At the end of September, we were in Illinois for a gigantic family reunion down on the farm and stayed with a cousin in southern Wisconsin. If the liveliness of over 120 relatives (some of them children running along the rolled hay bales) wasn’t enough, we also had tours of the Victorian farmhouse, photo booth, quilt show, vast buffet and rides in a restored 1919 Ford milk truck. Not sure who won the best guess on the pumpkin’s weight (It was 762 lbs.)
We had given ourselves many places to go north of Madison, Wisconsin – time was precious – thus at the first State Park sign we saw – we turned off Hwy 12 to the Natural Bridge State Park. It couldn’t be far (naturally it was 8 miles as the crow flies or 11 miles on a windy country road between the towns of Leland and Denzer.) I quizzed a woman returning to the parking lot. “Not too far. I’m just not in shape. But worth it.” The trail was short with a bit of hill. Environment was woods with an sumac meadow until we climbed through the woods to the bridge.
Archaeologist exploration of the area indicates people living here 12,000 years ago, right under that arch to the left of the sign.
This part of Wisconsin was not scoured clean in the last glacial visit, so many layers of sandstone are revealed by water and wind erosion. That opening is 25′ height to 35′ wide. The woods around us were not unfamiliar with dominance of oaks. The color of fall was starting to show.
The park is 530 acres with probably 4 miles of dirt and grass trails. Some on the other side of the road. $10 or $7 parking depending on license plate. Picnic. Bathroom. And not a warning I usually have to issue in California – but hunting okay in season. Heads up.
Off the other side of Hwy 12 and closer to Baraboo is Devil’s Lake State Park founded in 1911. We went to the north entrance. (More trails and fun on the south side.) We came to a beautiful wooded area with lawns and picnic tables along a 360 acre lake. Just what Mike was looking for – he spent his youthful summers at a lake in northern Wisconsin.
Then there’s a beach.
I imagine this park is totally packed in summer with these vast areas and a large concession building. Camping and boat rentals abound too. The end of September it was just about perfect.
With twenty-nine miles of trail we made a simple choice along the edge of the lake. It’s only a mile out and back on Tumbled Rock Trail, connecting to other trails. (We hardly completed one mile.) You’ll soon see what “Tumbled Rock” means.
The trail meanders along the lake. It’s oddly paved over the tumbled rocks which makes for an uneven path. Not really wheelchair accessible.
On I went, looking up to tumbled rock. People were climbing above me. I think there is another trail uphill. With a short visit, we didn’t get to other formations around the lake. Interesting rocks are formed – as in left behind – when water around the rock freezes and thaws over long periods of time.
The rock is Baraboo Quartzite with a lavender hue. Formed over a long time with trillions of tons of pressure – this is one hard rock. The lake was formed by glaciers leaving piles of rock, gravel and earth at each end of the lake. The lake’s water is supplied by springs.
The view across the lake was lovely. I could see down to the beach on the south shore. I also saw some of the rock cliffs across the lake, but couldn’t capture them on my phone camera.
Mike was rewarded by staying put and resting his feet from our active day.
For basic information on the park, click Devil’s Lake State Park. Plenty of recreation. Rates as the other parks, less for Wisconsin residents and annual pass deals.
We came to Mirror Lake State Park the next day as it was not far from the International Crane Foundation (more on that visit another post). And not far from Hwy 90/94 south of Lake Delton. Unfortunately the highway was a constant reminder. We entered at the main park entrance on Hastings Rd. and paid $5 for out-of-state one hour visitor. The Ranger, at the Visitor Center, kindly advised us to walk at Echo Rock since we only had a short time. Past lots of camping, we found the trailhead.
Less than a half mile walk, we were happy to have an easy flat walk through the woods with a treat in store. Looks innocent here.
It’s a little more dramatic around the rock.
Oh yes, there was a lake below. Mirror Lake is one of a series of lakes off the Wisconsin River to the east.
We enjoyed these places and could have spent more time exploring – but we had’t planned for that. Stop and see and move on. Next time?
Wisconsin has about 60 parks. I’m sure you can find something you’d love.
See you on the trail!
Words by Lynn Millar, pictures by Lynn and Mike Millar – available upon request.