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With so many unexpected adventures right here in Wisconsin, this series helps you discover great places to visit throughout the state.

Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail offers unique experiences for both casual and experienced hikers

Wisconsin is home to one of the country's 11 National Scenic Trails — the Ice Age Trail. The 1,200 miles of trail stretches from the east to the west side of the state meandering through some of our state’s most beautiful natural areas. The trail roughly follows where the last glacier ended and is full of geological significance.

In the 1950s a Milwaukee man named Ray Zillmer envisioned creating a 1,000 mile-long National Park through Wisconsin along the glacier’s terminal moraine. Zillmer passed away unexpectedly but Congressman Henry Rice picked up the initiative and the Ice Age Trail was formed in 1980.

The trail travels through 30 Wisconsin counties and treks through city parks, state parks, county forests, and national forests. The western terminus is in Interstate State Park in St. Croix Falls, Polk County where you can see views of the St. Croix River. It goes as far south as Janesville and up to Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay, Door County.

The trail can be utilized by casual day hikers to serious backpackers and people interested in thru-hiking. In fact, Melissa Pierick, director of marketing and community relations at Ice Age Trail Alliance says thru-hiking the Ice Age Trail has become more popular in recent years.

"The majority of the people who hike the whole trail are segment hikers, so that just means they complete the trail by doing it one segment at a time. However, there has been a really nice increase in thru-hiking. Usually thru-hikers start with the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, those are kind of the the big three trails. But, we've been getting more and more thru-hikers," Pierick says.

She says in 2022 they had the most people ever attempt to thru-hike the trail. But, along with its beauty, the trail has its challenges.

"We might not have the cliffs of the Continental Divide Trail or the rocks of the Appalachian Trail but the Ice Age Trail does have its own challenges, solitude being one of the," Pierick says.

Along the trail's route are several Ice Age Trail Communities. The 17 municipalities work in conjunction with the Ice Age Trail Alliance to show support for the trail and to recognize trail users as important players in their local economies. One of those communities is Rib Lake, where a project is underway to expand the trail. April 27th - 30th there are opportunities to volunteer to help build the trail, which is expected to open this year.

Students from Monona Grove Liberal Arts School for the 21st Century volunteer to do some trail maintanace through the Ice Age Trail Alliance Saunter's Program. (Photo by Cameron Gillie)
Cameron Gillie/By Cameron Gillie
Travel Wisconsin
Students from Monona Grove Liberal Arts School for the 21st Century volunteer to do some trail maintanace through the Ice Age Trail Alliance Saunter's Program. (Photo by Cameron Gillie)

"[The trail builds] are fun community events that people come from all over the state for — some even come up from Illinois. They spend the weekend camping and then working on the trail. It'll be really exciting to be in Rib Lake multiple times this year and to get the trail open," Pierick says.

People of all ages, abilities and experiences are welcome to volunteer for the trail build. Amanda Weibel from Travel Wisconsin says there's plenty to do and see in the Rib Lake area whether you're there for the trail build or just visiting the Northwoods. She recommends utilizing the several miles of scenic ATV and UTV trails in Taylor County and nearby Price County. There are also public lakes she says are great for fishing or paddling. Rib Lake is 320 acres with two boat launches and three wheelchair accessible docks for fishing.

"One of its really unexpected features is Pine Island. This wooded island offers three primitive camp sites that you can paddle or boat up to, pitch a tent for the night, and enjoy a private camping trip. These campsites are free to use. They're generally available between mid-April and mid-October," Weibel says.

Camp 28 dining hall on Rib Lake
Travel Wisconsin
Camp 28 dining hall on Rib Lake

She also recommends checking out Camp 28 on Rib Lake. Weibel says, "The hotel and its name pay tribute to the area's rustic logging routes. They also have an on-site restaurant and bar serving up classic American pub food and the rooms have great views of Rib Lake."

Not far from Rib Lake is Timm's Hill, the highest point in the state.

"This area of Wisconsin is known for its rugged forests and when you visit Timm's Hill, you can climb up an observation tower to take in that natural beauty from a different perspective. You'll get sweeping views of Woodlands stretching out for miles," Weibel says.

After a climb up the observation tower, Weibel recommends grabbing a meal at the Hill of the Beans restaurant at the foot of Timm's Hill.

Wandering Wisconsin is a partnership between Travel Wisconsin and WUWM. Download the Wandering Wisconsin wherever you get your podcasts!

Becky is WUWM's executive producer of Lake Effect.
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