Hiking the Ice Age Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment

High cliff overlooking Wisconsin Lake Valley
Rocks of Gibraltar State Natural Area

The Ice Age National Trail traverses approximately 1000 miles in Wisconsin. The overall trail is incomplete, with many miles of roadside walking between short segments of hiking trails. The Gibraltar Rock Segment is a 4.6-mile length stretching from the Merrimac ferry to the summit of Rocks of Gibraltar State Natural Area.

The length of this segment includes approximately one mile of roadside walking alongside the relative quiet Columbia County Road V. There is ample shoulder space on the road to make this portion of the walk comfortable for avid hikers.

Overall, the Gibraltar Segment is moderately strenuous, with two level-5 mountaineering rated climbs. An out-and-back on this segment will take approximately 4 hours. The climbs included on this segment offer impressive panoramic views of the Baraboo Hills and Lake Wisconsin. There are 4 parking lots so you can break this segment into shorter walks.


advertisement

trail along cliff through cedar trees
Ice Age Trail at the Rocks of Gibraltar State Natural Area



UPDATE: I originally posted this story a few years ago. Since then the trail route has changed and has been improved. The Rocks of Gibraltar State Natural Area has also risen from obscurity to become one of the most popular hiking locations in Wisconsin. It's very near to where I live, and so I occasionally get back to hike portions of the IAT here. So, I've updated the map to reflect the new route of the trail and added some newer photography. They've also changed the name of the next segment heading Eastbound from Groves-Pertzborn to Fern Glen. So I've updated the link in the overview section below.

Most people who visit this exciting location go specifically to hike the end portion of this segment and park at the main lot off Gibraltar Rock Road that is off County Highway V. Going from the main lot up the IAT and back down the pedestrian road is less than a 2-mile loop. This is a challenging climb, and it will take a bit of athletic fitness to reach the panoramic views at the top. The rest of the trail, reached from the Merrimac Ferry parking lot is superb and challenging hiking as well and should not be overlooked.

ORIGINAL POST:
Spring is late this year. It first arrived in earnest on April 19th. It was one of those days where the temperature rose 30 degrees over the previous normal highs. And, so everyone rushed out of their homes - at last an end to cabin fever. Restaurants with outdoor seating were packed, and shorts and sandal-clad pale zombies swarmed the parks.

I chose to set out early on the Ice Age Trail. It was still brisk in the morning. I was in search of a trail with some elevation and a moderate length. I found it nearby to my home in Waunakee at the Gibraltar Rock segment that passes from the Merrimac ferry to the Rocks of Gibraltar Natural Area.



View of Colsac III from Ice Age Trail
View of Colsac III from Ice Age Trail
Despite the still bare trees, the views on this day were well received. Perhaps because of the bare trees, the vistas were more impressive. I came back in the evening to do the portion of the trail at Rocks of Gibraltar. And I was treated to an amazing sunset and an aerial show of hunting vultures.

As I approached the first bare rock precipice, I was surprised as a giant bird of prey swooped from below the cliff - its wingspan nearly brushing my face. I got my first real view of the enormous size of these birds. They silently hovered and swooped alongside the cliffs.

vulture flying in the sky
Vultures at Gibraltar Rock - Lodi

The Rocks of Gibraltar is a flat-topped butte and the highest point in Columbia County. In the distance, you can observe the Colsac III ferrying tourists back and forth on Lake Wisconsin. It is a marvelous spot but seems to be a bit of a local secret. On a picture perfect day like this one, it was mostly populated with young local teens sunbathing on the rocks.

Perhaps, my experience at the Rocks of Gibraltar overshadowed my morning hike from the ferry to Slack Hill Road. But that first portion of the trail was the better hiking. The climbs were invigorating and there was a range of terrain, forest, and prairie. The Gibraltar Rock segment is a well-maintained portion of The Ice Age National Trail - and it is a testament to the hard work of the volunteer crew and mobile skills unit that takes care of it.



tall prairie grass with views of undulating hills beyond
Ice Age Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment - Lodi WI
O TO lie in long grasses!
O to dream of the plain!
Where the west wind sings as it passes
A weird and unceasing refrain;
Where the rank grass wallows and tosses,
And the plains’ ring dazzles the eye;
Where hardly a silver cloud bosses
The flashing steel arch of the sky.


To watch the gay gulls as they flutter
Like snowflakes and fall down the sky,
To swoop in the deeps of the hollows,
Where the crow’s-foot tosses awry,
And gnats in the lee of the thickets
Are swirling like waltzers in glee
To the harsh, shrill creak of the crickets,
And the song of the lark and the bee.

O far-off plains of my west land!
O lands of winds and the free,
Swift deer—my mist-clad plain!
From my bed in the heart of the forest,
From the clasp and the girdle of pain
Your light through my darkness passes;
To your meadows in dreaming I fly
To plunge in the deeps of your grasses,
To bask in the light of your sky!

In The Grasses - Hamlin Garland (1860-1940) - West Salem WI



Overview: Ice Age National Scenic Trail - Gibraltar Segment

COUNTY
COLUMBIA COUNTY
COMMUNITIES
WEST POINT, MERRIMAC, LODI
TOTAL MILES
4.6-MILE POINT-TO-POINT
DIFFICULTY
MODERATE-DIFFICULT
LOWEST ELEVATION
770 AMSL
HIGHEST ELEVATION
1270 AMSL
TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN
1140 FT
TOTAL ELEVATION LOST
-1050 FT

CAMPING
Disperse Camping Area

POINTS OF INTEREST
Lake Wisconsin, Merrimac Ferry, Disperse Camp Site, Rocks of Gibraltar Natural Area, White Blazed Trail

NEXT IAT SEGMENT EASTBOUND
Merrimac Segment
NEXT IAT SEGMENT WESTBOUND
Fern Glen Segment


Directions and Trail Map

DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE PDF USGS TOPOGRAPHIC MAP
LODI QUADRANGLE


Click to activate map

Click Map Image to load the full interactive map.



Address for your GPS: Nearest address (use coordinates instead): W12037 Wisconsin 113 Lodi WI 53555
 | coordinates: N43.365512,W089.619063 |

From Milwaukee2 Hours
From Madison35 Minutes
From Green Bay2.5 Hours
From Wausau2 Hours
From Minneapolis4 Hours
From Chicago3 Hours


Photos

View from cliff  with vulture flying cropped by trees
Rocks of Gibraltar Natural Area - West Point WI

Lake Wisconsin beyond cliffside
Rocks of Gibraltar - Ice Age Trail - Lodi Wisconsin

cairn pile of rocks along trail
Ice Age National Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment

sign pointing to white blazed alternative trail
Ice Age National Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment

trail cutting along forest edge
Ice Age National Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment

sign detailing rules of disperse camping
Ice Age National Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment - Disperse Campsite

campsite beneath a pine tree
Ice Age National Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment - Disperse Campsite

bench and footrest along trail
Ice Age National Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment


cliff side showing rolling hills beyond
Ice Age National Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment

view of lake wisconsin from rolling hill
Ice Age National Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment

trail cutting through tall pines
Ice Age National Trail - Gibraltar Rock Segment

trail along edge of cliff cutting through knarled trees
Ice Age Trail at the Rocks of Gibraltar State Natural Area

wet environment trail cutting through pine trees
Ice Age Trail at the Rocks of Gibraltar State Natural Area

wet environment trail cutting through deciduous trees
Ice Age Trail at the Rocks of Gibraltar State Natural Area

hand cut stone stairs
Ice Age Trail at the Rocks of Gibraltar State Natural Area

entry point trailhead from main parking lot for trail to top of cliff
Ice Age Trail at the Rocks of Gibraltar State Natural Area