The Scuppernong trail group in the Kettle Moraine southern forest has long been one of my favorite trails. I rediscovered the trails over twenty years ago and knew right away that I’d been there before. We must have gone there as a family to hike and possibly camp. I have to admit that one of the strongest memories of this forest is the pit toilets. I was terrified of them as a child in addition to being grossed out. Funny story! I overheard a couple of German women walk in to a stall and one said in disgust, “Was its das!?!”
Mixed emotions aside, these trails are my go to when I have a day to explore and the need to be in the woods for more than a brief hike. It is definitely a challenge to hike on a spring or summer day but in winter, with colder temperatures, shorter days and snow, it proved to be rather difficult.
This is a year of newness as it is the first year I know of that these trails are open to hiking and snowshoeing. In years past they were reserved for cross country skiing and hiking was only allowed on the Ice Age Trail that cuts through this part of the forest.
The ice age trail is fun to hike on, but doesn’t loop so you have to either hike through and camp or double back to get to the parking lot for a day hike. I do think that walking the opposite way on a trail feels like walking a different trail, but in winter I prefer the safety of hiking in a loop. Also, the Ice Age Trail is thin in much of its miles, too thin for snowshoes. And then, there is the fear factor. I’ve been lost while snowshoeing and no matter how magical a trail is, it isn’t fun to be lost when the sun goes down and the temperature is 20 degrees. Dress in layers, make sure your phone is charged and keep it warm. Bring water. You can purchase a phone warmer, but an old wool sock works just as well.
My joy at getting to hike these trails all year was ten fold when I started out and the feeling grew as I hiked through the trails as I could see the landscape through the naked trees and felt the exhilaration of climbing up large kettles although very carefully down the other side. These are not trails to be without a good walking stick in winter. They are rocky and can be very icy even where the snow does not reached. The good news is that if you forget to bring your favorite walking stick, there are plenty to be borrowed on the forest floor and you can leave your find propped up at the trail head for the next hiker.
The trail head suggests hiking to follow the one way direction. Formerly this was for the skiers in winter but when hiking one can go in either direction. In non winter times I hike in either direction to mix it up a bit. This year it seems healthier to walk in the same direction so you don’t cross paths with many people. But if you feel like it, there is a slight rebellious feeling to going against the crowd.
The beginning of the trails goes through some great pine forest. These trees are in rows of obvious human interaction, but have been there longer than I’ve been hiking so they have dug in well and are a welcoming sight and smell. It seems as if they are the greeters or protectors of the woods. Stand for a moment and let these great trees take hold of your senses to get your mind in place for what you are about to experience.
As you move on through the woods you’ll notice the trails climb high in elevation then dip low into the kettles. I often wondered how difficult it must be to ski through these woods. My own skiing experience involved much falling and was through flat forest trails or prairies. I have a hard time seeing how it can be enjoyable climbing a series of large hills in long skies but easily imagined the fun of flying down the other side. I do believe snowshoeing will be a total and complete blast when we get a large dump of snow this year.
There are several trail loops you can follow and I suggest taking a paper map. There are some great trail apps you can download on you phone, but if the cold kills your battery they are useless. There are posted maps along the way, but not at every intersection, especially if you connect with the Ice Age Trail.
The trails are graded with varying difficulty and are pretty well true to their grade. However, you can follow one and switch to another or cut through on a spur or the Ice Age to connect to a different trail. This is where the map will come in handy. It’s easy to loose direction on the loop trails and make a wrong turn to wind up having to hike several miles longer than you intend. The good news is that it very easy to find your way out as the trails are well marked and well worn. A compass is also a good idea but if you remember that the parking lot is south, simply check the suns location.
Something to keep in mind is that hunting is allowed in the area so wear something bright. I’ve seen hunters walking through the trails with bows or rifles so don’t be alarmed at that and as far as I know there has never been an incident between hunter and hiker.
These are great woods to hike. They are very old and well established with much history and stories to tell. Take your time as you walk along their paths. Let the clean air revive your spirit and strengthen your soul.
I suggest going early because even though you may think in the beginning that it’s too cold to hike in winter, the woods will keep you warm and you’ll feel energized to hike further than you planned. You will want to give yourself plenty of day light to absorb as much forest as you can. Where the appropriate footwear, the trails can be icy and the rock terrain can hide under the snow. As long as you are prepared, you can have a powerful fulfilling trek though this amazing place.