There are eleven National Scenic Trails. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent a lot of time on three of them — the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail and New England Trail (in order).
Yesterday I had the chance to start exploring a fourth one, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. The IAT is the only National Scenic Trail that is entirely contained in one state. Incredibly, it covers 1,200 miles without ever leaving Wisconsin.
As the name implies, the Ice Age Trail follows the path of the farthest advance of the last glacier in this area, some 20,000 years ago. The glacier left an astoundingly diverse number of features — known by geologists as moraines, kettles, eskers, potholes and erratics — and known by us non-geologists at amazing rock formations, bogs and lakes.
My first taste of the Ice Age Trail was a 10-mile hike around Devil’s Lake (appropriately located in Devils Lake State Park). I can’t speak highly enough of it. Within the first mile, I climbed to the top of a cliff overlooking the lake. A pair of turkey vultures was enjoying riding the thermals rising from the lake, and who could blame them? I never tire of watching them gliding along with just a slight tilt of their wings sending them in exciting new directions. I could have stayed there for hours, but the path was urging me on. The trail continued to wind along the cliffs, dropped to a popular beach and picnic spot where stand up paddle boards and kayaks ruled the roost, then back up to the ridge on the other side of the lake.
The most famous feature of the day was a formation called “Devil’s Doorway”, two columns with a jumble of boulders perched above to form the top of the door’s frame. It was a perfect June day to be out under the sun and the bugs were not an issue at all. As I climbed among the boulders and slabs, the terrain reminded me of familiar and favorite places in New Hampshire and Maine such as above tree line in the Presidential Range and along major rivers and streams — places also sculpted thousands of years ago by the enormous power of water and ice.
By the time I returned to my campsite in the Ice Age Campground, I was sufficiently worked out, but not yet exhausted. As my well-earned burgers sizzled on the grill , I realized that today had been one of the best I’ve had on the trail in quite some time. It was enough of an introduction to get me started on National Scenic Trail number four. Only 1,190 miles left to go!