On a recent trip to the middle east of Wisconsin with plans to go for a good long hike through the Northern unit of the Kettle Moraine state forest, I missed my turn and wound up on a long road tour of western Sheboygan county.
At first I was frustrated because most of the county highways also have local street names and are not always marked, and considering that I’ve gotten lost on a journey to this section of forest before, I’m betting that the highway I was looking for was missing its sign. It is more likely that I was distracted by the countryside views blocking my vision of the road. Better to have someone else drive when I feel like wandering!
I want to share this trip with you not only because it is a wondrous drive through remarkably varied landscapes, but also to give you the feeling of how great it can be when you get lost. But first, yo will have to let go of any fear or distaste for taking a wrong turn.
Taking a wrong turn can change your life. In this case, simply gave me a memory I will keep forever.
I was driving north on hwy 57 from PortWashington which runs mostly parallel to the North unit of the Kettle Moraine forest. I’d planned to take county highway N west to the forest but missed the turn and kept going on 57 until I was north of the forest. The farms along this route are lovely and on a sunny day in fall the colors are spectacular. The fields are being harvested so you can see for great distances and the air is crisp and clean.
I drove until I reached highway 32 before I realized I was much further north than I’d intended so I got out my trusty road atlas, figured out my mistake and worked out another route to the forest path I wanted. I was looking for the Parnell trail that has a viewing tower and allows a view on a clear day all the way to lake Michigan.
When you go this way, the towns of Plymouth or Elkhart lake are good places to stop for a coffee or lunch. I don’t have any specific cafes today but will investigate on another trip and give an update.
From 32 I took highway 67 south, just outside of Kiel, driving past more farms into the town of Elkhart Lake. Most years in December Elkhart Lake puts on an Old World Christmas Market. Its a fun stop for a brat, jumbo pretzel and some ornament shopping. And you can grab a coffee for the remainder of your trip!
Driving through Elkhart Lake to county highway A, (Badger road to the left and Hickory road to the right) turn west, or right on “A” past the Quit Qui Oc Golf Club, (say that several times fast!) where A becomes J to Crystal Lake.
Here’s where the trip becomes mysterious.
You can turn right on hwy CJ or take the sharp turn to the left remaining on Hwy J. I turned left. There are not enough words to describe this area of Wisconsin but it feels as though you are transported out of farm land to another world. At the very least, to another state.
The road winds past a bluff filled amazing views of Crystal Lake and dangerously steep driveways to rooftops of houses where you must imagine the feeling of waking up to such beauty every day. Then imagine trying to drive a car up and down the drives in winter! I only saw one spot to stop and park so have someone else drive if you will want to snap a few photos.
Continue on around the lake driving through very steep and rolling kettles. I was hoping the road would continue on much longer but take some honest advice, drive slow. Not only will you want to take in as much as possible, it is a dangerous drive.
At the highway C connect, turn left and drive through a lovely old pine forest crossing then following Mullet River to Camp Evelyn Rd (CHwy J again), turn right to highway P then right on P where it curves west and becomes “A” going through the town of Glenbeulah. Watch for the highway signs because you want to remain on hwy A, sometimes labeled AW. Continue to the left on A going southwest where it will turn to go south at highway “T”.
Remain on “A” “AW” to where highway “U” turns west (right) and you’ll find the Parnell Tower and trails. Unfortunately the parking lot and tower is temporarily closed, but should be open in spring. If you are looking for a hike on this trip, this is a good starting point as hwy A runs mostly parallel to the forest and any right turn will take you across. But keep in mind that the forest boundaries are often angled NE so using a map or GPS is a good idea.
From highway A I took “N” going east. Along the way I saw cows, sheep, steer, horses, an eagle and just when I thought I wouldn’t see any, a deer. He was standing on the side of the road, watched me approach then leapt over the side ditch and darted across a field.
Highway N is an interesting drive past old farms, some deserted in ruins, most kept well and close to the road. This must have been an old dirt road carved by wagon wheels long before it was paved.
Highway N connects to state highway 57 where I turned south to head home without getting a hike, but had an eventful day. After finding a gas station, I made one stop at Cedar Valley Cheese. This is a fantastic cheese shop selling every kind of cheese imaginable plus, sausage, ice cream and a lot of other Wisconsin made foods. It’s located on hwy 57 outside of Belgium, Wi. just past hwy K. It’s on the west side of the road, hard to miss with its pile of shining silos!
I hope you find your way out on this path one day, sooner rather than later, remembering that taking a wrong turn can become joyful.
Thank you for staying with me through to the end.