For us, fall hiking is a tradeoff – do we really want to miss a day of football to go hang out in the woods? We are die hard Texas A&M Aggie fans, so often the answer is no. However, last weekend we had a bye week and the only game that we were actually interested in was the Red River Shootout, which we were very confident Texas would lose (… c’mon OU!), so we decided to take what we figured would be our last trip of the year out to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. We had planned this about a month in advance, but got really lucky with some outstanding weather.
The Kickapoo Reserve is a really beautiful protected part of the driftless area of Wisconsin. The driftless area is a geologically unique area within the Midwest – instead of being overpowered by glaciation during the last Ice Age, this region has remained uncovered for at least the last 500,000 years. That makes the region much hillier than the rest of the state, with interesting bluffs and ridges. The Kickapoo Reserve itself has an interesting political history – in the 1960s, the federal government planned to dam the Kickapoo River, which caused flooding downstream. Using eminent domain, 149 families were forced to move out of the flood zone. However, the environmental movement of the 1970s, along with poor economic planning, caused the project to be abandoned by 1979. After a bunch of fighting about what to do with the land (full details here), it was given to the HoChunk Nation and State of Wisconsin as a nature preserve.
We set out on Saturday morning bright and early from Madison on the two hour drive. With the fall foliage on the bluffs and hills, it was beautiful – it felt like we weren’t in the Midwest, but instead in Vermont or upstate New York. We stopped at the visitor center to pay for our permit and drove up to Rockton to hit the trail. We planned to hike about 6 miles on day one and 7 on day two, taking a long scenic route to site F, one of the most remote sites in the park. We would take the Rockton trail to the Old Highway 131 trail to the Little Canada trail and Ice Cave trail on Saturday, and the Hanson Rock Loop to Ma & Pa’s Trail to the Black Hawk Rock trail back to our car on Sunday. We were worried that the campsite would be taken, as there are no reservations at the Kickapoo reserve, even for backcountry sites, but excitedly hit the trail around 10:30 AM.
The trailhead for the Rockton trail is kind of hard to find – you have to park at the boat landing and then walk up the road almost into “town” (aka two bars) to hit the trail. The hike started with a level hike through a cornfield before winding into the woods at the junction to the Indian Creek Trail.
We crossed over a bridge and saw our first horses of the day! The Kickapoo Reserve really seems to cater to equestrians – there were lots of people out riding. This was a new experience for us, and we made sure to talk to the riders and yield to them as they passed. The Old Highway 131 Trail is literally half of the road that used to snake around and over the Kickapoo river. You could still see the faint outline of the old double yellow line in some places! The weather was very pleasant in the mid sixities, and the woolybear caterpillars were out sunning themselves on the warm asphalt. We saw a few that were all black and some that had a very narrow brown stripe – must mean we’re in for a rough winter.