Wisconsin Way DAY ELEVEN: Holy Hill Hiking from Slinger

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

Trees silhouetted black against vibrant sky of oranges and yellow during pilgrimage to Holy Hill church Wisconsin
Morning glory at Camp Vista, Dundee, WI

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.

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Rhythmic walking along the Ice Age Trail Holy Hill section

4 hikers spread out along the Ice Age Trail Holy Hill section under trees
Ice Age Trail Holy Hill section begins at Pike Lake State Park

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

The Ice Age Trail Holy Hill section that the Wisconsin Way follows undulates up and own over glacial terrain on the way to Holy Hill church Wisconsin | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

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.

three pilgrims stand facing man in red shirt and black hat - surrounded my trees in fall colors - leaves on ground
Northbound Fr. Andrew Kurz, in the red shirt, meets up with Lisa, Barb and Jonathan (L-R) heading south on the Holy Hill section of the Wisconsin Way | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

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

two men walk on green grass pathway with cornfields to the left. Cone-shaped mountain in fall colors rises from the horizon on the Ice Age Trail Holy Hill section
Fr. Andrew Kurz and Jonathan Weyer share time as they walk towards a kame, a cone-shaped hill created by glaciers in their final stages of melt | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

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.

close-up of sign reading "Ice Age Trail Holy Hill segment" on the way to Holy Hill WI
Holy Hill hiking on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and the Wisconsin Way | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

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

The road less traveled: Ice Age Trail Holy Hill segment | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

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.

Pam, Tom, Lisa and Barb (L-R) reach the gates of 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

Man with black hat and wooden walking stick taps his heart in front of one of the Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill Church Wisconsin
Fr. Andrew Kurz shares devotions at the first station | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

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.

Fourth Station of the Cross: Jesus meets His Mother by sculptor Joseph Aszklar

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

4 hikers stride up steep trail to next station of the cross at Holy Hill WI through the golden leaves
National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians | Wisconsin Way pilgrims follow Fr. Kurz to the next Station of the Cross at Holy Hill WI | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

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.

twin spires of a church rise above the forest in golden fall colors at Holy Hill Church Wisconsin where the way is made by walking
Holy Hill Church Wisconsin | National Register of Historic Places photo

The sanctuary of the Holy Hill Church Wisconsin is open for Mass, but you must preregister due to COVID. The gift shop is open and sells snacks and water, but the Café and Guest House are closed until further notice because of the pandemic.

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

ceiling arches in half circle making all eyes focus on an icon of Mary on the wall. People sit and stand praying at the holy Hill Church Wisconsin
National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians Chapel | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

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.

Wait list for Wisconsin Way guidebook

Be the first to review the Wisconsin Way guidebook! Simply send a note to UNSTOPPABLE Stacey and mention that you wish to be added to the Spiritual and Walking Guide: The Wisconsin Way waiting list. The book about walking the 140 miles from the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help to Holy Hill WI will be released in 2021.

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.

In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, Stacey earns a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of keeping this travel blog active. 

Further, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for reading.

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