Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail
The Ice Age Trail is a national scenic trail located entirely in the state of Wisconsin. The trail winds for more than 1,000 miles following the edge of the last continental glacier to cut through Wisconsin's landscape. With its Western end located in Interstate Park on the St. Croix River in Polk County and its Eastern end located in Potawatomi State Park on Green Bay in Door County it would take roughly three months to walk through the entire trail.
The trail travels through 30 counties on state, federal, county, and private lands connecting dozens of communities. With hundreds of trail heads and access points located along the route, hikers can pick up on the trail where it is most convenient for them. This also means that you can pick and choose which features you want to see on the Ice Age trail and find the nearest trail head without having to hike for days to get to your desired location.
The Ice Age Trail is primarily an off-road hiking and backpacking trail which provides excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing, sightseeing, bird watching, and where permitted camping. In winter you can find places where the Ice Age Trail is open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Since the Ice Age Trail is primarily an off-road trail ATV's and other motorized vehicles are not permitted.
Personal Experience on the Ice Age Trail:
When I was around seven years old my parents took me and my two younger sisters out hiking. While hiking we found an unmarked trail and started walking. It seemed like days and we still had not double backed and returned to the truck. After about three hours we finally hit a road and started walking what we assumed to be the direction of the truck. We found a bar and my dad got directions back to the truck and returned half an hour later to pick us up.
A few years later my family along with some aunts and uncles were camping up near Post Lake, Wisconsin. The guys all headed out for a day on the lake so the women decided to find a good hiking trail and spend the day hiking and having a picnic. They asked the office at the campsite where a good hiking trail was and we started off. When we got there I looked at the map and realized it was part of the Ice Age Trail. Right away I said that if we wanted to return to the cars we were going to need to turn around at some point or we would never get back. Not to my surprise the adults did not believe me and said we would follow the trail until we got tired or returned to the cars.
Several hours later we were still hiking and very hungry. We had crossed over several roads and still had not turned around. It wasn't until we hit highway 17 with a sign that said Rhinelander ahead that they knew we had gone too far. Instead of just taking the trail back we walked the road and cut back on what they were hoping was a different trail that would lead us back to the cars.
Eventually we made it back exhausted and hungry. Due to my personal experience on the Ice Age Trail I thought it would be helpful for others to learn how the Ice Age Trail works and lend a guide in using the trail properly.
Tips for Hiking the Ice Age Trail:
- Parking: There are numerous trail heads with parking located throughout the state. All state parks and forests have parking as well as a registration fee.
- Trail Signage: Blaze yellow is the official color of the Ice Age Trail and will mark the trail route. You will either find yellow paint or a plastic yellow rectangles on trees and posts along the trail (Not all state and county parks mark the Ice Age Trail due to the connecting of other trails, consult a local park map or the Ice Age Trail Atlas for these segments of unmarked trails).
- What to wear: Although most of the trail is unpaved and consists of uneven terrain, sturdy walking shoes will work just fine. If the trail is not completely secluded to forests it might be wise to stick to pants as walking through tall grasses can cause scratches and the legs to itch. Multiple layers and rain gear is necessary for longer hikes as the weather will change throughout the different terrains of the trail. Keeping your pants and shirts tucked in will help eliminate the possibility of coming in contact with ticks as well as give better protection against mosquitoes and other insects.
- Safety: During hunting season some stretches of trail may be used by hunters and it's encouraged for hikers to wear blaze orange during hunting season. Be prepared for natural dangers, such as bears, snakes, or poison ivy. Bear attacks are rare, and Wisconsin is home to only two breeds of rattlesnake both of which are endangered. The likelihood of encountering any of these animals is extremely rare. Poison ivy, dehydration, and heat exhaustion are the top three issues to be concerned with when traveling on the Ice Age trail.
Things to Remember When Planning a Hike for the Ice Age Trail:
Although there are hundreds of trail heads and access points located along the Ice Age Trail not all are located in populated areas with facilities. Due to the vast amount of access points, you can generally find them a few miles apart. However, in remote areas they can be as far apart as 10 miles.
Before taking to the Ice Age Trail it is wise to know where you are starting and how long that particular stretch of trail is. It wouldn't be a bad idea to think out your plans so you can pack enough water and food during the hike, as well as plan a turn around point.
Follow the trail heads. If you see unmarked or deer trails don't take them, it is easier to get lost when you can't find a trail head to follow.
If you are at a state park or forest remember the boundaries of the park. The trail goes through the park and if you don't know the boundaries you could easily get taken out of the park and farther down the Ice Age Trail. For example at Devil's Lake there are other hiking trails that cross and connect to the Ice Age trail, so it is important to always remember which trail you are hiking on and where you need to get off.
Before taking any hike on the Ice Age Trail do the research and prepare a guide for the best possible experience. If you are looking for some ideas on day hikes, the Ice Age Trail Alliance has a great website where you can find just about anything you want to know about the trail. From the history of how the trail was formed, to where you can camp, and everything inbetween this is the best resource when it comes to knowing about the Ice Age Trail. The website is a great resource for free downloadable guidebooks, as well as for finding out what the conditions of the trails are going to be like before you head out.
Be sure to bring a cell phone in case of an emergency, but remember it may not always work in remote areas of the trail. Always be sure to tell family and friends where you are going and when you plan to be back. Be prepared and make sure to take enough food and water to sustain you during the hike, and most importantly have fun and enjoy the beautiful scenery and wildlife.