Exploring Devil’s Staircase | Ice Age National Scenic Trail | Janesville, WI

By Therese Oldenburg | Wisconsin Master Naturalist | July 9, 2016

The Rock River Trail recently added Hiking Trails as one of the experiences you can enjoy along the trail. I manage the website for the Rock River Trail Initiative and helped put together the hiking map. While adding items to the map I was intrigued by the name of one of the sections along the Rock River in Janesville called “Devil’s Staircase”. I happened to be in Riverside Park in Janesville this weekend, watching my son coach a baseball game, and I remembered the trailhead for this section was nearby. I decided to take a break from watching baseball during the 3rd inning (they were winning) and set off to find the entrance.

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Discovering Hidden Beauty on the Rock River Trail

I came upon the Ice Age Trail sign near the “South Pavilion” (where the Scot family was busy having a family reunion) and set off on the trail. Once I stepped onto the trail and climbed the steps up the bluff I left behind the shouts of baseball fans and laughter from the family reunion and was immediately engulfed in a shady and lush oasis of ferns and other greenery. This rugged trail offers beautiful views as it hugs the 80′ limestone bluffs along the Rock River. I was on the trail for just over an hour and the portion of the trail I took wasn’t more than 1 mile in length (I did a round-trip loop).

As I wrapped up my quick hike and emerged from this beautiful oasis and returned back to “civilization” I heard shouts from the baseball diamond and was hoping Beloit’s Junior Legion team was still winning. I headed back to the diamond and was immediately drawn back into the fun and activity of a typical sunny Saturday at Riverside Park. I arrived at my spot on the bleachers to watch them win in the last inning, smiling from my quick escape into the hidden beauty on this gem of a trail along the Rock River.

I’m thankful I was able to enjoy a short walk on the Ice Age Trail and I highly recommend you explore this section of the trail.

Note: There are a few spots just along the trail that has poison ivy. Be sure you know what it looks like and take caution when venturing off the trail. See photo of poison ivy at bottom of page.

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About Devil’s Staircase

“The Devil’s Staircase trail is a historic walking path built after the first World War in Janesville WI. In the 1980’s it was revived 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. It’s 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.” From Wisconsin Explorer Blog (click to read more)Devils Staircase Rock River Trail Ice Age Trail Janesville Wisconsin (6)

Beautiful hiking opportunities abound along the Rock River Trail.

The Rock River Trail is a system of recreational trails on and along the Rock River that goes through 11 counties in Wisconsin and Illinois.  From its headwaters in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, all the way to to the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois, the Rock River provides a multitude of recreational opportunities, scenic beauty and historic and cultural assets. While there is not a continous hiking trail along all 320 miles of the Rock River, we’ve identified over 35 locations that you can enjoy a hike of various lengths along the Rock River corridor.  We invite you to visit and hike at all of these locations to achieve the 320-Mile Award for Hiking. You can do it in any order, and in any time frame you choose. Learn more about Hiking the Rock River Trail. 

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About the Ice Age Trail

During the past 2.5 million years, colossal ice sheets gripped the globe, perhaps 15 different times. Glaciers sculpted about one-third of the earth’s landmass. Sometimes 2 miles thick, they stretched from present-day New York to Montana, and from Ohio to Hudson Bay, Canada.

Today, the Ice Age Trail takes you through some of Wisconsin’s most scenic terrain – mature forests, expansive prairies and thousands of lakes and rivers. The story of how this landscape was sculpted starts with the glaciers… Learn more. 

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Learning to identify and avoid Poison Ivy is a necessary skill when hiking.

Read more about the Ice Age Trail and Devil’s Staircase:

Wisconsin Trails Article “A Natural Oasis in Janesville”

Wisconsin Explorer “Hiking the Ice Age Trail Devil’s Staircase

Ice Age Trail Website

Map showing Devil’s Staircase Trailhead


Rock River Trail Stories image for websiteDo you have a Rock River Trail story?

We’d love to feature your story on the Rock River Trail website in our new section called “Rock River Trail Stories”. In this new section we are looking to feature unique and authentic experiences, features, flavors of the communities found along the Rock River Trail. So, whether you’re an individual, belong to a group, or represent a community, we’d love to hear from you. Please send as an email if you’re interested in submitting your story.