Everyone focuses on the best-known thru-hikes. But while you may end up checking a few iconic must-see’s off your list with a day or multi-day outing, you’ll miss some of the country’s best kept secret treasures. We’re not trying to proclaim that you shouldn’t carve out at least a long weekend to hike a stretch of the Appalachian Trail, along the Continental Divide, or the Pacific Crest. But just beyond the glam of those big three, more Scenic Trails wait patiently for your feet. And each is worthy in its own right. The best part, you’ll encounter a fraction of the travelers that descend on the most popular sites.
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Take the Ice Age Trail, for example. Named because it once laid under a huge glacier more than 15,000 years ago. Despite its misleading name, it’s not a path that carves over the glacial terrain of Alaska. Its nearly 1,200 miles fall entirely within the state of Wisconsin, tracing a route from Potawatomi State Park to Interstate State Park. You traverse through some of the state’s most pristine wilderness—think azure lakes, fertile river valleys, gently rolling hills, and dramatic ridgelines. Designated as a National Scenic Trail in 1980, the route consistently ranks as one of the country’s best thru-hikes by smart publications and in-the-know backpackers because the trail showcases how much of North America was shaped from the Ice Age to modern day.
As with any trail that boasts a distance of more than 1,000 miles, there are loads of trailheads, which makes it easy to slice out a few day and weekend-long trips. But it also makes it hard to decide which parts of the trail to explore.
Thankfully, the Ice Age Trail Alliance makes it easy with an interactive trail map that breaks out this massive trail by interest (camping and backpacking, section- and thru-hiking). It also posts trail condition info, offers advice on how to manage leave-no-trace outings, and surfaces a cache of recommended hikes broken into day and multi-day excursions. Better still, each recommendation comes with a free download on the applicable section from their Ice Age Trail Guide.
And for those who aren’t up to roughing it for multiple days on the trail, the alliance also has a list of B&Bs and hotels that are close to the trail, run by owners who are considered “hiker-friendly. Finally, a place where muddy boots are met with open arms.