Summer Adventure : Exploring in the Kettle

#25 of my 2022 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Parnell Tower and Spruce Lake Bog, Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern Unit

This hike took place on the traditional territory of the Bodwéwadmi (Potawatomi), Myaamia, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Oma͞eqnomenew-ahkew (Menominee), and Hoocąk (Ho-Chunk). I respect the histories, languages and cultures of these peoples, whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant and changing communities. Join me in learning more about the tribes and these lands, by following the links provided.

Trash Collected: 0.2 pounds

Parnell Tower Trail

It was time for what is becoming an annual late summer trip to the Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern Unit. The drive from Minnesota to the forest is an easy half-day excursion. Located in Wisconsin between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan on its east/west sides and Glenbeulah and West Bend to the north/south, the forest covers more than 30,000 acres of wooded hills and rolling prairie.

I’d arrived in early afternoon with plenty of time to get settled into the campsite I’d picked. The site, which was perfectly set from the road, was far enough from the neighbors to feel like I had the place to myself. I got to work setting up camp, taking my time with two days ahead to relax and explore the park. The weather was perfect, warm and a bit humid with a breeze that made the temperature tolerable. Once camp was set I took a walk around the loop of the campground and decided I’d picked well without even realizing it. Only one other occupied site looked more desirable to me. I made dinner before climbing into the tent to get a good night sleep.

I’d decided to start the first full day at Parnell Tower. The hike starts with a 256 steps split over two sets of deep, wide stairs. While it looks daunting, it wasn’t so bad as I took my time in the hot morning. At the top of the stairs is the Parnell Tower. The tower is the highest point in the forest and is more 60′ tall. I’d tried going to the top last year and only made it part way, but I wanted to try again. Slowly I made my way up to the first landing, then to the second. Standing at the second landing with the treetop view I paused as my anxiety over heights kicked in. I didn’t have the drive to push past the feeling that flooded my brain so I stayed put. Over the years I have learned when its worth it to keep going or to stop. I don’t beat myself up over it anymore. Instead I celebrate where I am and what I’ve accomplished in the moment. And the view in front of me was beautiful even if it wasn’t an eagle’s view.

Making my way back down as others were coming up, I tried to keep hold of that view. At the bottom of the tower I turned to my left to follow the trail as it heads north and downhill. The trail is fairly wide for quite a while before it begins to narrow and starts to more steeply descend. Along the way I noticed a birds nest woven into one of the bushes along the trail, wondering which species had created it. Ornithology is a study that escapes me so I’m always left to wonder what I’ve seen – whether bird or nest. Gradually the trail continued to narrow. I came on a few groups hiking in the opposite direction who shared the trail ahead was so overgrown they’d turned back. Eventually I made the same determination. While I was disappointed I’d not completed the full loop, I knew there was more exploration to do.

Spruce Lake Bog State Natural Area

My next stop for the day would be the Spruce Lake Bog. Located on the western side of the forest, the short boardwalk trail might be easily overlooked. On my travels across Minnesota the past few years, I’ve come to a new appreciation of bogs so I try to check them out whenever I am able. Bogs are most spectacular with floral bloom in spring and early summer, but you can still get a sense for the possibility nearly all summer and into the fall as well. At just over a mile long, the boardwalk is perfect for a hot day. I took my time, stopping to study the vegetation all around. A visit to the bog in early spring would yield blooms of royal fern and pitcher plant, surrounded by a forest of tamarack and black spruce. Despite the lack of flowers, I was happy to spend time wandering along the boardwalk.

Relaxed by my day of hiking, it was time to explore the breakfast and dinner options in nearby Dundee and Plymouth, MN.

Fuel for Your Hiking

If you’re in the area, I also highly recommend checking out 3 Sweets Bakery, Dundee, WI and Red Shorts Cafe, Plymouth, WI. Both offer breakfast and lunch worth the trip away from camp.

3 Sweets is a 10-minute drive from the Long Lake Campground making it an easy option for breakfast or lunch if you’re not in the mood to cook at your campsite. Their coffee is excellent, the pastries delightful and the breakfast and lunch options are hearty enough to take care of most appetites.

While the Red Shorts Cafe is a 20-minute drive from the Long Lake Campground, it’s worth the distance. Located in the old main street area of Plymouth nestled between other shops, the cafe’s exterior belies what you’ll find inside. Bright walls with vintage album covers, a breakfast bar that gives off the vibe of sitting in your mom’s newly remodeled kitchen and a cold case with treats are the first indication that this isn’t just another small town cafe. The food lives up to the descriptions and the coffee is fresh and bright.

Next Post Preview: Back in Minnesota I make a last minute decision to seek out fellow hikers to explore a new-to-me part of a favorite park.

GEAR: Marmot Kompressor Pack, Merrell Women’s Siren 3 Mid Waterproof, REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket, REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Pants, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, Nemo Dragonfly Ultralight Backpacking Tent, Paria Thermodown 30 down quilt, REI Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Lite™ Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, GSI Pinnacle Dualist Cookset, MSR® IsoPro™ Fuel.

Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets or check out my posts titled “Gear in Review”.


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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