Hiking the Kickapoo Valley Reserve - Billings Creek

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Crossing Billings Creek - Billings Creek Trail - Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Crossing Billings Creek - Billings Creek Trail - Kickapoo Valley Reserve


The Kickapoo Valley Reserve is a central feature of the Wisconsin Driftless area; a land preserve enveloping the scenic grandeur of a Kickapoo River which cuts through sculpted cliffs and deep valleys from Ontario (WI) to La Farge. There are numerous multi-use, bridal, hiking, and water trails. Also, there are several rustic campsites accessible by trail or canoe. The Billings Creek Trail is a moderately difficult 4.5 mile out-n-back hiking trail that includes a creek crossing, several small hills, deep pine and hardwood forests, and prairie land.








Along the Billings Creek Trail - Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Pine Forests in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve


There are obvious outlets to satisfy the call of the outdoors – state parks such as Wildcat Mountain and Wyalusing offer well beaten wide paths and exhilarating climbs. Beyond the gates of our first class state parks you’ll find more rustic trails in county parks and land preserves. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve is a central feature of the Wisconsin Driftless area; a land preserve enveloping the scenic grandeur of a Kickapoo River which cuts through sculpted cliffs and deep valleys from Ontario (WI) to La Farge.

One of my best friends asked me to set up a Saturday morning excursion for me, him, and a dog he was dogsitting for the weekend - whom we most often referred to as ‘The Dog’. Given that The Dog, though smart, friendly with humans, and quiet, was unpredictable around other dogs I selected a trail that was on my to-hike list but one not likely to bring us nose to nose with any other hikers or dog walkers: The Billings Creek Trail. From the cartoon map I had of Kickapoo Reserve it looked like the trail would be a flat, easy 1-2 mile out-n-back. Had I done my research, I likely would have selected a different trail. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a surprisingly exhilarating and scenic hike.
 
The Kickapoo Reserve website describes the trail as such: “For those willing to take on a more rugged, less maintained trail, we would suggest the Billings Creek Hiking Trail. Long pants are strongly recommended, since the trail can be brushy at times.  At Billings creek you can hop (“leap”) across on stepping stones. A slight rise in water level will submerge some of the stones, thus making wet feet inevitable. (Note: if the creek is high and raging do not attempt to cross!).”

Along the Billings Creek Trail - Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Along the Billings Creek Trail - Kickapoo Valley Reserve

I hadn’t read this prior to our trip, and in my mind this trail was going to be one of three short stretch stops to punctuate a drive in what I believe to be the most scenic corner of the state. I had therefore abandoned my hiking pack, which usually rides in back of the car with a supply of bottled water, emergency kit, and trekking poles. At a refueling stop I literally put down a bottle of water I was about to buy – mentally talking myself out of any preparations for such a minor walk.

It’s not that this hike was some kind of harrowing mountainside adventure, but at 2.5 miles in we had still not reached the turnback, and the multiple hill climbs had left our tongues parched. And, unlike most Wisconsin trails, trekking poles would have been a welcome asset – especially at the crossing of Billing Creek.

From the two car pull off on County F, it was a mild downhill stroll through familiar Wisconsin terrain. After about a ½ mile of this we came to Billings Creek which outlined the base of a rock feature typical of this area. These seemingly random extrusions of Earth’s crust look like cityscapes – skylines with parapets and architectural features from a distance.

Billings Creek in the Kickapoo Valley Preserve
Billings Creek in the Kickapoo Valley Preserve

Billings creek is wider than most creeks – more like a small river. It traced the contours of a stone cliffside which was the foundation for towering white pines. An open prairie trampled flat by the weight of the winter which had only recently receded held the north bank of the creek and made for a good place to get off the trail and play with The Dog. We horsed around, let the sun see our paste white wintered faces, inspected wild formations of rock, and admired the 400 year old pine forest.

At the river crossing I was sore with myself for leaving my trekking poles behind. As the Kickapoo site had described, some of the stepping stones were submerged and covered in slippery muck. It was a bit of a trick to use them and would have been more advisable to ford the creek which was about knee high deep. I ended up taking more care than needed to cross the slick stones on account of my new expensive phone for which I opted out of the insurance plan. As I gauged the security of my footing I imagined myself hunched over my phone with a hair dryer later that night.

After the river crossing we headed into the green shade of the pine forest. My friend commented on how long it had been since he’d smelled dirt while The Dog was picking a fight with every potential throwing stick we encountered. A series of hills and minor stream crossings rolled out in front of us. I was sensing that the hike had become a workout before we had even reached the end of its length, and I was remembering back to the bottle of water I had earlier decided not to purchase.

We took a short break at a high perch over the Kickapoo River. Above us the green spires of Wisconsin’s sacred white pines swayed.

This Billings Creek trail turned out to be a hike worth writing about. We were all glad to have broken out of our dusty winter hideouts to take in the pungent odor of pine.

Billings Creek
Billings Creek - Billings Creek Trail - Kickapoo Valley Reserve




Directions and Trail Map



Address for your GPS: E13403 County Road F Ontario WI 54651
| coordinates: 43.682394, -90.586359 |

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