For hikers and prairie flower lovers, now is a great time to get yourself on over to Cross Plains, Wisconsin to explore the Ice Age Trail and enjoy an amazing hilltop prairie in full bloom. I hit the prairie on July 2oth and while the purple coneflowers were just past their prime, everything else is or is on the way to full bloom. Also watch for butterflies and dragonflies. You’ll see hundreds of bumblebees and honeybees working away as well! Check out the gallery below.
While Devil’s Lake State Park is something special indeed, there are many, many, amazing and beautiful trails and natural areas nearby. As part of our “Backyard Explorer” series, I like to feature some of these spots within about an hour’s drive of the park. Cross Plains, the home of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, is on that edge, just about a 40 minute, scenic drive from the park.
Once in Cross Plains, you’ll find that there are a variety of hiking options in the area. Today however, our goal is finding the prairie! Using the information I could find online I ended up parked in a residential district next to a trailhead between two houses. To get to the spot I took, just point your mapping software to 2001 Lewis Street in Cross Plains. There is on-street parking, although I’m not sure how the neighbors feel about it. I also found some public parking near a municipal pool about two blocks away.
The trail begins with a sharp switchbacked climb of maybe 150 feet or so before reaching a slightly overgrown overlook with a bench chained to a tree. I find that these designated overlooks are often a bit overgrown, but you can still see what the intent was. From this spot you could have a great look over the small community and the rolling hills in the distance. From this point you simply keep following the trail through the forest until finally coming to a small restored oak savanna before entering the prairie itself. A variety of trails lead you through different sections of the prairie and I’d recommend taking each one before heading back the way your came. It’s worth it. (Give yourself at least 4 hours to fully enjoy this day hike.)
Prairies are beautiful, but to the uninitiated it’s worth noting that they can be very hot, parching and full of bees, mosquitos and other biting and stinging critters that call the prairie home. Take plenty of water, wear a hat, sunscreen and if you must, bring your bug spray. Just keep in mind that most of the time the critters of the prairie are way too busy collecting pollen to worry about you.
One last note; Road Construction makes it a bit difficult to get to the Ice Age Alliance headquarters, [Detour Map] but getting to the trail isn’t a problem.
To learn more about the Ice Age Trail and find your way to this prairie and other amazing sections of the IAT, head on over to the Ice Age Trail Alliance Website. On the website you can find an online map or buy a guidebook.