By Amy Bayer
One of 11 trails in the nation designated by Congress as a protected trail of particular natural beauty, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a work in progress that covers more than 1,100 miles. It winds through 30 different Wisconsin counties between Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls and Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay.
The trail follows the path of the last glacier that receded from Wisconsin about 10,000 years ago, and you can see the altererd landscape these huge sheets of ice left behind by visiting various segments of the trail.
Home to more than 15,000 lakes and 13,500 miles of navigable streams and rivers, as well as dense Northwoods, sandy central plains, coastal regions, and rolling hills and valleys, Wisconsin actually has the glaciers to thank for most of its unique terrain.
Hiking the Trail
With 122 segments varying in length from one to 15 miles, Ice Age Trail users can go for long or short hikes. The routes also range in difficulty from flat, easy paths to strenuous, challenging hills.
Hikers will wind through forests, around lakes, across meadows and through some of Wisconsin’s picturesque small towns, all while witnessing some of Wisconsin’s oldest natural features. Some of the rocks along the trail are more than two billion years old.
These segments are in addition to the 500 miles of connector routes along scenic country roads between the completed portions.
Helping the Cause
Though it's designated as a national scenic trail, the Ice Age Trail is locally built and maintained, and requires footbridges, boardwalks, signs, benches, directional arrows, trailheads, parking lots, and most of all, people to help construct and clear the routes to make the best possible hiking experience for everyone to enjoy.
More than 2,000 volunteers from the Upper Midwest work together to keep the trail in good condition. Getting involved is easy, and there are multiple ways to join in.
Here are a few ways you can help:
- Join one of the Ice Age Trail’s Mobile Skills Crews. Every year, the Ice Age Trail Alliance creates events around Wisconsin for volunteer groups to work together in a fun environment on construction, maintenance and community outreach.
- If you want to lend a hand but need to stay local, you can join a nearby Ice Age Trail Chapter. Local chapters lead hikes and hold project days in their communities to build stronger relationships amongst the people in the area enjoying the trail.
Find more opportunities, membership information and tips for hiking the trail at the alliance's website.
And discover for yourself why more than 1.25 million people hike on the Ice Age Trail every year. Strap on those boots, grab your camera and get ready for an epic adventure that's been ages in the making.
Looking for some scenery with a story? Try these five amazing Ice Age Trail overlooks that will transport you to another era.