By Amy Bayer
Whether you’re looking for a place to go on an afternoon hike or wanting to tackle something a little more extreme this winter, the Ice Age Trail has got you covered. Logging more than 1,100 miles, this National Scenic Trail crosses the state, highlighting some of Wisconsin’s most unique and beautiful geographic features.
When you’re ready to get outdoors and get active, here are some recommended segments for winter hiking along the Ice Age Trail.
This segment of the Ice Age Trail traverses 3.6 miles through the wooded land surrounding two lakes. Located in one of the more wild state parks, the area is largely untouched and doesn’t have facilities.
As a matter of fact, the Ice Age Trail is the only maintained path, which bisects the 3000-acre property. Small parking lots are at the trailheads at either end of the park as well as near the center.
In the winter the pristine beauty of the park’s lakes and rivers create a stunning backdrop. Along the eastern end of the park, hikers are treated to a unique, curved boardwalk and views of the Straight River valley, while on the northern end hikers walk along the shores of the 107-acre Straight Lake and through a dense forest.
Located in the thick of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, this Ice Age Trail segment covers 15 miles of the Chippewa Moraine. There is trailhead parking available at either end of the segment, and several spots for primitive camping along the route.
One of the distinct features to this segment includes a 67-foot-long bridge over the South Fork Yellow River, which is one of multiple river crossings. Part of this segment follows the northern shore of Jerry Lake, and it also connects with other trails in the Ice Age Primitive Area.
One of the most noted geographic landforms along the route is the Hemlock Esker, a mile-long ridge immersed in a hemlock forest that rises 80 feet above the forest floor.
Featuring the tallest point along the Ice Age Trail, this remote trek crosses more than 14 miles of roller-coaster hills including Lookout Mountain, which is 1,920 feet above sea level. At its peak a fire tower is open to the public and allows visitors to climb above the canopy of trees for panoramic views of the breathtaking winter landscape below.
From numerous undeveloped lakes to a dense forest rich with wildlife, the vista from this eagle-eye view is worth the hike. For those who are interested in a shorter hike there is trailhead parking less than 2 miles northeast of the tower along County Highway B.
The Dells of the Eau Claire Segment follows 3 miles of shoreline along the Eau Claire River as it bisects a county park. The trails are well maintained as they follow the shore of the river and make multiple crossings, including over a dam on the eastern end of the park.
The highlight of this segment is the picturesque section of the river that swirls over potholes and rock formations, creating whirlpools and waterfalls. While in the summer this area is an area of high traffic with swimmers and picnickers, during the winter it is quieter and offers opportunities for solitude and reflection while surrounded by the natural art of ice and snow.
When you’re looking for a short, scenic winter hike, you can’t get better than John Muir Memorial County Park south of Montello. Only 1.7 miles in its entirety, this easy trail circles the 30-acre spring-fed Ennis Lake.
The park exists on land that was once the childhood home of John Muir, a conservationist who founded the Sierra Club. The Ice Age Trail Alliance recommends this hike as an opportunity to “literally walk in Muir’s footsteps and see a landscape that has changed little since he lived here more than a century and a half ago.”
Take a step back in time to explore the environment that instilled a deep love of nature in the man who has been called the “Father of the National Parks.”
Located halfway between Sauk City and Middleton, the 483-acre Indian Lake County Park is popular for snowshoeing as well as cross-country skiing and sledding. With a warming house, plenty of parking, scenic vistas of Indian Lake, and on-site facilities, it’s a great place for a winter hike through the woods.
The 2.8-mile segment of the Ice Age Trail can be turned into a 5-mile loop by hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing along one of the several trails throughout the park or around the lake to return to the parking area.
The Albany Segment of the Ice Age Trail coincides with over 9 miles of the Sugar River State Trail, creating a straight and flat segment perfect for snowshoeing and wildlife viewing.
The eastern end of the segment passes through the Albany State Wildlife Area and features numerous wooden bridges that cross the Little Sugar and Sugar rivers. The trailheads at either end of this segment are in the quaint communities of Monticello and Albany, which provide excellent examples of Wisconsin’s small-town charm and hospitality.
A unique feature along the trail includes a portion of the Niagara Escarpment called Brady’s Rocks that weaves through 8-foot-tall dolomite outcroppings. The rocks were named after Irish settlers from the 1850s, and the trail passes remnants of a rubble stone fence from the Brady’s farm.
In the area is a spur trail to a scenic overlook that highlights the beauty and peacefulness of the winter wonderland.
Located along the western edge of the city, the nearly 6-mile segment is unexpectedly rugged and forested, and provides quite a workout for those looking to get active this winter.
There are numerous hills and valleys as it traverses through Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area and Ridge Run Park. These parks have distinct characteristics that highlight landforms created by glaciers.
As the trail winds through the parks, one section merges with technical singletrack mountain biking routes and another follows the shore of Wells Lake, where ice skating is common in the winter.
For several months of the year, the southern section of this segment requires wading across the Tisch Mills Creek in Weber Woods; however, once the snow starts to fall and temperatures drop, winter transforms this route into an easy path to hike without getting your feet wet.
Located in an unincorporated community several miles north of Mishicot, this section is the shortest on this winter hiking list, totaling just over half a mile one way. The route can be made into a loop by taking the country roads back to the trailhead or trekking back through the forest and across the creek.
For those looking for a longer hike, the entire segment is 2.6 miles one way, and the northern segment follows the shore of the East Twin River north of Tisch Mills and enters Kewaunee County.
While the Sturgeon Bay Segment of the Ice Age Trail is more than 13 miles in length, one of the recommended areas is the 2.5 miles located in Potawatomi State Park. It is the Eastern Terminus for the entire Ice Age National Scenic Trail and leads hikers across a quiet, forested path.
The route follows the shore of Sturgeon Bay and offers several opportunities for scenic views of the water. The end of the trail is on a 150-foot bluff featuring beautiful views of the surrounding waters and the Door County peninsula as it settles down for the winter season.
Looking to explore more natural beauty this season? Check out our state parks' winter perks!