Parnell Tower to Crooked Lake, WI

Ice Age Trail

One of many interesting, even beautiful, varieties of mushroom on the Ice Age Trail.
One of many interesting, even beautiful, varieties of mushroom on the Ice Age Trail.

In my continuing quest to do at least one hike — a real hike, as opposed to the city walks I did the last two days in Plymouth — every place I visit, I did another two segments of the Ice Age Trail. While the Ice Age Trail is a National Scenic Trail, unlike the Appalachian Trail, it has many paved segments: For instance, around the west side of Road America, between Glenbeulah and Elkhart Lake. In all, 530 of 1,200 miles are paved. While I accept that city walking naturally involves pavement, when I am hiking I prefer to avoid it. Otherwise, what is the point?

Last year I hiked south from Glenbeulah to the Greenbush Campground, and from there to the Parnell Tower. This year, I continued south from Parnell Tower to Butler Lake, then to Crooked Lake.

The Parnell Tower parking lot is supposed to open at 6:00 a.m. At 7:06 a.m., it was still closed. So, my wife dropped me off at the gate. I started up the stairs toward the tower, but it is easier walking to the side of the the too short, too wide, stairs. Split left at the first bench. A little over a half mile, turn south onto the Ice Age Trail. A quarter mile later, cross County U. (The road which accesses the Parnell Tower parking lot.)

Mosquito nirvana. Thankfully no zika -carrying aedes aegypti in Wisconsin. Yet.
Mosquito nirvana. Thankfully no zika -carrying aedes aegypti in Wisconsin. Yet.

The next three miles to County V, seem to travel along a narrow finger of land, which is 20-50 above the frequent wet lands and ponds which dot the mostly dark forest. There are very few flowers in the forest, but many interesting molds and mushrooms, and more mosquitoes than you can shake a can of Off! at.

South of County V, the trail breaks out into the open, as it turns west along the north shore / wet lands of Butler Lake. Suddenly, there were no mosquitoes, but tons of flowers, especially the large cluster of tiny white flowers, which was by far the most frequent flower we saw, and which grows in dense patches along Wisconsin’s highways and country roads. Maybe 5% of those white flowers were immature, with such specimens all green, and protected by a “cage” of firm stems.

After about 4.5 miles, the segment ends at the Butler Lake TH. The trailhead has a hand pump well, which trickles water, and a number of nature signs. The trailhead also serves as the terminus of the 3.1 mile Butler Lake Loop Trail, if you are looking for some extra mileage. The trailhead has no toilet, but what do you need a toilet for when you have woods? ;-)

Immature (left) and mature (right) flower that is the most common I saw in Wisconsin. Note the stem cage protecting the immature plant.
Immature (left) and mature (right) flower that is the most common I saw in Wisconsin. Note the stem cage protecting the immature plant.

From the Butler Lake TH, the trail climbs a short set of stairs. Don’t head out the south end of the parking lot: That is the horse / snowmobile trail, which parallels, and occasionally crosses, the Ice Age Trail. It is not illegal to walk on the snowmobile trail, but is illegal for anything other than hikers on the Ice Age Trail.

Other the prairie at Buter Lake’s north end, there were a few more open areas south of Butler Lake, and they tended to be larger than the ones north of it. In each open area, the mosquitoes magically disappeared. It was a welcome relief as, despite a re-application of Off!, I was getting eaten alive. The buzzing was so bad around the back of my head, I tried several times to video them. But I was not flexible enough, as I am not a Chinese gymnast. By the end of the hike, I had several dozen bites across my shoulders. Thankfully no chiggers, though, the bites of which are still itching three weeks after my hike on Oklahoma’s Bison Trail, where I picked them up. That despite the trail frequently becoming indistinct with overgrowth, weeds & grasses, in the open areas.

1.4 miles south of Butler Lake, the Ice Age Trail crosses County F. At the 2.0 mile mark, at the south end of a clearing, there is a branch trail to the Shelter #3, the “Dundee Shelter”.

Crooked Lake
Crooked Lake

Just past the split, the trail begins following the west shore of Kellings Lakes, at the south end of which is a “dog training area”. I was under the impression that meant simply there might be some hunters training their dogs there, not actually firing off shots. So imagine my concerned surprise when I heard a quite close, very loud, shot. I hear guns all the time in Arizona, but that really got my attention. And it seemed like it was towards the trail, not over the lake. I was concerned enough that I yelled to let them know I was there. Conveniently, south of that point, there is a small rise between the lake and the trail, so I had some cover. Thankfully, there was no more shooting.

At 3.3 miles, the Ice Age Trail crosses dirt Division Rd. Just past that, the trail begins following the west shore of Crooked Lake. The segment ends a mile later at County SS. I turned up the dirt road, towards the boat ramp, where my patient wife was waiting to pick me up.


Plymouth’s 1/4-mile dirt track normally runs on Saturday, when instead we’d be at Road America all day. I had thought about travelling an hour north to the paved 1/2-mile Wisconsin International Raceway oval in Kaukauna, which runs on Thursday. But since my wife & I probably wouldn’t get back until midnight, after my shower back at the hotel in Plymouth, I called an audible and we headed to Road America to watch the Porsche GT3 Cup and Lamborghini Trofeo practice, and rent a golf cart for the weekend. (A golf cart, bicycle or scooter, is a necessity if you want to quickly navigate such a large track.)

GPS File: Parnell_Tower_to_Crooked_Lake

Distance: 10.15 mi.

AEG: 815 ft.

Time: 3h 26m


Hike Video

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