Moraine Ridge Trail Loop

Kettle Moraine State Forest - Lapham Peak Unit, Wisconsin

Trip Date: Sunday, September 3rd, 2017
Last Updated: Monday, May 20th, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Hard
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 6.6 miles roundtrip
Time 3.5 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Unlike much of the Midwest, hiking in Wisconsin often involves climbing some hills! I chose this trail specifically because the official map labeled this hike as "advanced" difficulty (bring it on Wisconsin). While this isn't a climb up a mountain, you will be tired and have definitely earned the copious beer, cheese, and brats you will inevitably consume afterward. The proximity to Interstate 94 is a blessing and a curse: this hike is a really easy escape from Milwaukee but you will hear the road noise throughout the hike. However, the nature itself is well preserved in this park and the scenery is pretty enough that you will forget about the noise.

Start your journey by walking up the hill and climbing to the top of the observation tower -- you are not going to want to ascend all those stairs after you finish this long, hilly hike. Lapham Peak is the tallest point in Waukesha County, and climbing to the top of the 45 foot tall observation tower will give you a commanding view of Southwestern Wisconsin, pictured below (according to one bystander at the top of the tower, you can see Lambeau Field in Green Bay on an especially clear day). Near the bottom of the observation tower, there will be a trail with several long steps marked as the Ice Age Access Trail. Follow this to a wide, grassy trail and head south to the next intersection. Here, you can choose to go either left or right since the trail is a loop. To the left, the trail is hillier and almost entirely under the forest canopy. To the right, the trail has more flat sections and travels along open prairie. I suggest going left first to do the longer and more difficult half of the trail while you have energy.

The view from the top of the observation tower on Lapham Peak

The view from the top of the observation tower on Lapham Peak

From here on, the route is clearly marked with a black diamond (to match the black trail color on the official map) on poles near every intersection -- each route has its own color and symbol combination, and shared routes will have two or more different symbols on the pole. In addition, each intersection has a map with a sign labeling the intersection number in case you are unsure which direction to go. Assuming you went to the left in the beginning, the scenery will look much like the picture below with rolling hills and mixed coniferous and hardwood forest. Once the trail meets with the Kame Terrace Trail, the terrain flattens and you will pass a flowery meadow and the butterfly garden. At intersection E19, the trail breaks from the other routes and travels up and down a few steep hills before rejoining the Kettle View Trail (in blue on the official map).
The trail heading downhill through dense forest

The trail heading downhill through dense forest

Other than the butterfly garden and surrounding meadow, there are no notable features during the first half of the hike. However, the rolling hills and forest are quite beautiful and the twisting and turning trail keeps the hike interesting. The second half of the hike has a much different character with more open prairie and oak trees (see photos below).
A field of goldenrod with the hills in the background

A field of goldenrod with the hills in the background

Meadow nestled between a pine forest

Meadow nestled between a pine forest

The hike ends with a long uphill climb back to the parking lot near Lapham Peak to truly test your endurance. Overall, this is an excellent hike near Milwaukee perfect for training (this is also a popular trail running destination, and I swear the same woman lapped me at least twice during this hike) or enjoying a nice forest. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on leash. During the winter, this trail is designated for skiiers only but you may hike in the other three seasons. This trailhead is extremely popular, and you may have difficulty finding a parking spot on a weekend during peak times -- I highly recommend arriving early in the morning or late in the afternoon (the park is open until 9pm year round) to beat the crowd. Despite the difficulty of this particular route, you will see many people during your hike due to portions of the trail being shared with other routes and many opportunities to shorten the journey. This route is not family friendly, but I saw many families on the trail presumably doing another route or just a portion of this trail; for a flat, easy trail try the Meadow Trail or do the Kame Terrace Trail to see the butterfly garden.

Directions

From Milwaukee, head west on Interstate 94 to Delafield. Take the exit for County Road C, then turn right. Following signs for Kettle Moraine State Forest, turn left onto the main park road. Pay your fee, then continue to the parking lot at the road's end.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

If you have Wisconsin license plates on your vehicle, parking is $8 for the day or $28 for an annual pass valid at all Wisconsin State Parks and Forests. If you are from out of state, parking is $11 for the day or $38 for an annual pass (you recoup your cost after just 4 visits!). See details here. This is a popular trailhead and the parking lot may be full on weekends during peak times. There is an another parking lot a short walk away, otherwise you can park at the Homestead Lot and start the trail from a different trailhead. There are pit toilets and a drinking foutain as well as several picnic tables near the trailhead.

External Links

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