On this Ice Age Trail Holy Hill section we walk from Slinger to Holy Hill WI. Holy Hill hiking on the final day of my pilgrimage allows time for reflection. I finally reach the ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow: Holy Hill Church Wisconsin.
START: St. Peter Catholic Church, Slinger | END: Holy Hill – Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians
9.8 mi/ 15.8 km | 3h 19m | Holy Hill Section | Services: Grocery store and restaurants, Slinger; Holy Hill Café temporarily closed due to COVID, but gift shop sells snacks and water, Holy Hill WI
DAY ELEVEN of the Wisconsin Way in Pictures
I woke up on Day Eleven, welcoming the expectations flooding over me. Today was the final day of the Wisconsin Way pilgrimage. Today we would find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that innkeeper Bob so aptly described two days ago. Even before my first cup of coffee, I attempted to imagine the endpoint, Holy Hill WI.
Sure, I’d seen plenty of pictures of the twin-towered Holy Hill – Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. But today’s stage would be my first Holy Hill hiking experience. I couldn’t wait to walk the Ice Age Trail Holy Hill section. The other pilgrims of Fr. Kurz’s Wisconsin Way Introduction Pilgrimage shared their breakfast with me, and then we moved outdoors to watch the sunrise over Camp Vista.
Pilgrimage: Slow travel mindset
The night before, we’d swapped stories, and I got to know Lisa, Barb, Jonathan, Pam and Tom. Yet, I still looked forward to getting closer to my fellow pilgrims during the day’s Holy Hill hiking adventure.
From Camp Vista, we drove to Slinger in only 38 minutes—it took two days of walking to get me that far! I’d experienced so much during those two days in the Wisconsin Northwoods. The trees whizzing past the van window made me realize how much of my life back home I pass by day after day. What was I missing on the byways around my community? What if I slowed down and adapted a slow travel mindset once I returned?
Pike Lake State Park
After Mass at the chapel in the St. Peter Catholic Church office, we drove to Pike Lake State Park via Kettle Moraine Road to join up with the Ice Age Trail. As we said before, the Wisconsin Way pilgrimage route follows sections of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which is a national scenic trail. You can walk from the church to Pike Lake State Park—it’s less than 1.5 miles / 2.4 km—to the Ice Age Trail on the state park property. BTW, the distance given at the beginning of this post is for you walkers who are hiking the Wisconsin Way from Slinger, which is 9.8 mi/ 15.8 km north of the Holy Hill Church Wisconsin. Disclosure: Us van pilgrims walked about 5.2 miles / 8.4 km.
Rhythmic walking along the Ice Age Trail Holy Hill section
The Ice Age Trail skirts Pike Lake, and we followed it south out of the state park and onto Glassgo Drive. (For day hikers, there is an Ice Age Trail parking area just off Powder Hill Road at Pike Lake State Park where you can leave your vehicle.) My new Catholic friends led me in reciting the rosary while we walked toward Holy Hill WI. The rosary’s cadence fit our pace, and it was a sweet time of communal meditation.
Ice Age Trail Holy Hill WI uphill terrain
After Fr. Kurz dropped us off at The Ice Age Trail national trail, he drove to Holy Hill WI, parked the van and started back down the trail walking towards us. We met up with him on Ice Age Trail Holy Hill just after crossing Waterford Road.
During my 11-day Wisconsin Way pilgrimage, the fall colors seemed to be changing before my eyes, and this day of Holy Hill hiking was no exception. The trees arched overhead, creating colorful canopies that reminded me of gothic cathedral ceilings I’d visited on pilgrimages in Spain and France.
Glacial landscape mimics the ups and downs of life
While traversing open areas (note the cornfield in the image above), we could see cone-shaped hills deposited by receding glaciers. National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians, the Holy Hill church Wisconsin, sits atop one of the highest kames, 1330 feet / 405 meters above sea level. At one point during our Holy Hill hiking day, we caught a glimpse of the twin spires. The enthusiastic response from us pilgrims reminded me of Monte do Gozo, the hill of joy. There, Camino de Santiago pilgrims get their first previews of the Santiago cathedral’s three spires.
We had to mind traffic when crossing Shannon Road, near another Ice Age Trail parking area. But other than road crossings, we walked on footpaths through hardwood forests of maple and oak or open fields as we climbed towards Holy Hill church Wisconsin. The trail crosses private lands through this section, so be sure to respect the land and stay on the trails.
Time of silence to quiet the heart
Many pilgrims drive to Holy Hill, one of the best-known Catholic shrines in Wisconsin. But this footpath, the Ice Age Trail Holy Hill section, lends a time of silence to quiet the heart. The hush of the leaves in the wind seemed to whisper a welcome to the sacred place.
Holy Hill Road
The asphalt surface of Holy Hill Road may tempt you to follow. Instead, cross the road and continue uphill on the Ice Age Trail to Holy Hill WI.
One of the many blessings that I received by joining the Wisconsin Way Introductory Pilgrimage was to take part in the Stations of the Cross, as recounted by Fr. Kurz. His words brought to life the fourteen outdoor stations positioned along the final path leading up to the Basilica.
Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill Church Wisconsin
Each station focuses on a specific event in the final hours before and after Jesus’s crucifixion. Indoor or outdoor Stations of the Cross worldwide are used as mini-pilgrimages, so it was fitting that I finished my Wisconsin Way here.
Sculptor Joseph Aszklar
Joseph Aszklar sculpted the life-sized stations of the cross from 1918-1928. The Austrian-born sculptor who immigrated to Milwaukee from Poland in 1908 carved the statues from five tons of Bedford limestone, the material also used in the rebuilding of Chicago after the fire of 1867. Prominent buildings across the nation, including the Biltmore Estate and NYC’s Grand Central Station, are built of the white stone, also known as Indiana Limestone.
While hiking between each Station of the Cross on the pedestrian-only roadway, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer in unison.
Final destination: Holy Hill - Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians
The stations end just outside the lower Holy Hill Church Wisconsin. Since the tower was closed due to COVID, we couldn’t go up to the top. Instead, we all went our separate ways to pray and experience the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians.
The sanctuary of the Holy Hill Church Wisconsin is open for Mass, and you no longer need to preregister due to COVID. We recommend that you check their website before leaving home as safety measures are always changing during this time of the pandemic. The gift shop is open and sells snacks and water. The Holy Hill Cafe is typically open Wed-Sat from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm and Sun from 8:30 am – 3:00 pm. The guest house and monastery are temporarily closed.
After a day of Holy Hill hiking, I was ready to spend time in the Shrine Chapel, where chairs were spaced for social distancing.
National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians Chapel at Holy Hill
At the prearranged time, we met at the van to share our experiences. Fr. Kurz drove me to my friend’s home near Hubertus, where I stayed until my flight out of Milwaukee several days later. During the days following my Wisconsin Way pilgrimage, I visited Germantown, the Joan of Arc Chapel at the Marquette University and the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee.
Wisconsin Way pilgrims who continue south from Holy Hill WI would walk on the Loew Lake segment of the Ice Age Trail.
Wisconsin Way guidebook now available on Amazon
My latest guidebook entitled, Spiritual and Walking Guide: The Wisconsin Way is now available on Amazon. The book, about walking the 140 miles from the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help to Holy Hill WI contains:
turn-by-turn directions for your pilgrimage
- full-color maps
- elevation profiles
- meditations for the inner journey
- suggestions for places to stay
- essential info needed to plan your outer journey
Order it now on Amazon or ask for it at your favorite bookstore.
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was NOT provided with accommodations, meals or other compensation for the purpose of this guide. The Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
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