The Run Down

About 18,000 years ago, Illinois and Wisconsin were covered under a big sheet of glacial ice.  Eventually, these massive glaciers began to retreat, but not before leaving behind fields of rock and debris, otherwise known as moraines.  For this guide, you'll take a road trip to see this geological formation, which extends over 120 miles across Wisconsin. You'll make a 2.5-hour drive into Kettle Moraine State Forest, where you'll camp, hike tall ridges, and fish out on the water.

1. Tour @ Wind Point Light House

2. Drive @ Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

3. Camp @ Long Lake

4. Hike @ Mount Dundee

5. Climb @ Parnell Tower

1. Wind Point Light House

The drive from Chicago to Kettle Moraine is a quick 2.5 hours. However, if you’re looking for a halfway point to stretch your legs while also visiting a place of historical significance, then a short stop at the Wind Point Lighthouse might be right up your alley.

This lighthouse, located in the Village of Wind Point, sits on the Lake Michigan coastline.  As you make your way here, everything outside the Village of Wind Point looks like what you’d expect Wisconsin to look like. It’s open farmland and the occasional house every few blocks.

When you get into Wind Point, you might think you’ve teleported somewhere else entirely. There are million-dollar homes behind the street, the roads look freshly paved, and every lawn and patch of grass looks immaculate. In the middle of all this is the Wind Point Lighthouse, one of the oldest and tallest active lighthouses on the Great Lakes, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On most Sundays, they host an open house, allowing you to climb the 11-story tower for an expansive view of Lake Michigan. Details here.

Back in its heyday, this was operated by a Coast Guard member who would live on the premises. Today, although active, it’s in the hands of local caretakers who’ve turned the surrounding grounds into a peaceful park on the water.

2. Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

Get back on the road, with your next stop being one of the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive entry points. This long, windy country road cuts through the state forest and passes through small farms within it. It’s a quiet and peaceful drive and one of the highlights of this trip.

You know you’re going in the right direction when you see these acorn-shaped signs. These signs are everywhere and will keep you on the path.  Follow these signs until you reach the Ice Age Visitor Center, where we’ll pick up a park map and get oriented with the surrounding area.

The visitor center is about 30 minutes away once you get on this scenic byway. Here are a few things you’ll need to do once you’re there.

– Grab one of their free Kettle Moraine State Forest Maps.
– Because this guide has you stopping at a few places, you’ll need to purchase an $11 vehicle day pass.
– If you plan on camping, you can also reserve a campsite in person. Or you can reserve one online.
– Cell service is a bit spotty, so either download an offline version of Google Maps before you come

3. Long Lake

Another artifact of these glacial movements are the kettles that were left behind. Kettles are depressions in the land created when big chunks of glaciers start to break off. These formed a series of small lakes across the area — some as deep as 200 ft.

The next stop is to one of these lakes where you’ll set up camp and prepare for easy hiking.

Long Lake is about a 15-minute drive from the Ice Age Visitor Center. It’s a recreational lake with several drive-in camping sites. Some are first-come, first-served, while others are available to reserve in advance. This is easy tent camping at its finest. There are electrical hookups, fire pits in each campsite, and shower facilities onsite.

Being so close to the lake, hauling in your canoe was a common site among campers.

If you’re going the survivalist route and want to catch your own dinner, this lake is stocked with walleye, bass, and pike—no need to buy your own fishing equipment if you don’t have any.  You can rent fishing rods and other fishing essentials for free at the Ice Age Visitor Center. Details about that are here.

Here is a wide shot of an empty campsite. They all had plenty of room, and the tall trees provided a nice sense of privacy.

4. Mount Dundee

Within the Long Lake campgrounds is the Summit Nature Trail. It’s a one-mile loop that scales Dundee Mountain to its peak at around 1,200 ft. Most hikes around Chicago don’t come with much elevation, so that’s what we’re after for this guide.

The hike is made as easy as possible with these built-in stairs leading to Mount Dundee’s top.

The trail is rich with wildflowers, vegetation, and little critters.

Here’s the payoff on this easy 15-minute hike to the top of Mount Dundee. You’ll notice the rolling hills out in the distance. These are called drumlins, which the glaciers shaped as they moved across the land.

5. Parnell Tower

After getting a small taste of elevation, we’re going after more at Parnell Tower. This is about a 15 minute drive from Long Lake, and site of the highest point of elevation in Kettle Moraine State Forest.

There’s a parking lot at the trailhead that leads to Parnell Tower. From here, you’re less than a 10 minute hike up a flight of built-in stairs that lead to a giant 60-foot wooden tower. It’s the tree house of your childhood dreams.


This is a view from the top of the tower and all the little people below.

We were lucky to come on clear day with 360-degree views. The view itself is worth the 2.5-hour trip from Chicago.


Of all the places we’ve seen in this guide, we’ve touched on probably less than 1% of all the stuff going on in this state forest. Luckily, that means we’ll get to go on another trip here and see what else we can discover.