Kettle Moraine State Forest - Southern Unit - Skiing

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Summary

This destination trip for Chicago-area cross-country skiers offers some of the best trails in the Midwest.

Written by

Jeff Banowetz

Distance

1.0 miles

There are six different trails, ranging from the 9.9-mile blue trail to the .62-mile brown trail, with varying degrees of difficulty.

Destination Distance From Downtown

81.5 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

1 days

Seasonality

Winter

Dog Friendly

Yes

Fees Permits

Yes

Vehicle admission sticker needed to park and state trail pass is needed to ride trails

Review

Intro

If you’re up for a road trip, the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is one of the cross-country skiing options in the Midwest. The state forest contains more than 22,000 acres in southern Wisconsin, about 37 miles southeast of Milwaukee. For skiers, that means more than 130 miles of trails to explore—with lots of variety. You’ll find hardwood forests, pine plantations and prairie.

What Makes It Great

The term “kettle moraine” is actually a geological description that comes from how the area was created. A moraine is an accumulation of rock and soil that comes from a glacier, while a kettle is a shallow body of water formed by a retreating glacier. You don’t need a degree in geology to figure out that this means the area is filled with rolling hills, valleys and ridges.

That means some great views but also some serious climbing. Keep in mind when planning your mileage that these trails can be tough. 

You may be able to find other trails like this in northern Wisconsin or Michigan, but this is one of the best cross-country ski experiences you can find within a couple of hours of Chicago. Kettle Moraine’s southern unit is full of trails, but you’ll probably want to start with groomed trails that are specifically designed for Nordic skiing, just south of the village of Palmyra on County Highway H. Here you’ll find trails groomed for both classic and skate skiing that feature a wide variety of topography. There are six different trails, ranging from the 9.9-mile blue trail to the .62-mile brown trail, with varying degrees of difficulty.

The trails are connected, so it’s easy to create your own loops that fit your needs. There is a warming shelter, water and bathrooms at the trailhead near the parking lot. You can find a trail map here.

Who is Going to Love It

Serious cross-country skiers who want to test their limits and skiers of any level who want to enjoy beautiful, well-groomed trails. If you’ve only cross-country skied on a flat golf course or along the Lakefront Path, you’re in for a treat.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The state forest is located at S91 W39091 Hwy. 59, Eagle, WI, and is open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. every day.

You’ll need a vehicle admission sticker if you’re driving there, which is good for all Wisconsin State Parks and Forest.

The cost is $7 a day for cars with Wisconsin plates, $10 a day for those from out of state. Buy a yearly pass for $25 (Wisconsin residents) or $35 (out-of-staters). Cross-country skiers must buy a trail pass as well ($4/day or $20/year).

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Location

Kettle Moraine State Forest

N9097 County Road H
Whitewater, WI, 53190
42.819894, -88.603235

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