There are only 77 so called “Last Great Places” in the world, according to the Nature Conservancy. One of them is in the land of cheese and Packers fans. I have now been to this park twice in my life. The first time was neat, yea, but we were really only there for about a day and did not get to experience much. The second time was this previous weekend, and I fell in love. The rock formations are an enchantment to the eye and the soul. The lake, though quite small, holds a spot in my heart. Devil’s Lake State Park is in Wisconsin, and I suggest you make the trip someday, especially if you are in the area.
Devil’s Lake State Park is located just outside of the Wisconsin Dells area in Baraboo, but do not let this fool you because it is not a crazy tourist area. It is much more pristine in nature. The activities in the park are centered around two locations that are on opposite sides of the lake. They are almost exactly the same, which is cool. The major differences between the two are really just the campgrounds and the nature center only being on one side.
The nature center is a collaboration of history and ecology, as I believe they should be. We happened upon it during a small, roving program about raccoons. After entering, you see a sum of amphibians and reptiles. You see a monarch chrysalis (listen to our upcoming podcast for things you’ve never known about these). There were also countless artifacts ranging from taxidermy raptors to a beautiful Eddy (a boulder that creates a glacial pothole). Then, you travel downstairs and see the history, though still pretty white washed. They do what most state parks do and at least try to present precolonial history with accuracy. You can tell they are working on it. You also learn here that from 1934-1941, 200 members of the Civilian Conservation Corps lived there in a work camp to build the trails and buildings. It takes a while to figure out why the lake is called Devil’s Lake. I’ll leave that up to you to figure out. Don’t cheat and use Google!
Outside of these areas, there are a multitude of hiking trails that go high and low. Their website says they have 29 miles of trails, which I’m tempted to return to for some cross country skiing. Part of the trail system is actually on the National Ice Age Trail. We were on it for a while. The trails are cliff side for much of the park, and they involve a lot of elevation changes, including steep stairs up and down the cliffs. I’m pretty sure I gave my husband a few heart events balancing on the ledge, which I do not recommend or condone for those who are not 100% sure of themselves and their balance.
Honestly though, these are the very best park of the hike. I am kind of an adrenaline junky, so the shaky legs the cliffs gave me were a good thing. We hiked a total of 13 miles in two days at this park. I congratulate my family who was there a day earlier because they likely went another 4-8 miles than this. We ended up gaining over 1000 feet of elevation in total, and this includes going back up after going down.
We stopped quite often on top of the cliffs because we needed to pose for the gram (follow me, @teacherwhohikes) and watch men and women rock climb their hearts out on a rock face called Devil’s Doorway. We also did get lost — but only for a little bit! After the cliffs and the terrifying climb down the steep stairs, to which rain began to fall on making the steps slippery thus causing me to fall on my behind like twice, we trekked around Devil’s Lake. This was just as fabulous because here is where we witnessed an array of raptors and gulls fishing for dinner. We even had a glorious bald eagle sweep down and grab a fish right in front of us. This was after I verbally announced that I didn’t need to dig my camera out of my pack because I have enough pictures of eagles. That is how things work though, isn’t it?
We ended up staying at this park for 3 nights. Each night, we were greeted by a little raccoon or two outside our tent. I don’t care if people think they are a nuisance. I think they are amazingly adorable. In fact, I’m going to make Devon do a whole post on these bandits and their tiny hands. The campsites were clean, and the bathrooms were too. Contrary to my countless calls of “Who cooks for you,” we did not see or hear owls. We did however get to meet countless blue jays and their crow acquaintances. We also got to witness ants not only take their larva out of the ground during wet weather, but we watched as they brought the babies back home after it dried out.
Another draw to this park is the swimming. In Minnesota, our lakes are either coated with seaweed or zebra mussels; both drive what seems like everybody except me mad. I don’t care, but I will say that it was nice to have a sandy, only slightly rocky bottom to walk on. The water is interesting too because there is no inlet or outlet. It is just there. The water is also the view when you look out from the chateau/gift shop. We were there and by chance got to witness history. This lake used to be a place where people dressed up and came to dance and mingle, and what do you know! One of these big band events was taking place, and couples were dancing. It was a sight to see.
All of the enjoyment would not have been possible without the invitation from my family who lives in Wisconsin. Their presence made it all that much better. In the words of Chris McCandless, “Happiness is only real when shared.”
If you have a story about or from hiking please do not hesitate to share. We will totally feature your story and pictures. To contact us with your story, message us on Instagram, @teacherwhohikes. You can also message The Wild Life on Facebook.