The Locale: Loew Lake is in the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, about 35 minutes northwest of Milwaukee. The hiking trail is an official segment of the 1300 mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the only National Scenic Trail contained in one state!
Reasons to Love: This hike is close enough to the city to be an easy day-hike escape yet it feels secluded. I love that there are some beautiful pine plantations to walk through, views of the Oconomowoc River, and a deep woods feel in places.
- Fees: free parking
- Mileage: full segment is a 4.9 mile out and back (9.8 round trip) but you can turn back at any point for a shorter hike
- Accessibility: this is a single track, hard-pack dirt path. Not accessible to strollers or wheelchairs
- Terrain: not too much by way of incline or roots/rocks for the most part, some portions of the middle of the trail are a little rougher. For the most part, this trail is recommended for the slightly more skilled spectrum of beginners but those new to hiking can still enjoy too
- Pet Friendly: by law, dogs must be leashed between April 15-July 31, suggested to keep dogs leashed all other times as well
- Bathrooms: there are no bathrooms along this route
Maps and Parking: There are two parking spots for hiking along this route. The main lot is on the north end off Emerald Drive, south of Shamrock Lane. There is another smaller roadside lot off of County Highway K (Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive) just north of the intersections of K and Q. You can also legally park along the roadside on County Highway Q near that intersection, but I do not recommend as there is a lot of traffic on that intersection and I’ve seen some near accidents.
Hiking Routes: There are a couple of ways you can do this route, depending on how much stamina you have and if you have access to another vehicle. As this is an out-and-back, in order to do the whole segment you’d have to hike 9.8 miles total to complete the 4.8 segment. However, if you have two cars you can shuttle. I’ll outline three options below.
Option 1: Full Segment Out-and-Back Hike, 9.8 miles.
If you have the time and stamina, I suggest a full segment hike and back! Sometimes people think that can be a bit boring doing the same trail twice, but I often find that you see totally different things that you missed on the way in. I often recommend turning around to take in the view on any hike, as it totally changes your perspective. I never mind seeing Loew Lake twice, as it has some fabulous scenery. Simply choose one of the two parking lots and hike to the other one. Then turn around and head back! If you are new to hiking and have never done distances, however, you will want to be sure to work up to this. 9.8 miles IS a long hike and even though the route isn’t particularly hilly compared to other Kettle Moraine treks, it can still be exhausting. You’ll want lots of water, some snacks, and good boots before attempting. Check out the Hiking Resource Center for tips and safety info on long day hikes.
Option 2: Half Segment Out-and-Back Hike, 2-5 miles.
If you aren’t ready for a full 10 mile round-trip hike or just don’t have that much time, you can choose to turn around half way through the segment. From the south lot on CTH K, head north along the path going north. Two turn around point options would be when you hit the cemetery when you hit Emerald Drive for the first time. This is a ~3 mile round trip hike. Or you can continue along to road and back into the woods, turning around when you hit Emerald Drive for the 2nd time, which is about 5.2 miles roundtrip. Alternatively, you can start at the north lot and do the same. Hike south until you hit Emerald Drive the first time for a 2.4 mile round-trip hike, or turn around at Emerald Drive the 2nd time for a 4.3 mile round trip hike.
There are pros to both halves. If you only do the southern half, you’ll get the beautiful walks through the pine plantation and a view of the Oconomowoc Lake. The northern half is a bit more rugged and hilly for a better workout and the woods and prairies feel more secluded. Whichever one you do will be great! Just make sure to come back to finish the other half sometime to take it all in.
Option 3: Full Segment, Car Shuttle, 4.9 miles.
For this option, you will need two cars. You will drop one car at the end of your segment then drive to the start point. You’ll hike to your car and then drive it back to the start point. Voila! Now you’ve done the whole segment and didn’t have to hike it twice! This works out well if you are meeting friends at the trail or have a large group. Many hikers who are looking to section hike the entire 1300 mile Ice Age Trail use this option with friends, family, or hitching a ride with the “trail angels” that you can find through the IAT website and Facebook pages. Alternatively, you can also do this alone with a bike. Simply drop your car at the end and bike along the road to the other parking lot. I definitely recommend biking first. I’ve made the mistake of dropping the bike and trying to bike after a 5-7 mile hike. Didn’t end well as I was to exhausted to bike even the smallest hill and ended up walking the bike back anyway!
Trail Condition Alerts: You can find updates on trail conditions at the official Ice Age Trail website. But a more immediate source of information if you are worried about trail conditions (such as flooding or too many bugs etc) is to post to the Thousand Miler Wannabe Facebook group or the Ice Age Hiker Facebook group, which are both very active and responsive to questions.
Other Recreation Opportunities: Loew Lake is a unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. As such, there are many other recreation opportunities. The northern section has horseback riding trails crossing through it. You can fish and boat on Loew Lake, the access point is to the south off of County Highway Q. This is a great spot to put in a kayak! In the winter, the trails are open to cross country skiing (not groomed) and snowshoeing, and a snowmobile trail crossed the property. This land is also open to hunting, so use caution when hiking in hunting season and wear appropriate blaze orange attire. I’ll be posting a Hiking During Hunting Season guide in the Hiking Resource Center.
Make a Day of It: There are several interesting things to do in the area as well as many other hiking trails. I love to visit the Holy Hill Basilica and National Shrine of St. Mary while in the area. There is a lovely hike on this segment of the Ice Age Trail which is posted separately on this website, but you can always drive in just to visit the Basilica and climb the tower. To the south, not far off County Highway Q is Spectacular Sculpture, a 6 acre outdoor sculpture gallery by Paul Bobrowitz. There’s not much in the way of restaurants near this trail, but The Fox and Hounds Restaurant & Tavern is great but a little pricey. I have not been to the Copper Dock yet, but I’ve heard great things and it has good reviews!