The Kettle Moraine State Forest is not a continuous forest. The 56,000-acre forest is separated into several areas, called units, which spread across roughly 100 miles. The units are:
|Northern Unit |
Over 20 miles long, it stretches south from Glenbeulah and ends a little east of Kewaskum. This unit straddles Sheboygan County, Fond du Lac County, and Washington County (Wisconsin). The forest headquarters is located in Campbellsport.
|Southern Unit |
More than 22,000 acres and 30 miles long, it stretches from Dousman to Whitewater in Walworth County. The forest headquarters is on State Highway 59, 3 miles west of the village of Eagle.
|Pike Lake Unit |
Located on Highway 60 east of Pike Lake, between Slinger and Hartford in Washington County.
|Loew Lake Unit |
A small forest surrounding the Oconomowoc river and Loews lake in southwestern Washington County.
|Lapham Peak Unit |
South of Delafield and seven miles west of Waukesha in Waukesha County. Lapham Peak has an elevation of 1,233 feet above sea level.
|Mukwonago River Unit |
This unit sits within Waukesha County and Walworth County, and is adjacent to the Mukwonago River.
Kettle Moraine State Forest consists of a moraine created by glaciers during the Last Ice Age. Rivers and lakes nest between the rolling, tree covered hills and steep cliffs of the moraine. Every unit of the forest has at least one body of water within it. The entire forest is composed of geographical features such as eskers, kames, and kettles. Glacial erratics, boulders left behind by the receding ice, can be found dotted about the landscape and often trails will weave around them.
Flora and fauna
The state forest is mostly deciduous forest, with conifer plantations scattered usually near a road or highway. The forest units become busy during fall when the leaves change color. Don't let this deter you from visiting, the forest truly becomes a site to see during this time. Some areas of the forest are adjacent to wetlands or restored prairies. It's possible to hike or bike on one trail and see a wide variety of flora and fauna from these biomes.
Fees and permits
Access to all of the forest units is free for walking, running, or hiking. Parking your vehicle or using certain forms of transport within the units, such as biking, may involve fees. All admission stickers and passes can be purchased from any Wisconsin state park. Failure to pay will result in a ticket for the price of the admission or pass. Refusing to pay will result in a citation.
Daily admission stickers and passes must be purchased at the state park. You can buy one at the forest entrance. Credit cards are accepted when the park office is open. Self-registration stations are available for payment of fees by cash or check when the office is closed.
If you opt to purchase an annual admission sticker or trail pass, you can purchase them at the entrance of the forest unit during office hours or pre-purchase them directly from the DNR. You can visit a DNR service center in person, or via phone at ☏between 7AM and 10PM. Businesses near the forest units may have annual passes available for purchase.
Vehicle admission sticker
All vehicles stopping or parking within the Kettle Moraine State Forest units require an admission sticker. Both daily stickers and annual stickers are offered. If you plan on visiting the Kettle Moraine State Forest units for more than 3 days, it's more cost effective to purchase an annual sticker. The annual sticker is valid for one calendar year and valid for admission to any Wisconsin state park. As an added bonus, the annual sticker is usually quite aesthetically pleasing and every year a new one is designed by Wisconsin high school students chosen in a statewide contest. Persons who frequently visit Wisconsin's state parks will often "collect" the stickers.
Daily stickers are $8 for Wisconsin plates, $11 for out-of-state vehicles. Annual stickers are $28 for Wisconsin plates, $38 for out-of-state vehicles.
State trail pass fee
Walking and hiking is free for all state trails. If you wish to bike, cross-country ski, horseback ride, or in-line skate some trails require a state trail pass fee be paid for all persons 16 years and older. A daily pass is $5 and annual passes are $25. Trails that require a pass within the Kettle Moraine State Forest are:
- Lapham Peak Unit
- Northern Unit
- Southern Unit
The forest units all have a paved road to drive on and parking lots for your vehicle. Picnic areas are usually found next to whatever parking lots there might be. A rough trail map will be available at the entrance or self-check-in station or the central administration office. You can also download a copy of a more detailed trail maps located in the maps and publications section of the Wisconsin's DNR website .
Most travel through the forest units will be on foot. Biking is permitted on some trails, as is horseback riding and snowmobiling. Check the trail map to see if a permit is required and which trails this is allowed on.
- Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. A 115-mile (185-km) scenic route that winds across southeastern Wisconsin, and through five of the six forest units.
- Cross-country skiing
- Ice Age Trail. Parts of the Ice Age Trail go through various units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. This hiking trail roughly follows the location of the terminal moraine from the last Ice Age.
- John Muir bike trails (on County Highway H north of the Town of La Grange and US Highway 12 and south of the Town of Palmyra). Single-track, mountain-bike trails that are rough, natural surface trails. There are five different loops ranging from 1.25 miles to 12 miles. Parking, water and vault toilets are available.
There will sometimes be a small amount of goods to buy within a unit's central administration building. Postcards, plush animals, and branded gear like hats and t-shirts could be found. These are not found in all central administration buildings and, when they are available, the selection is limited. In locations that allow fire, there might be fire wood available for purchase.
If you need any items, it's better to make a trip into the nearest town and purchase supplies.
There is no food service within the forest units. You will have to bring your own food. Most of the forest units are only a few miles away from a town, so if you are desperate for food it is not too inconvenient to pick up any items you forgot.
All of the forest units contain at least one picnic area. Most are furnished with a few picnic benches and a picnic grill. You will need to bring your own coal and fire starters.
Some of the forest units have a central administration building that will contain a water fountain. It is advised that you bring your own water. The buildings are often closed and in the winter the out-of-doors fountains are turned off.
To utilize lodging and camping facilities, a reservation is required. All reservations can be made at the Wisconsin's DNR reservation hub.
- Backpack shelters. There is limited lodging available. Some forest units have backpack shelters, which are available sporadically. These shelters are four walls with an open door, a ring fire, and a pit toilet. The shelters are sequestered far away from roads and parking. You'll have to hike 0.5 miles to 10 miles to reach them. There's a 10-person limit. About $15 to $30 per night, determined by peak times, in addition to any vehicle admission fees.
- Campsites. Camping facilities vary by forest unit. Some facilities have electrical and water hookups for RVs. Some campsites have a soft sand area for placing your tent. Check the amenities when you make your reservation so you aren't surprised. About $15 to $30 per night, determined by peak times, in addition to any vehicle admission fees.
Camping beyond the designated camping locations is not permitted. You are required to reserve a designated camping location if you wish to stay the night.
Ticks are very prevalent throughout Wisconsin forests. Tuck your pants into your socks and use an insect repellant or deterrent. Avoid long grass and wooded areas outside groomed trails. After your adventure in the forest, thoroughly check yourself and any pets you brought.
Poison oak and poison ivy exist in the Kettle Moraine State Forest.