Where Does The Ice Age Trail Start?

The Ice Age Trail is the brainchild of Ray Zillmer, a Milwaukee resident. In 1950 he proposed a course following the terminal moraine of the ancient glacier responsible for much of the unique Wisconsin landscape. Today, the route has the distinction of being one of only eleven National Scenic Trails in the United States. But where did organizers position the trailhead?  

Hikers can begin the Ice Age Trail at either terminus. The trail’s western point is in Interstate Park in St. Croix Falls, and its eastern point is in Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay. The 1,200-mile trail winds through 30 countries and is Wisconsin’s only official State Scenic Trail.

The Ice Age Trail arose out of a collaboration of many organizations and people across the state of Wisconsin, including private landowners. It is managed through a partnership of volunteers and three organizations: the National Park Service, the Ice Age Trail Alliance, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The trail is designed to be used as day walks for locals along its path or as a thru-hike.

Where Do Thru-Hikers Begin The Ice Age Trail?

Thru-hikers begin the Ice Age Trail at either terminus: Interstate Park in St. Croix Falls or Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay. Which terminus is more popular depends on the year.

However, a fair chunk of the trail’s Thousand-Milers, people who have hiked the entire thing, have done it in sections as time allows. The Ice Age Trail Alliance has many maps and itineraries that help folks break up the trail into segments, from day hikes, weekend hikes, and even five-day trips.

Is The Ice Age Trail Complete?

It is possible to hike the entire 1,200 Ice Age Trail route. However, as of 2022, 500 miles still require signage. While there are yellow blazes, these can be sparse in certain areas. There are also sections of the Ice Age Trail where you have to hike on the road rather than on a proper path.

Thus, it is essential to make use of the latest resources recommended by the Ice Age Trail Alliance and have a non-electronic navigational device such as a compass in addition to your phone or GPS.  Buying the printed guide book in addition to the downloadable app is also a good idea.

How Long To Thru-Hike The Ice Age Trail?

The average thru-hiker takes 7-12 weeks to complete the Ice Age Trail. However, in June 2022, Corree Wolering ran the 1,200 miles under 22 days. Wolering’s time was only a few hours faster than Annie Weiss’ run in 2018. However, runners have support vehicles to aid with carrying supplies and other assistance. Most thru-hikers carry their kit on their backs and are not ultra-marathon runners.

What Is The Best Season To Thru-Hike The Ice Age Trail?

Fall is generally the ideal time of year to tackle the Ice Age Trail. The worst of the heat has passed, there is little to no mud, the ticks are not too plentiful, and the snow hasn’t arrived. But it is open all year, and each season has its challenges.

Winter is the least popular season for thru-hiking. However, during the snowy season, people enjoy using the sections open to winter activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There is also a corridor open to snowmobiling.

Spring is mud-season on the Ice Age Trail. This is when the paths are most vulnerable, and the volunteers who maintain them ask that hikers take care to minimize the damage caused due to the excessive wetness. Hikers need to also be especially wary of ticks in May.

Summers on the Ice Age Trail can be muggy and hot, and the bugs will be in full force. The sections of the trail that are still on the road are particularly onerous in the high heat.

However, parts of the trail can be closed during hunting season. Find out more using the Ice Age Trail Alliance hunting season map.

How Difficult Is The Ice Age Trail?

The difficulty of the terrain on the Ice Age Trail varies with the section. Overall, it isn’t considered too taxing. There are some easy segments that are on bike paths, so these will be paved. But the majority of the finished trails are crushed stone or groomed dirt. There are also unfinished areas that leave hikers walking on the road.

However, there are places where it can become moderately challenging, where it can get pretty steep. On the plus side, the hardest inclines typically reward hikers with the best views.

Are There Bears On The Ice Age Trail?

Wisconsin does have black bears, and some do hang around certain sections of the trails. Thus, a bear bag or canister is necessary to keep your food safe at night. This precaution will also keep red fox, American red squirrels, porcupine, and grey wolves from stealing your snacks. It is also recommended to wear a bell on your pack so you don’t accidentally sneak up on the bears.

Can You Cycle The Ice Age Trail?

It is not possible to cycle the entire 1,200 Ice Age Trail. There are places where the trail is on the road or shares bike paths. There are even areas open to horse riding. But a fair chunk of the completed Ice Age Trail is open to foot traffic only, and you must be a hiker or a runner.

Is It Easy To Camp While Hiking The Ice Age Trail?

The Ice Age Trail Association has a section to help hikers plan their camping spots. The trail has reservable camping sections and passes through State and National Parks and forest areas, many of which have camping or dispersed camping available.

There are also some areas along the trail that allow dispersed camping due to no official option being available. However, these dispersed camping spots outside of parks are only for backpackers making a multi-day journey and are for a single night.

Is It Easy To Resupply While Hiking The Ice Age Trail?

The trail is a combination of the off-roading wilderness experience and taking you near or even through Wisconsin communities. Thus, resupply opportunities are reasonably plentiful along the Ice Age Trail. You can do it by mailing yourself packages to post offices along the route and shopping at the occasional store.

Conclusion

The Ice Age Trail has two endpoints, and thru-hikers can begin at either one. While the trail is not officially complete, thru-hikers are successfully walking the entire route thanks to roads that are along the way. But the Ice Age Trail Alliance has a ton of up-to-date information available to anyone wanting to thru-hike or just tackle a smaller section. So happy hiking, and may your feet remain blister-free.