Wisconsin Hiking: Kettle Moraine State Forest – Emma Carlin Trails

Another weekend, another hike! What a pleasure it was to be back out in nature after completing another 40-hour work week. The sun was shining, the bees were buzzing, the birds were chirping, and we were marching down the orange loop of the Emma Carlin Trail section in Kettle Moraine State Park-South.


I would like to start by commenting on the impressive natural beauty this section of the forest boasts. Last weekend, the area was lush and gorgeous – thick with greens of all shades and trees of all species! Many moments along this trail took my breath away, leaving me speechless (which is not an easy feat, when it comes to this gobby hiker).

Trail DifficultyIMG_8866

We hiked the orange loop. This trail is six miles long, and considered “moderate to hard” on Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources website. I’d semi-agree with that description, as there were several hills that a beginner might struggle with, but I’d probably lean more toward a “moderate” difficulty rating. I found the hike only slightly vigorous, though I did discover a few new muscle aches the following day!

Emma Carlin Loops:

  • Brown (3.5 miles, moderate)
  • Orange (6 miles, moderate/hard)
  • Green (8 miles hard)


All state parks require a daily or annual admission sticker on each vehicle in the lot. You can find information about sticker prices on Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources website.

There are multiple ways to purchase your sticker, but I think it’s easiest to do it right at the park, at a park office. There is no park office located in the Emma Carlin entrance area, but the Kettle Moraine State Forest-South Headquarters is just down the road.



When the park office is closed, you can still purchase a sticker by filling out an order form and putting money into an envelope located on the premises. You’ll usually find a little tube at the park entrance to each trail section, where you can deposit your envelope. This type of payment is based on the honor system. DSCN2753

As I have said before, the conditions of the state parks are great, and the beauty you will find within them is immense. These aspects alone will hopefully be inspiration enough to support the parks by honoring the system.


  • Trails are surrounded by thick green forest.
  • Orange loops was more difficult than many other trails in the area
  • Multiple loops with varying lengths and levels of difficulty


  • Pesticide application: As I was hiking into the forest, I spotted signs warning hikers about pesticide img_8855application in the area. The worst part was that the pesticides were sprayed on the day of my hike, putting me (and other hikers and bikers) in danger of being exposed to those pesticides. I found myself very disappointed in the state park system at that moment. This is one preserved portion of land, I had hoped would be, well… preserved.
  • Shared trails: The issue is not that I have a problem with sharing, it’s that the paths are narrow in many areas and groups of mountain bikers whipping around corners and flying at you is not exactly my favorite thing to deal with on a hike. The energy of the partakers in these two activities is much different – the opposite, in my opinion. My hikes tend to be easy going, relaxing, and inspirational. An intense, high level of adrenaline seems to come with mountain biking. Both activities are great, but when the two crash together, it’s not as fun for either party.
  • High traffic: This trail is popular. The parking lot was full when we came in, and a little less than full when we left. We encountered dozens of other people on the trail, from toddlers to senior citizens. If you are looking for a nice quiet walk, I’d recommend heading to the Northern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Park, which I’ve found to be less busy.

Location & Directions

GPS Coordinates:

Here are the GPS coordinates for the parking area in the Emma Carlin Section of Kettle Moraine State Park.


Emma Carlin Trail hub Address:

County Road Z

Eagle, Wisconsin


Siri’s driving directions (From Zoo Interchange to Emma Carlin):

  1. Take I-94 West toward Madison.
  2. Drive 19 miles and take exit 285 (County Hwy C) toward Delafield.
  3. Drive .3 miles and turn right onto N Genesee St.
  4. Drive 2.8 miles and turn right onto US Highway 18.
  5. Drive 3.1 miles and turn left onto State Road 67.
  6. Drive 5.0 miles and turn right onto County Road Cl.
  7. Drive 2.3 miles until road ends. Turn right onto County highway ZZ.
  8. Drive 1.4 miles and take a slight right onto County Road N.
  9. Drive 1.1 miles and turn left onto County Road Z.
  10. Drive .9 miles and arrive at Emma Carlin Trail section.

Here are the directions from Alltrails.com.


Reference materials

State Park Trail info:

For hikers:

 For mountain bikers:

Overall, I enjoyed the hike with an intensity I cannot accurately describe. I find this feeling of elation to be a commonDSCN2756 theme on my hikes, so part of it could be that I’m addicted and incredibly biased in this department.

Thank you to volunteers and state park workers for maintaining the trails. Without you, hikers and bikers could not hike and bike in beautiful areas like these!

And as always, thank you to my readers! Without you, I would have no inspiration to share my adventures! Stick with me for more trail info and adventure stories! If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to send me an email at twotentsdown@yahoo.com. You can also connect with me on social media through the buttons below.


Until next time, I’m just… Two-Tents-Down-Logo-Color-CROPPED

Add Comment