Frequently Asked Questions
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The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a thousand-mile-long hiking trail located entirely within Wisconsin. It is one of only eleven National Scenic Trails in the country.
Walking, hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing are popular on the Ice Age Trail, as it offers adventures over a wide range of distances and landscapes. Many segments support cross-country skiing, too. Whether you seek a short stroll over gentle terrain or a multi-day deep-woods adventure, there's a perfect segment for you.
Biking is allowed only on a few segments of the Trail where it coincides with state bike trails. Horseback riding is not permitted. Motorized transport (ATVs, snowmobiles) is not permitted (with the exception of just a few segments that share state multi-use trails). Motorized vehicles are prohibited on the Ice Age Trail unless specifically and clearly marked as a snowmobile and/or ATV route.
Ownership of the land that the Trail crosses varies by segment (some is private land, for example), and owners will typically dictate usage. Some segments of the Trail have designated campsites or are near public camping facilities. Visit our Overnight Options page and our Backpacking page for more information. When you are ready to start planning a trip, our two guidebooks, the Ice Age Trail Companion Guide and the Ice Age Trail Atlas, will provide essential info for camping and backpacking along a particular segment of the Ice Age Trail.
If you were to hike the entire route of the Ice Age Trail, you would cover around 1,200 miles.
Of that total, more than 600 miles would be official Ice Age Trail segments marked with yellow Ice Age Trail blazes. The majority of these miles conform to hikers' ideas of a traditional, off-road hiking experience. Some segments, however, lead hikers right down the main streets of charming Wisconsin communities.
The remaining miles would be "connecting routes," typically quiet country roads lacking Ice Age Trail signage. While these miles are part of the current Ice Age Trail route, they are not technically recognized as official Ice Age Trail segments. One of the main goals of the Ice Age Trail Alliance is to convert connecting routes into permanent (generally off-road) segments of the Ice Age Trail.
For starters, check out our Trail Map and Current Conditions page. There, you can print out a basic map of any segment of the Ice Age Trail and read up on current Trail conditions for that area.
Once you're hooked, you'll want to check out our Ice Age Trail Atlas and the Ice Age Trail Companion Guide, which are the best resources available for detailed directions to Trail segments and descriptions of what you'll find when you get there. (Note: the Atlas is indispensable for backpackers. It uses a particular pattern of shading to indicate where primative camping is allowed.)
The route of the Ice Age Trail generally follows the last outline (or "terminus") of Wisconsin's most recent glacier, which retreated from the state more than 10,000 years ago. It diverges in some places to include other features of the glacial landscape as well as parts of the "Driftless Area."
Wisconsin's most recent large glacier, consisting of six large lobes, flowed into the state about 25,000 years ago. It reached its greatest extent, covering approximately two-thirds of the state (all but the southwestern part), about 14,000 to 16,000 years ago before melting back. The last Ice Age endured from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. It covered most of northern North America, as far south as the Missouri and Ohio River Valleys. The last stage of glaciation is called the "Wisconsin Glaciation" because its effects are more noticeable here than anywhere else in the United States.
A variety of geological landforms, associated almost exclusively with glaciation, are better seen in Wisconsin than anywhere in the world. These include moraines, eskers, erratics, kettles, drumlins, kames, dells (dalles) and outwash plains. Check out our glossary for definitions of these and other Trail-related terms.
It is the southwestern quarter of Wisconsin that was untouched by glaciers during the last Ice Age. This area was deeply cut by ancient streams into narrow, twisting valleys and ridges. The surface landforms there are much older than the rest of the state, which was shaped by the relatively recent glacier.
It began in the 1950s as the dream of Milwaukeean Ray Zillmer, who had a vision of a long, linear park winding through Wisconsin along the glacier's terminal moraine. Zillmer founded the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation (now the Ice Age Trail Alliance) in 1958 to make the dream a reality. In 1980 Congress recognized the national significance of the Ice Age Trail by designating it a National Scenic Trail (NST). In 1987 the State of Wisconsin named it Wisconsin's first (and, to date, only) State Scenic Trail.
No one entity owns all the land through which the Ice Age Trail passes. The Trail passes through a patchwork of lands owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, Ice Age Trail Alliance, counties, local municipalities and hundreds of generous private landowners.
The Ice Age Trail Alliance, the National Park Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources cooperatively manage the Ice Age Trail. Other partners manage certain segments, including the U.S. Forest Service, county and municipal park and forestry departments and other civic entities and private landowners. The Ice Age Trail Alliance delivers much of its management responsibility through local volunteer chapters.
Because the Ice Age Trail is only half-complete, new land must be purchased through federal, state and private funding. The Ice Age Trail Alliance, much like The Nature Conservancy, purchases land with privately donated funds and grants from government partners. The State of Wisconsin acquires land for the Trail through its Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.
Not entirely. Yes, in that both are congressionally-designated National Scenic Trails. However, the Ice Age Trail and the Appalachian Trail do have some differences. The Appalachian Trail is about twice as long (about 2,200 miles) and runs through 14 states. It seldom intersects a town or community. The Ice Age Trail is totally within Wisconsin. One of the virtues of the Ice Age Trail is its involvement with the diverse communities along its route. It was designed to connect communities, not avoid them. In fact, approximately 60% of Wisconsin residents live within 20 miles of the Trail. The Ice Age Trail was also designed very specifically to preserve and protect Wisconsin's cultural and glacial heritage.
The Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA) is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization headquartered in Cross Plains, Wisconsin. Its mission is to create, support and protect a thousand-mile footpath tracing Ice Age formations across Wisconsin. More than 3,000 members nationwide support the IATA in the completion of its mission through on-the-ground work and financial gifts.
Becoming a member of the Ice Age Trail Alliance is a great way to support our mission. Membership starts at $35 per year and dues are tax deductible. Members receive a subscription to our quarterly magazine Mammoth Tales, discounts on Ice Age Trail merchandise and an invitation to the IATA annual membership conference. Visit our membership page for more information.
We hope you will! Without volunteers and their continuous efforts, the Ice Age Trail would be little more than a line on a map. Volunteers are the heart, soul, hands and backbone of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Tens of thousands of volunteer hours are spent annually to build new trailway, maintain existing segments and support and promote the Ice Age Trail. It's a lot of work, and more help is always welcome. Your contribution will help ensure the Ice Age Trail remains a treasured recreational and educational resource for generations to come.
To learn more about your local volunteer chapter, its events and contact information, visit our Volunteer Chapters page.
Another volunteer option is the IATA's Mobile Skills Crew (MSC) program. Each year, the Mobile Skills Crew program leads at least six trail-building projects throughout Wisconsin. The goals of the projects are to build high-quality, sustainable trail; to train volunteers in trail-building techniques and safety; and, most importantly, to have fun. Projects typically start on a Thursday and run through the weekend, but volunteers are welcome to contribute what time they can.
Check the calendar for a schedule of upcoming local and statewide events.
Most thru-hikers take around three months to complete the entire Ice Age Trail, which works out to an average of about 12 miles a day. It’s been done as quickly as 22 days and 6 hours (by an ultramarathoner), but that’s certainly not typical!