Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Length: 1,000 miles.
Completion: More than 50 percent.
Terrain: Wisconsin’s glacial landscape of moraines, prairies, bogs, lakes, and the great north woods.
Highlights: The planet’s most notable and scenic collection of glacial evidence.
For more information: Ice Age Trail Alliance • 2110 Main Street, Cross Plains, WI 53528 • (800) 227-0046
“The Land Time Forgot” will be long remembered by walkers who roam Wisconsin’s glacial landscape on the Ice Age Trail.
From sand prairies festooned with wildflowers in southern Wisconsin to the old hemlock and fragrant balsam in the north woods, and from the rushing waters of the St. Croix River to the shores of Lake Michigan, the Ice Age Trail links the continents best and most scenic examples of glaciation in a series of parks, preserves and forests.
Ice Age Trail is intended to be a recognition—indeed, a celebration–of America’s glacial heritage. Hiking the trail gives you a close-up look at the ice carved landscapes left behind when the glaciers retreated. The trail follows the edge of the terminal line of the last glaciation, which occurred some 10,000 years ago. If Wisconsin has more than a passing resemblance to Scandinavia, it’s because “America’s Dairyland” and Northern Europe were glaciated at the same time.
The thick sheets of ice that once completely covered what is now Wisconsin carved the state’s most distinctive features. The rolling hills and vast plains were cut by advancing glaciers; the lakes, bogs and marshes formed as they melted.
To walk the trail is to be immersed in a kind of Ice-Speak, a language of eskers and moraines, drumlin fields and kettle lakes, erratics and striations. The geological story behind the scenery is almost as fascinating as the scenery itself.
From the path you can spot loons picking their way among boulders dragged from Canada by colossal sheets of ice. Hike the beds of ancient glacial lakes and rivers and listen for the lonely call of the wolf.
Balsam-fir forests and oak woodlands, open prairie and clear glacial lakes are other Northern European-like features of the trail, which can be accessed easily by walkers heading out from Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee.
Communities along the trail add a foreign accent to the landscape. Mischicot and New Clarus are two villages founded by Swiss immigrants, Erin by the Irish, Scandinavia by you guessed it. Poles, Finns and Norwegians predominate in other towns near the trail.
From its eastern end at Potowatomi State Park on Green Bay, the trail follows the present and former shorelines of Lake Michigan, the crests of eskers, and the edges of bogs. It passes through state forest lands and the famed Kettle Moraine.
The longest lengths of trail are in the forested Wisconsin counties to the north and west. Amid spruce, fir, maple and birch of the northern forest, the trail enters a region full of lakes and bogs formed by the melting of glaciers. It’s wet walking through a rough and swampy land; the trail crosses many beaver dams. In the lake-sprinkled Harrison Hills is the highpoint of the trail, 1,875-foot Lookout Mountain. While walking through Chequamon National Forests, walkers get a hint of what was once a vast white pine and hemlock forest–timber that built the cities of the Midwest.
Much of the trail is way-marked by signs with the Ice Age Trail logo–a map of Wisconsin depicting sheets of ice and two sets of hikers’ footprints. Paint blazes (usually yellow) and wooden directional signs also help out. Surely America’s cutest trail symbol is the mastodon used by the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation.