The smell hits you first.
A deep, rich, pine aroma that for me is closely tied to some of my fondest memories of summer and fall weekends spent up north.
While Wisconsin's great North Woods are perhaps the best place in the state to immerse yourself deep in a sea of evergreens, the Kettle Moraine State Forest Southern Unit's Scuppernong Trails are a great option for getting in some pine time a little closer to home.
Located between Dousman and Eagle in Waukesha County, the Scuppernong Trails feature three trail loops through pine plantations and mixed hardwood forest, providing options for hikes from 2 to 5 miles.
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail also cuts through the trail area, providing another few miles of hiking along a more narrow trail that cuts deeper into the forest.
In the winter, the trails are groomed for classic cross-country skiing and are not open to hikers, skate skiers or snowshoers. Pets are allowed on all of the trails as long as they're on a leash.
Hunting is allowed in most of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, so be sure to wear bright colors if you hike during hunting season.
Ample parking, water, pit toilets and picnic facilities are available at the trailhead.
Route: Park at the trailhead north of County Road ZZ, just east of Highway 67.
The classic cross-country ski route follows the trails counter-clockwise, so this is a good way to hike as well.
The trails don't waste any time taking you deep into the pines. The joint red, orange and green trails immediately pass through a towering pine cathedral, filling the air with that wonderful woods smell that car air freshener manufacturers so futilely try to mimic.
As you come out of the pines, continue to follow the rolling trail through the glacial landscape. The forest transitions to mixed hardwoods, covered in oranges, reds and greens that coincidentally (or not) match the trail markers in the fall.
One of the best things about these trails are the various loops and connector trails that allow you to create a hike as long or as short as you'd like. At the first trail fork, you can continue to follow the joint orange and green loops to the right or cut your hike shorter and follow the red loop left.
If you opt for the longer hike, you'll be treated to a quiet hike through mostly hardwood forest. I had the trails nearly to myself on a recent weekday, save for a few hikers near the trailhead, a cross-country team that passed me in a blur of sports bras and running shorts, and a startled doe that decided I wasn't worth more than a 5-second stare-down before darting back into the forest.
At the northern end of the orange and green loop, the trails pass through evergreens again and alongside the Pinewoods Campground, with a few sites visible from the trail.
Once all three loops join up again, look for the short side trail to the observation loop (designated with white trail markers), which leads to an overlook with a fantastic view of Ottawa Lake and the surrounding forest. The observation point faces southwest, providing a great spot to watch the sun set.
Difficulty level: Moderate. Fairly steep hills are common along most of the trails, making for a more challenging — and interesting — hike. The trails are rocky in spots, and sandy, grassy or dirt-packed in others, but wide and well-maintained throughout.
All trail crossroads are clearly marked with maps of the entire system, which makes navigation easy.
When to go: The trails are open to hikers as long as there isn't snow on the ground.
Spring and summer are great for seeing vegetation in full bloom. Fall's changing leaves are a great backdrop for a hike, and the bugs aren't as much of a nuisance as temperatures — and leaves — drop.
How much it will set you back: A daily admission pass to the state park for vehicles with Wisconsin plates is $7, or $25 for a yearly pass (out-of-state vehicle stickers are $10/day or $35/annual).
While you're there: Extend your day trip into a weekend getaway with a stay at one of the state forest's campgrounds. The Pinewoods Campground is open from mid-May through mid-October, and the nearby Ottawa Lake Campground is open year-round.
In the fall, pick your own pumpkins at Schuett Farms in Mukwonago, open daily from 10 a.m. until dark. The farm also has an 8-acre corn maze with an interactive checkpoint system you can use to help navigate on your smartphone. W299-S6370 State Road 83, Mukwonago; (262) 968-4348
Getting there: The Scuppernong Trails are accessible off County Road ZZ about 40 miles west of Milwaukee via I-94 and Highway 67.
More information: For more information on the Scuppernong Trails and the Kettle Moraine State Forest, call (262) 594-6200.
Updated: April 25, 2014
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