The Driftless Trail
Imagine hiking a footpath that wanders through the woods, prairies, farms, bluffs and streams of Iowa County’s Driftless landscape. It takes you through state conservation lands and through nooks and crannies owned by people who want to share the beauty of their land with you. Hike the trail for three miles or do a multi-day, 50-mile loop that connects Tower Hill, Governor Dodge, and Blue Mounds State Parks. During the winter, strap on snowshoes or skis. Explore the vistas, valleys, and cultural sites that make this area so widely renowned. This is the vision we have for the Driftless Trail.
Beyond serving up this unique experience, the Driftless Trail will create a corridor for land conservation and climate change resiliency. It will entice people to exercise, spend quality time with others, and learn about the nature, history, and agriculture they are walking through. And it will be a new economic resource for seven rural gateway communities.
This project embodies DALC’s holistic approach to conservation, a philosophy best described by the late UW-Madison landscape architect, Phil Lewis. He lived in the hills this trail will traverse and created the term “e-corridors” to describe projects that incorporate ecology, environment, esthetics, exercise, and education. DALC adds easements and economics to the mix, and the Driftless Trail covers it all.
Explore the trail!
This is a foot-only trail, to be used for hiking, running, snowshoeing, or cross country skiing. (Some segments are not safe for skiing.)
Here is the status of trail segments that are open or under construction. DO NOT visit segments that are being constructed – this is informational only.
Weaver Road Trail – OPEN
This 1.1 mile “lollipop loop” trail is located just north of Governor Dodge State Park. The first portion of the trail offers a spectacular view - and is exposed to strong winds when they occur. This trail is great for hiking in light snow and snowshoeing in deeper snow, but is not good for cross-country skiing. Find a map and more details in the Weaver Road Trail guide.
If you do explore the Weaver Road Segment, please let us know what you think! Send a note and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welsh Hills Trail - OPEN
This two-mile loop on the Taliesin property is open for public use. A portion of this loop will become part of the Driftless Trail in 2024. The other part is a paved state trail along Highway 23. Access the trail from the upper parking lot at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. This mostly level trail cuts across slopes of restored prairie and savanna, with wonderful views of the Taliesin buildings, agricultural fields, and Lowery Creek watershed. Much of it has no shade, so plan carefully on hot days.
Knobs Road Trail – UNDER CONSTRUCTION – to open August 2023
A 3.8 mile loop will traverse oak woods, pastures, hayfields, an orchard, and a Mill Creek tributary. The loop will include a one-mile walk along lightly travelled Knobs Road, between two trailheads.
The entire Driftless Trail project area is shown below. Trails open for public use are shown in red and trails under construction are shown in blue.
DALC will encourage businesses, schools, health care providers, and government officials in each town to engage with the trail as a valuable community resource.
Project history and future timeline
From 2016-2018, a planning team worked with the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program to develop the Concept Plan that is guiding this project. The plan includes valuable input from the Ice Age Trail Association, North Country Trail Association, Taliesin Preservation, advisory team members, project area landowners, and the public. This was followed by two years of landowner meetings and trail design work.
In October 2020, DALC began partnering with the WisCorps program to construct the trail. Crews of six young conservation professionals gain valuable work experience while giving this project momentum on the ground – literally. Spring and fall crews will provide construction assistance while DALC staff continue to contact landowners, develop easements, and coordinate all trail development activities.
It will likely take 20 years to complete a network of trails that connect the three state parks, Ridgeway Pine Relict State Natural Area, Trout Creek Fishery Area, Love & Strutt Creeks Fishery Area, and private lands in between. This is an ambitious, exciting, and very rewarding project.
The conservation world increasingly recognizes that corridors of contiguous, managed natural areas provide great value for movement of wildlife, distribution of native plants, and resistance to our rapidly changing climate. The larger the block of connected natural area, the more wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, erosion control, and biodiversity we have.
Throughout the Driftless Trail corridor, DALC will implement our two-pronged approach to land conservation – protect land that is managed and manage land that is protected. Both are essential. We will use the trail as an incentive for managing and protecting the land it runs through, and will assist with gathering resources to make this happen.
Hosting the Driftless Trail
First and foremost, DALC has no power of eminent domain. We will only work with landowners who volunteer to host the Driftless Trail.
The number one reason people enjoy hosting a public trail is the satisfaction of sharing their land with others. DALC listens to landowner needs as we develop either a whole property conservation easement or a trail easement -- both clearly define the trail corridor. We aim to place the trail where it will least affect the landowner and avoid impacts to sensitive natural resources while offering an exceptional hiking experience. Users of this type of trail tend to be respectful of private property. DALC bears responsibility for long-term trail maintenance.
Volunteer to help with project planning or trail construction
Join our “keep informed” list to stay updated on project happenings.
Lend your particular expertise by joining our Advisory Team
Contribute much needed financial support. (Donate online or contact our office.)
Questions? Contact Barb Barzen, Project Coordinator, via email or 608-930-3252.
Thank you to Driftless Trail financial and in-kind supporters:
Alliant Energy Foundation
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Gathering Waters Conservancy
Ice Age Trail Alliance
James E. Dutton Foundation
John C. Bock Foundation
National Park Service
Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin
North Country Trail Association