October. [12] In each campground loop there is a shower building also equipped with toilets and a water fountain. There are two swimming beaches with picnic areas and a reservable picnic shelter. In addition, Long Lake offers a nature trail, bike trails with access to Mauthe Lake, a fishing pier and boat launch.
  • New Prospect Horserider's Campground: This site is composed of family and group campsites for visitors with horses. Accessible from the campground is a 33 miles bridle trail that runs through the forest. Horserider's Campground offers a covered horse stable and an open-air picnic shelter in addition to a traditional picnic shelter. [13]
  • Wade House: Wade House Historical Site in Greenbush, Wisconsin takes visitors back to life in the mid-1800s, before the use of the automobile. The 240 acres of the historical site are located near the Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern Unit and the Wade House is a popular stop for State Forest visitors. The House was founded in 1844 by Sylvanus and Betsey Wade, who were the first permanent settlers in Greenbush. By choosing a location along a popular stagecoach route, they ensured the growth of their little town and the Wades' "Half Way House" became a regular stop for stagecoaches between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac. [14] Today, the Wade House offers a glimpse into life when the Wades first settled in Greenbush. The site includes the Wade House Stagecoach Hotel, The Wesley W. Jung Carriage Museum, a blacksmith shop and sawmill, and offers horse-drawn wagon rides. [15]

Southern Unit

The Southern Unit consists of four recreation areas: Ottawa Lake Visitor Center and Campground, Pinewoods Campground, and Whitewater Lake Visitor Center and Campground. [16] The Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest has 13 trails that see varying use year round, and the forest's position on several lakes including Rice Lake, Whitewater Lake, and Lower Spring Lake give visitors access to water recreation such as canoeing, swimming, and fishing. [17]

  • Ottawa Lake Visitor Center and Campground: Ottowa Lake's campground offers 100 sites and is the only Southern Unit site to be open year-round. [18]
  • Pinewoods Campground: Pinewoods Campground features 101 campsites, though there are no electrical sites. There is a shower building that also offers toilets. Additionally, there are three hiking loops, including one that is a 24-hour quiet zone.
  • Whitewater Lake Visitor Center and Campground: With only 63 campsites and no shower facilities, Whitewater Lake Campground is more naturalistic.
  • Old World Wisconsin: Consisting of three restored log cabins and a museum about rural life, Old World Wisconsin is included in the Kettle Moraine Forest. The three cabins - Gotten cabin, Emerson cabin, and Oleson cabin - stand in their original sites and were built by immigrants to Wisconsin. The outdoor museum offers interactive educational experiences of what country life was like in Wisconsin in the early- to mid-1800s. [19]

Additional Units

  • The White River Unit: The White River Unit was a unit of land purchased as a part of the creation of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Unlike the Northern and Southern Units, the White River Unit was never activated. [20]
  • Pike Lake Unit: Pike Lake Park is located on Pike Lake in Hartford, Wisconsin. [21] Most of the activities offered in the Kettle Moraine forest are permitted there also. Powder Hill is located within the park, a glacial feature that offers an elevated view of the surrounding landscape. Pike Lake also offers a public beach and public boat landings. [22]
  • Loew Lake Unit: Loew Lake is located in a valley along the east branch of the Oconomowoc River. The unit includes Loew Lake and two smaller lakes. [23]
  • Lapham Peak Unit: The Hausmann Nature Center and Summer Stage are located in Lapham Peak park (Delafield, Wisconsin), offering activities to involve the community and visitors. [24] [25]
  • Mukwonago River Unit: This unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is currently being developed for the purpose of state recreation and conservation goals. [26]


  1. ["Wisconsin County Map with County Seat Cities," Geoscience News and Information, Accessed 2018-05-02,]
  2. ["Activities and Recreation," Wisconsin DNR, Updated 2017-11-20,]
  3. ["Trail Descriptions," Wisconsin DNR, Updated 2017-11-20,]
  4. ["Northern Kettle Moraine Geological History,"]
  5. ["The Origins of Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail: Ray Zillmer's Path to Protect the Past,"]
  6. ["History - Ice Age Trail Alliance,"]
  7. ["The Story of the Kettle Moraine State Forest,"]
  8. ["Kettle Moraine State Forest - Northern Unit," Wisconsin DNR, Updated 2018-04-17,]
  9. ["Kettle Moraine State Forest - Northern Unit Trails,"]
  10. ["Henry S. Reuss Ice Age Visitor Center," Wisconsin DNR, Updated 2018-04-17,]
  11. [" Kettle Moraine North Mauthe Lake, WI," Wisconsin State Parks, Accessed 2018-05-02,]
  12. ["Kettle Moraine North Long Lake, WI," Wisconsin State Parks, Accessed 2018-05-02,]
  13. ["Kettle Moraine North, WI," Wisconsin State Parks, Accessed 2018-05-02,]
  14. ["History of Wade House,", Wisconsin Historical Society, Accessed 2018-05-02,]
  15. ["Wade House," Wisconsin Historical Society, Accessed 2018-05-02,]
  16. ["Kettle Moraine State Forest - Southern Unit," Wisconsin DNR, Updated 2018-02-19,]
  17. ["Kettle Moraine State Forest - Southern Unit Trail Map,"]
  18. ["Camping and Reservations," Wisconsin DNR, Updated 2017-09-19,]
  19. ["Our Story,", Wisconsin Historical Society, Accessed 2018-05-02,]
  20. "The Story of the Kettle Moraine State Forest" Wisconsin Magazine of History Volume 37 Number 3, Spring, 1954
  21. ["Kettle Moraine State Forest - Pike Lake Unit," Wisconsin DNR, Updated 2018-02-19,]
  22. ["Kettle Moraine North, WI," Wisconsin State Parks, Accessed 2018-05-02,
  23. ["Kettle Moraine State Forest - Loew Lake Unit," Travel Wisconsin, Accessed 2018-05-02,]
  24. ["Kettle Moraine State Forest - Lapham Peak Unit," Wisconsin DNR, Updated 2018-02-19,]
  25. ["Park Information," Friends of Lapham Peak Unit, Accessed 2018-05-02,]
  26. ["Kettle Moraine State Forest - Mukwonago River Unit," Wisconsin DNR, Updated 2017-05-15,]

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