When the world’s last ice sheet melted away 10,000+ years ago, it left behind many calling cards. Top among them are the deep kettles and soaring hummocks I’m puffing up and down here in Harrison Hills. I pause to catch my breath after reaching the top of 1,920-foot Lookout Mountain. This mountain is the highest point on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, of which Harrison Hills is one segment. Unfortunately, the view is largely obscured by thick stands of oak and maple. But no matter. The true value in hoofing your way up here — to the top of an insignificant pile of glacial rubble — is to gain a sense of how massive the glacier was.
Navigating Harrison Hills
From First Lake Road
Follow the trail past numerous glacial lakes. Five-acre Chain Lake, rich with catfish, walleye and Northern pike, is popular with anglers.
Time for a pit stop when you reach the ATV shelter and restrooms. (4.5 miles)
Your biggest climb is to the top of Lookout Mountain. (6.3 miles)
After crossing Turtle Lake and Beaver Trail Roads (mile 11.4), watch out for the grasses, shrubs and prickly raspberry bushes that sometimes encroach on the trail.
Heads up. A network of ATV trails and occasional timber harvests can make navigation difficult.
A natural spring bubbling trailside signals you’ve nearly reached County Highway J and the end of the hike.
Campsites 1 and 2
Chain Lake (mile 2.4)
These primitive twin sites (first come, first served) are a few paces apart on sprawling Chain Lake. Both can only hold a few tents, although surrounding oak and ash trees are great for slinging hammocks. When water levels are high, the first site may be soggy.
Bus Lake (mile 9.8)
Spacious enough to hold at least a dozen tents, this site is created from a lakeside clearing in the forest. Watch for beavers splashing around at dusk, then rise early to catch sunrise over the lake. First come, first served.
A thriving wolf pack several members strong roams these hills. But there are no reported sightings by hikers (yet). Instead, watch for the plentiful black bear, deer, beavers and grouse. In spring, listen for the male grouses’ drumming, a mating practice.
The tallest spot in Wisconsin is 1,951.5-foot Timm’s Hill. A 10-mile spur trail links Timm’s Hill with the Ice Age Trail; the path is America’s first official National Side Trail, as designated by the National Park Service in 1990. The spur trail lies an hour west of Harrison Hills, and winds through red pine, sugar maple and sedge meadows en route to its terminus at the top of TImm’s Hill.
Watch for the Gap
After descending from Lookout Mountain, beware of prickly raspberry bushes, grasses and shrubs that close in on the trail. These pioneer plants, along with baby aspen and birch, are a “gap” forest, the byproduct of timber harvesting.
If You Go
TRAILHEAD: First Lake Road off of Hwy. 17 in Parrish
PERMIT: None required
DISTANCE: 14.5 miles (point to point)
TIME: Plan 2 days
Backpacker, August 2018