The Ice Age National Scenic Trail mostly follows older trails and minor roadways. Although it primarily is a footpath, many legs are open also for other activities.
It stretches 1,200 miles (1,900 km) in Wisconsin. The trail is administered by the National Park Service, and is constructed and maintained by private and public agencies including the Ice Age Trail Alliance, a non-profit and member/volunteer-based organization with 21 local chapters.
The trail roughly follows the location of the terminal moraine from the last Ice Age. As the route traverses the moraine, it sometimes meanders into areas west of the moraine, including the Driftless Area in southwestern Wisconsin. The trail passes through 30 of Wisconsin's 72 counties, from the northwestern part of the state to the Lake Michigan shoreline in the east. The western end of the trail is at Interstate State Park along the St. Croix River, which is the border between northwestern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. The eastern terminus of the Ice Age Trail lies at Potawatomi State Park, along Wisconsin's Door Peninsula off of Sturgeon Bay.
Along its route, the trail crosses many local parks, state parks and forests, state wildlife and natural areas, and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The trail often coincides with other trails within various county and municipal parks. It passes through the land owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, by the Ice Age Trail Alliance, and by private citizens.
At one point, the trail separates into two just north of Devil's Lake State Park. The western portion of trail, 92 miles (148 km) in length, is referred to as the Western Bifurcation. The Western Bifurcation consists mostly of proposed trail sections (though several miles of established trail do exist). The Western Bifurcation is rejoined by its 75-mile eastern counterpart near the town of Coloma. Though the eastern portion of the trail is more readily developed than its western counterpart, both are recognized portions of the Ice Age Trail.
As of 2008, the trail consisted of 467 miles (752 km) of traditional hiking paths, 103 miles (166 km) of multi-use trails, and 529 miles (852 km) of connecting roads and sidewalks.
The Ice Age Trail was established by Act of Congress in 1980, in large part as a result of the efforts of Wisconsin Congressman Henry S. Reuss, who in 1976 authored the book On the Trail of the Ice Age. The trail's origins, however, date to the 1950s with the dream of Milwaukee native Ray Zillmer, who in 1958 founded the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation (now the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Inc.) with the goal of establishing a national park in Wisconsin running the route of the last glaciation.
Primary attractions include topography left by glaciation in the Last Ice Age. Glacial features along the trail include kettles, potholes, eskers, and glacial erratics. Many of the best examples of glacial features in Wisconsin are exhibited in units of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, most of which lie along the trail.
Many species of mammals can be seen along the trail, including red fox, American red squirrel, white-tailed deer, porcupine, black bear and grey wolf. Birds seen along the southern part of the trail include the Acadian flycatcher, Henslow's sparrow, red-headed woodpecker or hooded warbler, while further north white-throated sparrows, ruffed grouse and bald eagles become more common.
There are trailheads and access points located in many places along its 1,200-mile route.
The trail is open primarily to hiking, although other activities are allowed where the trail follows other existing routes. Although the trail is divided into shorter segments, there are many opportunities for longer-distance backpacking trips, with camping opportunities including shelters in both units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Several trail chapters offer awards for completing all segments within their jurisdiction, and the Alliance also has a "cold cache" program to encourage hikers to seek out glacial features along the trail using GPS receivers.
Fees and permits
A National Park Pass is not required for the Ice Age Trail, but some public lands such as state and county parks along the trail may charge entrance fees. Camping registration, permits, and fees may also apply.
Hike and camp
The trail is open year round.
Information on hiking and camping is available from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Camping is available along the Ice Age Trail in national, state and county forests and in many state and county parks, including some private campgrounds. Campgrounds can vary from primitive walk-in campsites to facilities that have electric hookups. The Ice Age Trail Atlas and Guidebook sold by the Ice Age Trail Alliance provides camping and lodging details for all segments of the trail.
Some segments may be closed during Wisconsin's November 9-day deer-hunting season. Hikers are advised to wear blaze orange when hiking in areas that allow hunting.
- hike with a partner.
- carry a map, compass, appropriate weather gear, water, light, matches, first aid kit, signal whistle and food, even for day hikes.
- leave an itinerary of your trip with family or friends.
- stay in contact with home or friends on longer hikes -- let them know your location and when you've arrived home from your trip.
- carry a cell phone -- it may not work in remote sections of the Trail.
- avoid camping within a half-mile of road crossings.
- do not tell strangers where you are headed or plan to camp; if you run into a suspicious person, consider moving on to another location.
- never feed wildlife, or leave food/garbage unattended.