In last week’s article, we stopped by the beautiful Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area just west of Baraboo, Wisconsin. This week I’ll take you on a trek through Devil’s Lake State Park just to the south and east of Baraboo. Devil’s Lake is the most visited park in Wisconsin with over 2.5 million visitors in 2016 and one of the most visited attractions in the entire state. That’s says a lot since we have the nearby Wisconsin Dells, the unique House on the Rock, lots of wilderness and lakes in northern Wisconsin, and of course the ultimate holy temple and shrine, Lambeau Field in Green Bay!
Devil’s Lake got its name from the translation of the Winnebago word that could mean spirit, holy, mystery, sacred or devil. After statehood, railroad, hotel and tourism entrepreneurs were looking for a way to generate publicity for the area. Early newspaper reporters were eager to comply and sometimes “manufactured” and reproduced legends and stories of Devil’s Lake to interest prospective visitors. While it was called by other names, Devil’s Lake stuck because it was thought to attract the most attention. The lake is about 368 acres in size with a maximum depth of 47 feet. No motorized watercraft are allowed on the lake so Devil’s Lake has become a mecca for those interested in canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and sailing. Fishing is allowed and the activities center even lends out fishing poles but you have to provide your own license. There are a couple of nice sand beaches that attract large numbers of bathers eager to cool off on those hot summer days.
Devil’s Lake State Park was designated a state park in 1911 and today consists of over 10,000 acres of water, bluffs, and natural woodlands. There are 29 miles of hiking trails and the reason it’s the most popular visitor activity. Many of the roads, trails, campsites, some of the buildings were built by the CCC in the 1930’s that were stationed at Camp Devil’s Lake.
The day I visited there was an education program featuring early explorers with a teepee and a voyageur canoe that folks could try out, under supervision of course.
Most of my time at the park was spent hiking a couple of the trails. After exploring the North Shore Day Use Area that includes the Chateau that hosts the gift shop and snack bar and having some lunch for the energy for hiking, I set out on the Tumbled Rocks Trail along the west side of Devil’s Lake (not to be confused with the much higher elevation West Bluff Trail). This mostly level, asphalt path winds along the lakeshore and through the tumbled rocks (more like boulders!) for about a mile. Even though it was a weekday, there were lots of hikers including a couple of moms herding a group of very active boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 10. I could see myself in a couple of those boys at that age, not listening, trying to take the most difficult path and wandering off to explore. It’s a wonder I made to adulthood!
The Tumbled Rocks Trail then led to the trail (about a ½ mile) along the south side of the lake across a boardwalk and past the South Shore Day Use Area. After a brief rest and a stop for some trail snacks (they came in handy on my expedition) at the concession stand, I looked for the Balanced Rock Trail. In hindsight, I should have read the fine print in the park guide about this trail. Here’s what it says: “A difficult, steep trail; stone steps on the south face of the east bluff. Spectacular views, with Balanced Rock along the way. 0.4 miles – estimated hiking time, 45 minutes.” By the way, it’s all true, the trail was steep rising above the lake about 500 feet and the views spectacular! And it did take me at least 45 sweaty minutes on this straight up the hill trail with plenty of catch my breath stops along the way! And I made it without having a coronary along the way! A big thanks to the CCC for blazing the path and making those rock steps that aid the climb.
Once reaching the top and taking in the views of Devil’s Lake and the surrounding area, I walked the 0.1 miles down to the very popular rock formation called Devil’s Doorway. These stacked quartzite boulders were created by the freezing and thawing of the glaciers. Here’s a photo of the Devil’s Doorway.
I had to get back to my car some way and I wasn’t about to traverse the steps and boulders of the steep Balanced Rock Trail again, so I headed north on the East Bluff Trail. This was a pleasant, 1.3 mile mostly level until the end trail when it sloped gently down towards the lake. The view of the Lake was superb and the walk in the woods refreshing and inspiring. I met a lot of folks heading up the trail towards Devil’s Doorway, some without proper footwear or carrying water. Although the day was overcast, it was in the upper 70’s and humid so water was a must. It was good to see the parking lot and the car after almost 4 miles of hiking, some of it straight up the bluff! But it was enjoyable and as I headed back to Madison, I felt that I actually accomplished something that day.
Before I forget, I should mention that Devil’s Lake State Park has three large campgrounds with over 400 campsites, many with electric hookups. Although there are walkup sites available, it’s best to make reservations especially during the high tourist season, as the campgrounds are often full especially during summer weekends and holidays. Devil’s Lake State Park is also on the Ice Age Trail so those with federal parks passes get in free by flashing your pass. Again, the best deal in America! There is also a great nature center at the park with lots of activities for both adults and kids.
Here’s a few final photos from the Park.
There’s a lot to enjoy at Devil’s Lake State Park whether it’s picnicking, hiking, water sports or just enjoying the outdoors, it’s a good place to point your compass towards. Stay awhile; you’ll be glad you did.
Until next week, travel safe.