Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Warm winter hiking, warm memories, cold noses

Though we've hiked many of these trails and bluffs and paddled as far as Bridge 14, this is the year we hope to explore all of the nooks and crannies of this favorite playground of ours, the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. This is the year we've taken on the KVR Hiking Challenge, a challenge to hike all the trails within over 8000 acres of blufftops and river valleys and everything in between.
Though the ground was snow covered, the day was rather balmy for February in Wisconsin. We had our snowshoes in the vehicle, but could see that with the wet conditions, they'd be a hindrance rather than help, so in the car they remained. We chose to hike a trail near the Visitor Center, the Wintergreen Trail. It's an easy one to overlook, tucked off behind the building as it is. We had never hiked it ourselves until a couple summers ago, and we loved seeing it then. What would it be like today? Some segments were nearly snow-free, but close in and lower along the bluff, we had icy patches to slow us down. Being slowed down is not a bad thing. We're fast walkers by nature, even as we've slowed down a bit with the addition of years of life. One of the challenges for us will be...slow down! Look around and enjoy the journey more deeply. We hiked out to the end of this trail, which stops at a precipitous overlook of the Kickapoo River below. Another challenge will be accepting that though there are sixty miles of trails, we aren't going to be able to accomplish this by hiking only sixty miles. One of the wonderful qualities of the Reserve is the limited roadside access to the interior trails, and this first segment illustrates that well. Hike out .93 miles, then hike back out that same distance!

Before we hiked all the way back out, we discovered something our faster pace had missed on the way in...a small ice cave. This valley is known for the many ice caves that form under the ridgetops and we've enjoyed exploring many of those, both with KVR sponsored hikes and on our own. We even developed an EarthCache that highlights one of these, and have guided groups out to it a couple times in past years.

                                                          Taking a GPS location of this small ice cave.

We decided we could try to hike the trails that are close in to the Visitor Center, or at least as many as our muscles could manage for the day. Most of these segments are not very long, meant more to encourage visitors to begin their exploration of the Reserve. We headed out down the hill, along the rustic steps and found ourselves enjoying a classic KVR scene...rocky bluffs rising above the twisting river. We listened for birds in the floodplain forest, stark in its winter dress. Woodpeckers and chickadees are always present, but the hope for a Goshawk is always there. Today we'd have to settle for the woodpeckers and chickadees, but they're a treat any time of year. I'm sure with exploring the riverbanks, looking for birds and checking out little things here and there along the way, we added to our day's mileage...but again, that's kind of the point.

After hoofing it down and back up those stairs, we still had a fair amount of energy and figured...keep on hiking. We walked up part of Old 131, which is now a multi-use trail, but back in the day was the actual highway that the families who once lived in this valley traveled to get to their farms. We followed a couple of branch trails and made some neat discoveries as we did so.
We'd hoped to hike the dam trail, but we realized....none of this has to be rushed. A good amount of our shared recreational life the past ten years has been dominated by geocaching, and while we choose our caching based on scenery and hiking, the focus is different...find that box in the woods! Hiking the trails with no other agenda than to see what's around the next bend is a refreshing change to our time spent outdoors. We came into that geocaching stuff with a love of hiking and exploration already developed, and choosing to pursue this challenge helps bring us back to those shared roots. We ended our day completing six listed trail segments of a total of sixty, with an estimated four miles of hiking. Hiking these bluffs, with their dramatic elevation changes, can feel like more than that, but we ended our day with pleasantly aching muscles and lovely memories on the trails.
Ending the day's hike under winter skies

KVR Trail Challenge segments hiked today were...Segments 20-25.


  1. What is that teepee like structure Gwyn? I love the photos.
    Tom Hokkanen

    1. Tom, It's an actual Plains style tipi. There is also a wickiup constructed on the property, where various small group events, like children's crafts, are held during events. Thanks for taking a look. I need to get cracking on hikes 2 and 3 before we get out for hike 4!