Ice Age National Scenic Trail covers about 1,200 miles across the state of Wisconsin. It follows the meandering edge of the moraine created by the Ice Age. This National Scenic Trail was established in 1980. While you could hike the Trail, this guide provides a driving option that follows the same route, more or less. Going from Potawatomi State Park in the east to Interstate State Park in the west, it offers many trailheads with parking.
Begin Your Scenic Drive
Begin at the easternmost portion of the Trail, at Potawatomi State Park, where you can follow a portion of the Ice Age Trail and climb the 75 foot wooden Potawatomi Tower, for a great view in every direction. Head south on Route 42 to follow the general direction of the Trail. Highlights along this section of the trail include: Two Creeks Buried Forest, where a hike along the beach will let you view a cross-section of ancient forest that was buried more than 11,000 years ago. Point Beach State Forest, where you can explore the Point Beach Ridges, eleven ridges and swales from the shorelines of the Nippissing Great Lakes, the combined Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron from the era when all three were connected when the glaciers receded, at much higher water levels than today. Old Wade House, a 240-acre open-air museum, with historic structures inducing the 1848 Wade House, in Greenbush. The Campbellsport Drumlins, large oval mounds created by a receding glacier. And the Kettle Moraine State Park Northern Unit, with its Henry S. Reuss Ice Age Visitor Center, interpreting the Ice Age glaciers.
You will come to West Bend, whose historic sites include the Old Courthouse Museum, the Old Sheriff’s Residence and Jail, the West Bend Company/Regal Ware Museum, Father Rehrl’s Rectory at St. Agnes Historic Site, and St. Peter’s Church. Have a memorable meal at The Popular Inn, The Braising Pan, or The Norbert. From West Bend, continue your drive: Pike Lake Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Park, offers water recreation at Pike Lake in season. Long Horn Peak Unit offers a great map of hiking trails; you can also climb up the observation tower, visit the homestead, and the nature center. And Kettle Moraine South Unit, with 22,000 acres of glacial hills and lakes, and 55 miles of hiking trails.
In Janesville, visit the 26-room Tallman House, an Italianate villa, and see Wisconsin Wagon Company’s Janesville Ball Bearing children’s wagons and toys being hand made. Have a meal at the Milwaukee Grill or O’Riley & Conway’s Irish Pub. Continue on toward Madison, along the way you can visit: The Sugar River Trail, a biking and snowmobile trail, depending on the season. A notated feature is New Glarus, also known as little Switzerland. New Glarus Woods is a 435-acre Wisconsin State Park with outdoor activities including camping, hiking, picnicking and snowshoeing.
Next, Madison is the state capital and famous for its gorgeous lakes, created, of course, by the receding glaciers of the ice age. While you could devote a month to seeing all the wonders of this lovely city, highlights include the state capital building and square, and the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, recently built to a century-old design by Frank Lloyd Wright. For a great side trip, visit Wright’s home, Taliesin, in Spring Green. For a meal in Madison: Go upscale at Naples 15 or cozy at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry.
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Devil’s Lake provides the visitor a shoreline of climbing rocks, a sandy beach, enjoyable hiking trails, and great views. One of the highlights is the Balanced Rock Trail; but keep in mind that it is a steep climb, so wear shoes that grip. Stop in Portage to visit the World War II Museum, filled with artifacts and the stories behind them. The two-and-a-half-hour tour sounds long, but there is much to see, and the time goes by fast. Stevens Point offers the Green Circle Trail, 26 mile hike and bike trail through quiet and built up areas. Mountain-Bay State Trail follows the old Chicago and Northwestern Rail line, and at 83 miles, is one of the longest in Wisconsin. The trail includes a covered bridge, in Bolwer.
Also, Wausau has a gem of an art museum, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. Every fall, they offer a new exhibit on the theme Birds in Art. Upcoming exhibitions include Tiffany Glass, M.C. Escher, and Japanese ceramics. Have a meal at the Mint Café, or the Back When Café. Council Grounds State Park has hiking, swimming, kayak rental, fish and biking. Timm’s Hill Trail is a ten-mile trail connecting the Ice Age Trail to Timm’s Hill, the highest elevation in the state at 1951.5 feet. Open all year, it is popular for mountain biking, skiing, and snowshoeing, in addition to hiking. More forested hikes await, at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest; and the Brunet Island State Park.
Conclude Your Scenic Drive
Conclude your Wisconsin rambles along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail at the Interstate State Park. Begin at the visitor’s center, where you can get a park map and hear about its main features. The park is easy to drive and offers places to stop for photos. Short trails lead to great views of the river. Pot Hole Trail takes about an hour and leads to an area opposite Taylor’s Falls with grand views and captivating rock formations.
There are two even longer National Scenic Trails in the Midwest: The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the North Country National Scenic Trail.