Hiking the Hemlock Trail at Mt Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods SNA


White pines along a footpath at Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area near Ontario Wisconsin
Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods SNA


The setting: the dramatic hills and valleys of Wisconsin's driftless region, the wandering scenic Kickapoo River, virgin white pine forest - quiet country far from major freeways. The trail: A three mile loop, level 5 mountaineering climb on a single track footpath through a rare cliffside ecosystem to an overlook where eagles nest. The Hemlock Trail at Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area is a hidden gem of a hike that is well worth the drive.





First steps on the Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area near Ontario Wisconsin
Hemlock Trail First Steps


It is no secret that Wisconsin's driftless area is my favorite region of Wisconsin. The breadth of beauty and serenity of this region is however, somewhat of a state secret. When people think about travel in Wisconsin they usually think about the great Up-North, lake country, Door County, or the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. All of these places are indeed magnificent, but not to be overlooked are the river valleys of the driftless area.

For the nature lover or serenity seeker, Wisconsin's Driftless Region is comparable to The Berkshires of Massachusetts, or the Catskills of New York. This area routinely ranks among the top ten destinations for fall foliage viewing in the world ... and yet, it is rarely a destination for Chicagoans, Minneapolisites, or Milwaukeeans. And, that's just fine with me. The fewer people, the fewer resorts, the fewer waterparks, and traffic jams, the better.

There are limitless opportunities for recreation in the driftless area; from the world famous Elroy-Sparta bike trail with its miles long tunnels, to canoeing and boating on the Lower Wisconsin or Mississippi Rivers. These two larger waterways may overshadow the modest Kickapoo, but do not be so easily deceived; The Kickapoo is not to be underestimated.

White Pines on the Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area near Ontario Wisconsin
Hemlock Trail White Pines
The Kickapoo Valley Reserve is large scale land trust that combines Ho Chunk Indian lands with State owned lands to create a scenic wilderness surrounding some of the most flood prone areas of the Kickapoo river.  This small meandering waterway seems more like a creek than a river. Yet, the Kickapoo has a reputation for some of the wildest and most devastating floods in Wisconsin history.
The Kickapoo and its tributaries cut a steep canyon through a karst topograph. Water runs down the cliffsides of high bluffs into the narrow canyon and can raise the sleepy Kickapoo by feet within minutes.

Annual springtime torrents have carved out unique rock features and made the area undesirable for settlement. The result is a slice of untouched virgin forest in an area which was cut bare by the lumber barons of the 19th century. Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area is, specifically, a fine example of a preserved Wisconsin ecology. As you hike amongst 400 year old white pine, you will finally understand why Wisconsin was once known as the Big Woods. My wingspan is nearly six feet, and is equal to the diameter of some of these white pine trunks; beefy trunks which are the foundations of skyscraper trees reaching some 150-200ft high. It was white pine like these which once dominated Wisconsin, a dramatic sight which is now all but erased.

White Pines on the Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area near Ontario Wisconsin
White Pines on the Hemlock Trail
State Natural Areas are not usually as developed as Mt. Pisgah. You will not usually find an official footpath, much less a generous parking lot with restrooms and running water. This natural area is different as it acts as one of the main launching points for canoe, kayak, and float trips in the Kickapoo Reserve which begins just downriver of the State Natural Area (SNA). It is also, conveniently located adjacent to Wildcat Mountain State Park - an impressive State Park with an ample supply of drive-up campsites. The SNA itself is often mistaken as Wildcat State Park. But, because the Hemlock trail is in an SNA and not a State Park it is less advertised and often overlooked. To reach the trailhead you must park at Wildcat canoe launch - which is deceptive as one would not usually look for a hiking trail at a canoe launch.

The Hemlock Trail is one of the premiere hiking experiences in the driftless area. It is a challenging loop trail which includes a level 5 mountaineering rated climb. Its scenery is delightful, and its panoramic overlook breathtaking (if you have breath left after the climb). Though many in Wisconsin do not know of this trail, now that you have read this - you can count yourself among the few who can find this secluded scenic wonder.

Overlook at the top of the Hemlock Trail at Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods Natural Area - Ontario WI
Overlook at the top of the Hemlock Trail at Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods Natural Area - Ontario WI



Directions and Trail Map



Admission: State Parks Vehicle Sticker

To access Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area, look for the Wildcat Canoe Launch. The driveway is just North of the Wildcat Mountain State Park Entrance on Highway 33. From late fall to late spring the drive gate is closed, but you can park in front of the gate and walk on the driveway to the canoe launch parking lot. At the canoe launch parking lot - follow the river bank south to the start of the Hemlock trail.

Address for your GPS: State Hwy 33 Trunk, Ontario, WI 54651
| coordinates: 43.697684, -90.576610 |

From Milwaukee3 Hours
From Madison2 Hours
From Green Bay3.5 Hours
From Wausau2.5 Hours
From Minneapolis3 Hours
From Chicago4 Hours



Photos



Kickapoo River on the Hemlock Trail at Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area near Ontario WI
Kickapoo River on the Hemlock Trail at Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area near Ontario WI


Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area
Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area

Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area
Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area

Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area
Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area


Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area
Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area

Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area
Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area

Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area
Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area

Amish Horse Tie Up at the Wildcat Canoe Launch
Amish Horse Tie Up at the Wildcat Canoe Launch


Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area
Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area

Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area
Hemlock Trail - Mt. Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods State Natural Area






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