Hiking the Ice Age Trail Turtle Rock Segment

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Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
The Turtle Rock Segment is 5 miles of the Ice Age Trail along the Wisconsin River and into the deep wilderness and woods of northern Wisconsin. This less traveled trail segment is rugged and challenging, but supremely beautiful.

Along the trail hikers observe the wide Wisconsin River rushing over the mile long Grandfather Falls. The footpath ducks and darts around, over, and through a minefield of humongous erratic boulders - one of them being the namesake Turtle Rock. The thickness of the vegetation in these woods on the western banks of Grandfather Falls can not be overstated. If not for frequent yellow blazes painted onto tree trunks the trail would become all but invisible.

Experienced hikers seeking an athletic and rustic wilderness experience will be singing songs of joy on the Turtle Rock Segment; while most others will be cursing every tenth mile of this obstacle course.




Wisconsin River along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Wisconsin River along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail


To date this is the most difficult trail that I have hiked in the state of Wisconsin. It does not have hill climbs that come near to being mountaineering rated; yet, it is a trail that demands focus from step to step. Other experienced hikers might think that I am inflating the difficulty level of this segment, nonetheless I have some considerations to recommend before blazing through Turtle Rock.

One, this is not the best example of a family trail; families with young children who want to experience great hiking beside Grandfather Falls should try the Grandfather Falls Segment across the River. Two, it would be unwise to hike this segment unprepared; I recommend having 32oz of water per person for an out-and-back, trekking poles for balance, a bear bell and can of bear spray for unwanted wildlife encounters, wearing long pants and long sleeves, a fully charged phone with GPS tracking, paper map, sturdy shoes, and bug repellent.

It may have been the series of novice mistakes that I made, but my experience on this trail was both thrilling and miserable. I ran out of water at mile 7 of the 10 mile out-and-back. My feet were already blistered before starting this trail because I was breaking in a new pair of hiking shoes that weekend. I ran out of charge on my phone half way - so didn't get the photos I wanted and was left without a key emergency tool. And, since I've become accustomed to mild southern Wisconsin hiking I opted out of bug repellent and was seized on by swarms of mosquito and wood ticks. I even walked for 1 mile off the trail before realizing and so added two miles to my total for this out-and-back.

So, now that I have confessed the reasons for my difficult hike we can focus on what is awesome about this trail. I really do hope more hikers discover this trail. The scenery on this segment is grand and unusual. And, personally, I love a swampy, rooted, and rocky trail that requires an extra effort of dexterity. The visual textures of this deep and thick woods have left a beautiful imprint in my mind.

I began Turtle Rock at the Cty E parking lot. The trail descends into the river valley along a wide grassy troad. The first obstacle is a rock hop over a stream at a beaver dam. Shortly after the trail narrows to a single track. The trail continues its downward trajectory through a pine forest along the crest of a ravine with a picturesque stream at its bottom.

The trail follows this stream to its end at a placid flowage on the Wisconsin. From the mouth of the stream the trail becomes so narrow as to become invisible. The footpath is one gulp away from being in the river - just continue to follow the river bank if you are uncertain. Eventually you will come up on Grandfather Dam.

The views of Grandfather Falls and Dam are much better on the Turtle Rock than the Grandfather Falls Segment. The trail between the dam and where it turns towards the county forest is rocky, rooted, and closed in by thick forest. The footpath here is only evidenced by frequent yellow blazes on tree trunks. So keep your eyes up and stay alert for the blazes. Along this portion of the trail there are frequent rocky promontories that you can walk out into the river on. I spent some time relaxing in the sun on one of these rock and let my feet soak in the chilled water.

This is also the area where you will find Turtle Rock - a large erratic in a swampy area slightly away from the river. I thought that many of the erratics along this trail were candidates for the title turtle rock. But, the guide book describes the rock as having a turtle head protuberance projecting skyward. So, I think the one I photographed is the right one. It was between the trail and the river. The area around Turtle Rock is said to have been the site of American Indian ceremonies.

Further down the trail turns away from the river and navigates up an embankment with precarious switchbacks. Once on top the river bank the IAT joins a wide snowmobile trail. After a short distance the IAT turns off onto a single track. I missed this turn off and hiked along the snowmobile trail almost to point where it intersects the IAT again at the ravine and creek I mentioned earlier. Turtle Rock is frequently marked with yellow blazes on trees - so if you haven't seen one in 1/4 mile you have probably hiked off the trail.

The rest of the way to Burma road is easy, mostly progressing on wide grassy trails through thickets. The maze of snowmobile and hunter access trails can be confusing in this area, so it is important to keep an eye on the blazes. At the Burma Road trailhead you will find a clearing nearby which is said to be a recommended rustic campsite used by backpackers.

I didn't have any black bear or wolf sightings as I was being vigilant to make noise by breaking sticks and walking with a bear bell. But, on my return trip I did spot one of my footprints from the hike out and overlaid on top of it was a bear track - so they are certainly there, but are good at staying out of view.

In spite of my troubles on this trail it was scenic, a good workout, and memorable. I do recommend it with some precautions and preparations.

Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail




Overview: Ice Age National Scenic Trail - Turtle Rock Segment


COUNTY: Lincoln
COMMUNITIES: Merrill, Irma

TOTAL MILES: 5.0
DIFFICULTY: Moderate

IAT SEGMENT TO WEST: Averill-Kelly Creek Wilderness
IAT SEGMENT TO EAST: Grandfather Falls

POINTS OF INTEREST: Wisconsin River, Grandfather Dam, Turtle Rock, Lincoln County Forest

CAMPING: Lincoln County Forest - recommended site near Burma Road

LODGING NEARBY: Americinn, Badger Motel



Directions and Trail Map




Nearest Address for your GPS: W7531 CR-E, Merrill, WI 54452
| coordinates: 45.287719, -89.792428 |

From Milwaukee3.5 Hours
From Madison2.75 Hours
From Green Bay2 Hours
From Wausau40 Minutes
From Minneapolis3 Hours
From Chicago5 Hours


Photos




Possibly the Turtle Rock of the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Possibly the Turtle Rock of the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail

Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Trilliums Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail

Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail


Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Along the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail

This might be Turtle Rock, but there are many candidates on the trail
This might be Turtle Rock, but there are many candidates on the trail

This might be Turtle Rock, but there are many candidates on the trail
This might be Turtle Rock, but there are many candidates on the trail

Grandfather Dam on the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Grandfather Dam on the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail

Thickets on the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Thickets on the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail

Grandfather Dam on the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail
Grandfather Dam on the Turtle Rock Segment of the Ice Age National Trail

Much of the Turtle Rock Segment is on wide grassy troads
Much of the Turtle Rock Segment is on wide grassy troads