Ellen Explores the IAT

Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Come say hello to the Ice Age National Scenic Trail (IAT)! 

A brief background…The IAT is 1 of 11 National Scenic Trails in the whole country, making Wisconsin proud. You may be wondering why it’s called the Ice Age Trail…well, over 12,000 years ago, Wisconsin was covered in a huge glacier flow. As the glacier retreated, it left behind very unique landscape features. This area is now one of the best examples at how glaciers can sculpt our planet. 

The Ice Age Trail has its own area in my site because 1) it’s huge with multiple segments to hike throughout Wisconsin, 2) with so many segments and a variety of landscapes, there is truly something for everyone AND 3) it has become a complete and total refuge for me.  

So, why do I love it? Every segment is different. There are woods, pine forests, ridges, rocks, bluffs, prairies, lakes, streams, hilly trails and flatter trails. Most trails have a combination of a few of these features. PLUS, what I’ve learned over the past year is that even the same trail can look so different season to season. It’s been just a blast to see an area change from early spring where it’s still extremely barren to just a month later, where it looks like it has exploded with greenery. And “what’s blooming” keeps changing over the summer. Ever wonder where fall fashion gets its color inspiration? Just hike in the fall, I even found myself thinking…I wish I could have a sweater in the deep purple hue. Finally, it’s winter and everything is covered in white and so peaceful.

The Trail covers over 1,000 miles and continues to grow! The Ice Age Trail Alliance continues to raise funds to extend the Trail. It expands over 30 counties and goes through private land, city parks, state parks, state forests and national forest. 

“Follow the yellow brick road.” -Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz

Not exactly the yellow brick road, but you do need to follow the yellow blazes on the Trail. For many segments it’s very clear because it’s the only path. But in many areas, especially ones surrounded by recreation areas, other park trails will criss cross with IAT. As long as you follow the yellow blazes, you will be just fine!

You will hear me talk about “Out and back”. This means I start on a trail, hike to a certain point, then come back the same way. Some folks will take 2 cars or arrange for a friend to give them a ride back to their car at their starting point. But I truly love coming back the way I came. Especially on days when the sun is out, I really notice how different the trail looks on the way back with the sun hitting all the foliage in different ways. But, as I always say, “Hike your own hike” meaning do it the way you love to do it!

Loop trails, where you make some sort of a loop around an area are really only offshoots on the IAT. There are a few instances (at least that I know about) where it will point you off for a small loop. But, 99% of the time the trail is a path where you hike 1 way and get a ride to your starting point, or do like I do and come back the way you came.

Connector trails are trails that connect you to the Ice Age Trail. So, you may start in a parking lot, but there is a short path guiding you to the actual IAT. Or, sometimes you may be hiking and come to a road. Don’t worry! The road is just a connector trail and will lead you back to the actual IAT within a typically short length of time. 

Want to learn more about the geological features of the Trail? 


Here are some tips for hiking with your dog on the IAT.


For parking, some lots require a vehicle admission sticker and others do not. They are required in all state parks, forests and recreation areas. I HIGHLY recommend buying a state park pass. It’s only $25 and it goes to a great cause, maintaining the parks! If you don’t have one, you can buy it and print out the receipt so you can even buy it the day you go.


Last, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the entire IAT is maintained by volunteers. If you love the IAT as much as me, please consider becoming a member of the Ice Age Trail Alliance. Your donation help 1)build boardwalks and bridges, 2) maintain such as clearing out trees and many other ways to help keep the Trail safe and 3) protect the trail and the land.


If any of this seems overwhelming, I will guide you making it a little bit easier. I have a page on each segment I visit telling you where to park and other tips for each trail. Please feel free to reach out to me with questions!





If you do out and back hiking, keep track of your start time. This will give you a gauge on about how long it will take you to get back. Also, most phones have a mile tracking feature. While it may not be perfect, it also gives you an idea of how far you’ve gone. 

(Source: https://www.iceagetrail.org/

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