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A Closer Look

The Ice Age Trail

Over 1,000 Miles Across Wisconsin!

Story by Teresa Nguyen

August, 2020

Mr. Zillmer envisioned extending the Kettle Moraine Glacial Hiking Trail along the terminal moraine of the most recent continental glaciation, a route of several hundred miles.

Photo by Cathy Conquist
Author's Note: Special thanks to all of the Janesville and southern Wisconsin photographers who stepped forward providing Janesville Area Stories with numerous photos of the Ice Age Trail...such generosity! We have chosen some favorites, but appreciate all of the photos submitted. It goes to show how much we love these beautiful, natural areas of our state!
More than 12,000 years ago, an immense flow of glacial ice sculpted a scenic landscape of remarkable beauty across the state of Wisconsin. As the glacier retreated, it left behind a variety of unique geographical features. These glacial remnants of Wisconsin are an outstanding example of how continental glaciation sculpts our planet.
The trail at Riverside Park in Janesville, Wisconsin - Photo by Teresa Nguyen
1920 - During the 1920s, the people of southeast Wisconsin experienced extreme flooding of the Milwaukee River. At the same time, increased recreational needs around the expanding city of Milwaukee focused attention on the Kettle Moraine. The moraine was a belt of unique glacial ridges in the southeastern Wisconsin area.
1930 - It was in this decade that the Kettle Moraine State Forest was established. Numerous volunteers began constructing its first hiking trails.

One of the leaders for the protection of the Kettle Moraine was Milwaukee man, Raymond Zillmer. He was a lawyer by profession, an avid walker, mountaineer, and student of natural history.
1958 - Over the years, Mr. Zillmer worked to protect these and other natural areas around the state. Ray Zillmer founded the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation in 1958. His goal was to establish a national park in Wisconsin.
Raymond Zillmer
Zillmer was twice responsible for personally convincing two governors to increase land acquisition funding for the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

During that time, Zillmer caught the interest of the National Park Service, conservationists and political leaders. Bills were introduced in Congress to create an Ice Age National Park in Wisconsin. 

Mr. Zillmer envisioned extending the Kettle Moraine Glacial Hiking Trail along the terminal moraine of the most recent continental glaciation, a route of several hundred miles.

1961 - Finally, a cooperative group of grassroots supporters, state officials, and National Park Service staff came up with the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve.
Kim Hoholek.jpg
Photo by Kim Hoholek
1964 - Thanks to Congressman Henry Reuss, the Ice Age Reserve legislation was passed by Congress and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Photo by Teresa Nguyen
1970s - In the early part of the decade, the Ice Age Trail Council was formed to carry out Zillmer’s vision for a long-distance hiking trail. The Glacial Hiking Trail in the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest and other, older trails were the building blocks for the Ice Age Trail. Numerous volunteers constructed new trail segments around the state.
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Candlelight Hike at Janesville's JSOL Trail
To view the new interactive Ice Age Trail Map, click here: 
1980 - President Carter signed the law establishing the Ice Age National Scenic Trail on October 3, 1980.

2009 - The Ice Age Trail Alliance was formed.
One of the goals of the Ice Age Trail Alliance is to permanently protect the route of the Ice Age Trail. Every year, the group purchases land with donated funds and grants to help achieve this goal.

The trail stretches from St. Croix Falls, along the western border with Minnesota all the way to Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay, Door County.  The most southern tip of the trail is in Janesville, Wisconsin.
The Ice Age Trail is open for hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing. Many segments support cross-country skiing, too. Biking is allowed along parts of the trail. Horseback riding is not permitted. 
map of the Wisconsin Ice Age Trail.JPG
Some segments run down the main streets of several Wisconsin communities. The Ice Age paths flow through 31 counties! The trail is meant to connect people and communities around the state. It has many ownership types including private land, city parks, state parks, county forests and national forest.
The trail is maintained mostly through the work of volunteers. You can help to maintain these amazing trail areas by becoming a member of the alliance, by donating or volunteering. Learn more on the Ice Age Trail Alliance website:

Scroll to view Ice Age Trail photos

Our state's 1,000 miles of trails highlights a journey of beautiful landscape features, as it travels through some of the state’s most wondrous natural areas created by a Wisconsin glacier more than 12,000 years ago! 

How lucky we are to have these fun trails throughout the city & our Janesville area, the trail's southernmost tip. Be sure to utilize the trails for your recreational needs and enjoy Wisconsin’s great outdoors!

Read our story of the first woman to hike the entire Wisconsin Ice Age Trail in winter:  Emily Ford
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