Ice Age National Scenic Trail
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail stretches more than 1,000 miles across Wisconsin. Photo by NPS.
At A Glance
- Congress designated the Ice Age Trail a National Scenic Trail in 1980—a designation bestowed on only 10 other trails in the country, including the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.
- The trail passes through a patchwork of public and private land and is cooperatively managed by the Ice Age Trail Alliance, the National Park Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, county and municipal park and forestry departments. In addition, other civic entities and private landowners manage certain segments.
- You won't see woolly mammoths or saber-toothed tigers on the trail, but you may see animals such as the red fox, American red squirrel, white-tailed deer, porcupine, black bear and grey wolf along with bird species such as Acadian flycatcher, Henslow's sparrow, red-headed woodpecker, white-throated sparrows, ruffed grouse and bald eagles.
What is a drumlin? Learn more about glacial landscape features with the Ice Age Trail Alliance’s glossary.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Wisconsin? Consider this: Just 15,000 years ago, during what is known as the Ice Age, the northern U.S.—including Wisconsin—was blanketed with mile-thick glaciers. There’s perhaps no better way to understand how these glaciers sculpted our modern landscape than by hiking the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
Stretching more than 1,000 miles through Wisconsin, the Ice Age Trail traces the edge of the last glacier that covered North America, highlighting the finest features of the glacial landscape, as well as other scenic and natural resources. The moraines, eskers, erratics, kettles, drumlins, kames and dells (dalles) of the trail are sure to expand your knowledge of Earth’s icy past—as well as your vocabulary.
What We’ve Accomplished Along The Ice Age Trail
Roughly half of the trail passes through privately owned land. The Conservation Fund is working with local, state and federal agencies, as well as with private landowners and community organizations, to permanently protect new segments of the trail, create better public access, and piece together this important recreational and educational resource.
In 2008, the Fund partnered with the National Park Service and the Ice Age Trail Alliance to assist the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in acquiring 915 acres from Wausau Paper Co. in Marathon County. The protection of this land conserves a critical 2.5-mile segment of the trail. The Wisconsin congressional delegation helped secure federal funding for the acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the state provided additional funding through its Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.
In 2013, through our Land Conservation Loan Program, we provided financing to the Ice Age Trail Alliance to purchase 156 acres on the trail in Taylor County. This new segment will provide better public access to the trail and will help connect the trail in the town of Rib Lake with blocks of Taylor County Forest.
Also in 2013, we worked with the National Park Service (with assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) to add more than five acres in Dane County to the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve. The reserve consists of nine sites—six of which are united by the Ice Age Trail —and was created through federal legislation to protect, preserve and interpret the exceptional examples of glaciation in Wisconsin. The Dane County property sits on top of a glaciated hill and provides a spectacular view of where the unglaciated and glaciated areas meet. Part of the viewshed had been planned for residential development, which would have forever spoiled this remarkable landscape. Emphasizing their strong support for the trail and its importance to the state’s history, the Wisconsin congressional delegation again secured funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is one of many trails we’ve helped protect across the nation. To find out more about our work saving special places across the country, click here.