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If, like me, you don't know much about the Ice Age -- such as that it was a mere 15,000 years ago -- you might enjoy a learning experience on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which isn't in Alaska as you might assumel, but in mild-climate Wisconsin. Much of America lay under giant glaciers in the Ice Age, and some of the best evidence of that is found in Wisconsin's many lakes, river valleys, gentle hills and ridges. Most of Wisconsin's 14,000 lakes were carved by glaciers, Lake Michigan itself being the largest glacial feature of all along the trail. And if you want old rocks, consider that some outcroppings in the Wisconsin Dells date to about 1.8 billion years ago.

The trail, established in 1980, is almost 1,200 miles long (you may not be pleased to hear), and runs around the edge of the glacier. I donÂ?t know anyone who has logged on to following the entire 1,200 miles, but you needn't worry. You can experience however much of that mileage you wish to, taking as little or as much time as you desire. If you do hike the entire trail, you become known as a "Thousand Miler," even though the trail is a couple of hundred miles longer than that. The trail, by the way, is part of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, created back in 1964.

The trail starts (or ends) at the St. Croix River on the west at Wisconsin's border with Minnesota, wanders eastward, then south near to the capital in Madison, and north to Lake Michigan's Door County, near Green Bay. There are hundreds of trailheads and access points along the route. Access is usually every few miles but in some remote areas can be more than ten miles apart.

Highlights of Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Get a map of the trail in a brochure that includes plenty of info from the NPS office in Madison (www.nps.gov/iatr). The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also maintains extensive mapping information on its website (www.dnr.wi.gov). There's also a comprehensive trail atlas and guidebook available from the Ice Age Trail Alliance (www.iceagetrail.org).

In addition to the pleasures of hiking, you can count on activities in the many towns and villages the trail passes through. Nature walks and bird watching, stargazing and wildlife viewing are popular, as are camping, hunting and fishing. In winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the main activities. Some segments allow biking, horse riding and snowmobile use.

There are major interpretive centers explaining glacial history and geology located in three parks and areas operated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. At a dozen spots along the trail you can use your National Parks Passport to get it stamped at a "Cancellation Station," usually in the visitor centers of the state parks the trail passes through. Volunteers along the trail maintain it, giving over 45,000 hours of their time each year to do so.

Fees and Hours for Ice Age National Scenic Trail

The trail is open daily, year-round, 24/7, weather permitting. There is no admission fee to the trail as such. Some public lands (state and county parks, etc.) along the trail may charge entrance fees, and camping registration and permits may also be needed. Check the official website for details.

Some parts of the trail may be closed during the state's nine-day November deer hunting season. (Wear bright orange -- blaze orange or hunter's orange some call it -- clothing or cap during those periods.) The NPS office for the Trail is in Madison, where it is open weekdays from 8am to 4:30pm, excepting holidays.

Contacts for Ice Age National Scenic Trail

The official website of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail is www.nps.gov/iatr and the phone number is tel. 608/441-5606.