Hiking the Ice Age Trail - Devil's Staircase Segment


Views of the Rock River from the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age Trail
Views of the Rock River from the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age Trail

The Devil's Staircase trail is a historic walking path built after the first World War in Janesville WI. Revived in the 1980's and added as a segment to the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, this rugged single track footpath traces the base of a stark sand and limestone escarpment on an elevated ledge above the Rock River - a stepped geological feature warranting the nick-name Devil's Staircase.

Its linear 1.8 miles are mostly easy walking but also include a few short climbs negotiated on CCC styled stone steps - these climbs and its sometimes narrow and precarious route make it a moderate level hiking path. The scenic beauty of this trail earns it the reputation of being one of the most remarkable segments in the southern hook of the IAT. The Devil's Staircase Segment directly connects to the Arbor Ridge Segment to the west and the Janesville Segment to the southeast.




pring Ephemerals on the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age Trail
Spring Ephemerals on the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age Trail


I had passed over chances to hike Devil's Staircase several times in the past few years. From bird's eye view maps it looked like a trail cutting along the boundary woods beside a golf course. I enthusiastically subscribe to the theory that golf is a good walk ruined; and therefore in my detest of a sport which vexes me and considering my disdain for sprawling manicured lawns I avoid such trails which are subjugated to the margins. But, except for a few brief steps alongside a quiet green - for a time period not exceeding that which I could hold my breath - the trail exists in a different world from the golf course.

Devil's Staircase is on the margins to be sure; it is threaded in between an imposing escarpment on one side and a steep tumble into the wide Rock River on the other.  This contrast between shelter and prospect injects a sense adventure into an otherwise lazy afternoon walk in a city park. The trail is just precarious enough to demand focus, but easy going enough to allow for the contemplation of elevated river views.

I walked the Devil's Staircase and Arbor Ridge trails the way most people walk them - in reverse. With a lengthy 9 miles of uncertified IAT separating Arbor Ridge and the Albany segments it makes more sense to take on the Devil's Staircase and Arbor Ridge as a pair and to begin from the serene Riverside Park.

I parked beside an artesian well at a trailhead boldly signed as the Kiwanis Trail (incidentally, this is the trailhead for the Janesville Segment). From there it is a well shaded gentle walk on grass along the banks of the Rock River.

Riverside Park is enjoyed by throngs of picnickers who set up vast buffets of grilled food beside the river where children pull out keepers by the dozen - from my observation this is an outstanding fishing spot. With playgrounds, pavilions, ball fields, a splash pad - and not to be forgotten - the golf course on top the river bluff - this park seems to have all that is needed for a pleasant Saturday afternoon.

The easy-going one mile walk through Riverside Park makes up the majority of mileage on this segment. I approached a steep stone staircase leading up the bluff and thought to myself that if these are the so-called devil's steps then this trail is laughably underwhelming for its name. But, once on top the ledge I realized that the trail's namesake is for the more epic time-eroded steps of a stone escarpment.

The sheer rock wall of the escarpment is high enough to cast a shadow over the trail. This land feature is distinct enough to be memorable though far less imposing than the Niagara Escarpment in the eastern part of the state. The trail rolls along the ledge line and for a time dips down to the river edge. Even in the early spring ephemerals blanketed the forest floor and I have heard that wildflowers continue to color the ground in all seasons. From the river edge there is a short winding climb on stone steps to the golf course. And, from there it is a few tenths of a mile to the gravel parking lot where the segment ends and meets the Arbor Ridge trail.

The Devil's Staircase is great scenic beauty and a mild out-and-back which can be enjoyed by the whole family with moderate effort and care.

Hiking the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age National Trail in Janesville WI
Hiking the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age National Trail in Janesville WI


Overview: Ice Age National Scenic Trail -Devil's Staircase Segment


COUNTY: Rock
COMMUNITIES: Janesville

TOTAL MILES: 1.8
DIFFICULTY: Moderate

NEXT IAT SEGMENT EASTBOUND: Janesville Segment
NEXT IAT SEGMENT WESTBOUND: Arbor Ridge Segment

POINTS OF INTEREST: Rock River, Riverside Park, Devil's Staircase


Directions and Trail Map



If viewing on a mobile device, open the trail map above to load into Google Maps App by touching the expand rectangle in the upper right corner

Address for your GPS: 1 Ice Age National Scenic Trail Janesville, WI 53548
| coordinates: 42.716697, -89.041444 |

From Milwaukee1.5 Minutes
From Madison45 Minutes
From Green Bay2.5 Hour
From Wausau2.5 Hours
From Minneapolis4.5 Hours
From Chicago1.5 Hours


Photos


Views of the Rock River from the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age Trail
Views of the Rock River from the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age Trail


Views of the Rock River from the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age Trail
Views of the Rock River from the Devils Staircase Segment of the Ice Age Trail

The stone staircase leading from the park to the Devil's Staircase Segment hiking trail
The stone staircase leading from the park to the Devil's Staircase Segment hiking trail

A golf course along the ice age national trail in Janesville WI
A golf course along the ice age national trail in Janesville WI