One Hell of a Hiking Spot!
The fabulous Fall foilage may have influenced the following…
WOW! We just returned from one of my all-time favorite camping and hiking weekends. Devil’s Lake State Park has just rocketed into my list of favorite hiking destinations. And at just three hours North of Chicago, it may just might be my favorite hike in the Great Lakes States!
Devil’s Lake Start Park is located just south of Baraboo, Wisconsin and about 30 minutes Northwest of the Wisconsin Capital of Madison. This area is part of the Ice Age Trail which stretches across the state of Wisconsin. The receding glaciers carved their way through the state and these moraines formed over 1200 miles of awesome and irregular topography. The 9,700-acre Devil’s Lake State Park consists of 30 miles of hiking and biking trails around the 360 acre lake.
While these glaciers did help shape the area, these bluffs were formed sometime between 1.4 and 1.6 billion years ago. Yes, over one billion years ago which is before dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Nature Center located at the North end of the lake has exhibits that explain the history of the area that can fill in the story of the last billion years.
Our original plan was to spend the weekend rock climbing on the park’s famous bluffs. The area is know for it’s designated rock climbing and bouldering areas with challenges for all experience levels. Unfortunately, an unseasonable weather drop resulted in a last minute change of plans. Our climbing guide from Vertical Adventure Guides had alerted us earlier in the week that if the temperatures fell below 52 degrees, it would be too cold to climb.
We woke to below freezing temperatures and were treated to near peak Fall foliage. Although it was probably still a week or two away from the peak Autumn colors, we were pretty close and this added and extra layer to an already magnificent setting. Our back up plan was to hike a lap around the lake, taking on the East and West Bluffs.
“When life gives you limes, make margaritas” Jimmy Buffet
We hiked toward the North end of the lake and we were treated to this winding road lined with brilliant yellow Maple trees. This was a nice precursor to what was to come.
We set out to hike around the lake in a clockwise manner, attacking the 500-foot-high East Bluff Trail first. The lake is rectangular in shape and approximately one mile in length.
Before we left our campsite, we had reviewed the map and estimated that the trek around the lake was about five miles which should take us four hours to complete.
As we started ascending the East Bluff Trail as we soon realized that if we stopped to pause at every scenic view it would take us ten hours to tour the lake. Our time estimate had certainly not accounted for this level site seeing and picture taking.
The East Bluff Trail seemed considerably more difficult than its sister to the West. The trail is rated as a moderate hike, yet we did encounter several hikers who probably wished they were somewhere else.
The two most popular formations along the East bluff are Balanced Rock and the Devils Doorway. These formations and the boulder fields that we hiked through were created by the freezing and thawing of the glaciers about 8,000 years ago. After making our way down to the Devil’s Doorway, we somehow missed the trail to Balanced Rock, providing the perfect reason to return to Devil’s Lake!
We stopped for lunch at the South End of the lake which was declared a National Natural Landmark in order to preserve the forest. There are concession stands, restrooms, picnic shelters and parking at both the North and South ends of the lake. In warmer weather there are a lot of other amenities available to visitors including beaches and boat rentals. The area is known for climbing on the rocks and diving in the deep clear water. We found a picnic table under a shelter and unpacked our lunch.
After lunch we hit the trail again heading towards the West Bluff Trail. The South end of the lake is open and flat which was a nice break from the stairs of the East Bluff Trail. I was surprised to learn that the West Bluff Trail was considerably easier than the East. There are many great places to stop and look across the lake and see the massive East Bluff that we had just conquered. Another benefit of this trail are the amazing views far across the Wisconsin landscape.
We arrived back to camp and relaxed around the campfire with a fresh cup of coffee which gave us the energy needed to fire up the charcoal for a delicious Shepherd’s Pie in the Dutch Oven. There were no complaints about the sun setting early and we called it an early night to get a great night of sleep.
We have rescheduled our rock climbing adventure for May and look forward to exploring more of this 9,200-acre State Park. In addition to visiting the famous Balanced Rock, I also want explore the Effigy Mounds which are yet another unique feature of this area.
The Road less traveled. On our way home from Devil’s Lake we took the back roads WI Highway 113 for a fun diversion. But I will have to save this tale for another post.
Thanks for reading this post. If you have been to Devil’s Lake State Park, please share your experiences, suggestions, and resources in the comments below.
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if you have any questions related to camping or hiking at Devil’s Lake State Park, feel free to email me directly – Jim@CampMethod.com