11 Ice Age Trail Hikes to Explore This Winter
Whether you’re looking for a scenic afternoon hike or want to tackle something a little more extreme this winter, the Ice Age Trail has got you covered. More than 1,100 miles in total, this National Scenic Trail winds across Wisconsin from St. Croix Falls to Sturgeon Bay, highlighting some of the state’s most unique and beautiful geographic features.
If you’re ready to enjoy the fresh winter air with friends and family, explore these popular segments for winter hiking along the Ice Age Trail.
Straight Lake Segment – Polk County
This segment of the Ice Age Trail traverses 3.6 miles through the wooded land surrounding two sparkling lakes. Located in one of Wisconsin’s wilder 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 creates a stunning and peaceful backdrop. Along the eastern end of the park, hikers are treated to a unique, curved boardwalk and views of the Straight River valley, while the northern end follows the shores of the 107-acre Straight Lake and through a dense forest. With diverse terrain in a serene location, this segment makes for the perfect solo winter adventure or outing with friends.
Jerry Lake Segment – Taylor County
Located in the thick of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, this Ice Age Trail segment covers 15 beautiful miles of the Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area. There is trailhead parking available at either end of the segment, and several spots for primitive camping along the route for ambitious winter adventurers.
One of the most distinct features of this segment is a 67-foot-long bridge over the picturesque South Fork Yellow River, one of multiple river crossings. Part of this segment follows the northern shore of Jerry Lake, sure to be frozen and glistening in winter.
Along this forested route, you’ll also be amazed by the Hemlock Esker, a mile-long ridge immersed in a hemlock forest that rises 80 feet above the forest floor.
Harrison Hills Segment – Lincoln County
Featuring the tallest point along all of the Ice Age Trail, this remote trek crosses more than 14 miles of roller-coaster hills including Lookout Mountain, which sits 1,920 feet above sea level. While the lookout tower here is closed during the winter months, you and your crew will still be amazed by the magical winter landscapes visible from the peak of the trail. But be sure to come back with family and friends in the warmer months for an unforgettable bird’s eye view.
Dells of the Eau Claire Segment – Marathon County
The Dells of the Eau Claire Segment follows 3 miles of shoreline along the gorgeous 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 peaceful time spent with loved ones while surrounded by one-of-a-kind ice formations.
John Muir Park Segment – Marquette County
When you’re looking for a short, scenic winter hike, explore 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.”
Indian Lake Segment – Dane County
Located halfway between Sauk City and Middleton, the 483-acre Indian Lake County Park is popular in winter for snowshoeing as well as cross-country skiing and sledding. With a warming house, plenty of parking, scenic vistas of the frozen lake and on-site facilities, it’s a great place for a winter hike through the woods with the whole family.
The 2.8-mile segment of the Ice Age Trail can be turned into a 5-mile loop by continuing along one of the several trails throughout the park, or looping around the lake to return to the parking area. You can also bring your pups to the pet exercise area here for extra fun.
Albany Segment – Green County
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 are perfect for visiting after your hike to refuel or just explore the charming areas.
Eagle Segment – Waukesha County
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 as you hike you’ll notice remnants of a rubble stone fence from the Brady’s farm.
Keep an eye out for a spur trail on this route that leads to a scenic overlook of a true winter wonderland.
West Bend Segment – Washington County
As the trail winds through the parks, one section follows the shore of Wells Lake, where ice skating is popular in the winter. So whether your group feels like hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or ice skating, this is the perfect section of the Ice Age Trail for multiple kinds of refreshing winter fun.
Tisch Mills Segment – Manitowoc County
For several months of the year, the southern section of the Tisch Mills 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 a smooth, sparkling path.
Located in an unincorporated community several miles north of Mishicot, this southern section of the trail 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 Ice Age segment is 2.6 miles one way, and the northern part of the route follows the shore of the East Twin River and enters Kewaunee County.
Sturgeon Bay Segment – Door County
While the Sturgeon Bay segment of the Ice Age Trail is more than 13 miles in length, a popular winter section 2.5 miles long is located in Potawatomi State Park. Here you’ll find the Eastern Terminus for the entire Ice Age National Scenic Trail and explore a quiet, forested path.
The route follows the shore of Sturgeon Bay and offers several opportunities for scenic views of Lake Michigan. Once at the end of the trail, you’ll come upon a 150-foot bluff to reward you for as few or as many miles as you and your group have traversed on this famous route.
Keep the snowy fun going at more great Wisconsin winter hiking spots!