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The Ice Age National Scenic Trail highlights glacial landscape features — remnants of the last ice age — as it travels through some of Wisconsin’s most beautiful natural areas.

The trail is entirely within Wisconsin and is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails. More than 2.3 million people use the Ice Age Trail each year to hike and snowshoe, to backpack, to disconnect and reconnect.

The eastern terminus of the trail is in Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay, in Door County. The trail’s western terminus is in Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls, which is in Polk County.

Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Gibraltar Rock Segment, Columbia County, Wis.
Credit: Cameron Gillie

“The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is an educational trail by nature,” said Amy Lord, the outreach and education manager for the Ice Age Trail Alliance. “The trail’s multitude of biomes, created by the receding glaciers, are natural classrooms all throughout Wisconsin. The Ice Age Trail sparks wonder and awe as it takes hikers past world-renowned glacial features and provides a lifetime of learning.”

The alliance is a nonprofit member and volunteer organization that works to conserve, create, maintain and promote the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. The alliance partners with the National Park Service and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to administer the Ice Age Scenic Trail.

“With National Scenic Trails, we tend to think about mountains and coasts,” Lord said. “But in Wisconsin the glaciers left a landscape that is unique.”

Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Hiking on Ice Age National Scenic Trail near Devil’s Lake, Sauk County, Wis.
Credit: Cameron Gillie

Lord said the alliance has a strong youth and education component and collaborates with school districts from Wisconsin and surrounding states.

“Our Saunters program aims to honor Henry David Thoreau’s statement — ‘It is a great art to saunter’ — while infusing core educational concepts into hands-on field experiences on the Ice Age Trail,” said Sarah Pearce, the Saunters Project coordinator

The alliance’s Think Outside program is designed to provide a bite-size introduction to the Ice Age Trail for fourth-grade teachers and students who are curious about how to get beyond four walls and weave more of nature’s classroom into the curriculum.

Day hikes, backpacking trips and service-learning experiences are popular with youth and student groups. Most hikes also connect with the alliance’s ColdCache program, which is an exciting way to find and learn about the many natural features along the Ice Age Trail.

Lord said the alliance’s staff and volunteers work collaboratively with teachers, school districts, and community centers and their staff to establish successful Saunters programs.

According to Lord, the alliance strongly believes in sharing the story of the Ice Age Trail and introducing the outdoors to the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.

Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Lapham Peak Segment, Waukesha County, Wis.
Credit: Ann Mirek

“We hope to create excitement and passion for students to continue hiking the Ice Age Trail with their family and friends,” she said. “The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is special. and we want to give every student the opportunity to learn about it and experience it. We want kids to know the Ice Age Trail and the outdoors is a place for everyone! These spaces are important, and we need to project and support them.”

Lysianne Unruh, alliance communications manager, said the trail is not yet complete. More than 600 miles are yellow-blazed Ice Age Trail segments, and more than 500 miles of unmarked connecting routes link the blazed segments. The entire route is about 1,200 miles long and travels through 30 counties.

“The Ice Age Trail began in the 1950s as the dream of Milwaukeean Ray Zillmer,” Unruh said. “He had a vision of a long, linear park winding through Wisconsin along the glacier’s terminal moraine.”

President Jimmy Carter signed the law establishing the Ice Age National Scenic Trail on Oct. 3, 1980.

More information about the trail and the alliance can be found at iceagetrail.org. The website contains hiker resources, a digital scavenger hunt, a hike leader’s guide to games and activities and downloadable pdf playsheets.

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David Hoekman is a former newspaperman on a quest to tell the stories of the world’s various places and cultures in compelling ways. He especially enjoys learning and writing about the business of group travel. His favorite destination is wherever he is going next and his travel tip is to always pack an emergency granola bar or two.