Last month while Donna was away, I decided to get out of town for a day to spend some time in the country and do a little hiking. I headed north of Madison on Highway 12 towards Baraboo and made my first stop at Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area. I’ve been here a number of time so to my surprise there was only one car in the small parking lot when I arrived and none when I left. Pewit’s Nest has become popular through posts and photos on social media. In the fall, it attracts a lot of leaf peepers so visitors are likely to find the parking lot full up. There’s no parking on the county highway running past Pewit’s Nest (please note the sheriff issues tickets with regularity so beware!) so visitors park on side roads about a 1/4 mile away and walk back to the entrance. On the day I visited, it was over cast with a slight threat of rain but the walk in the woods to the beautiful gorge was pleasant and dry. And I had the park to myself, I didn’t see another person.
Let me tell you a little about Pewit’s Nest, how it was formed and then designated a state natural area. Pewit’s Nest features a deep gorge (about 30-40 feet) that was cut when the last glacier retreated. When the Glacial Lake Baraboo drained, Skillet Creek cut a narrow canyon through the sandstone forming some potholes and small waterfalls. At one time, a waterwheel and mill were located on this site, turning lathes that repaired and manufactured machinery but no evidence of this activity remains. It is said that the fella that ran the waterwheel lived in a cave above Skillet Creek that looked like the nest of a phoebe, a bird that was also called a peewit. So early settlers called this area “Pewit’s Nest.” Since 1985 Pewit’s Nest has been owned and managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Recently, access to some parts of the 34 acre reserve have been closed to visitors due to over use and abuse by those jumping off the top of the canyon into the pools below. This area was never intended to be a swimming hole or used for rock climbing. Over the past few years, a number of people have been seriously injured when jumping or climbing putting a strain on local resources to make the challenging rescue efforts. Unfortunately closing off some of the access will also keep the many photographers out of some very photogenic areas unless they want to risk a $170 fine!
The path from the parking lot (shown below) to the gorge at first is narrow with a dense wall of brush and trees on either side of the trail.
But as one comes closer, the forest opens up and the sound of the babbling Skillet Creek comes into range.
Then within a few hundred feet, the Creek, gorge and small waterfall become visible as depicted in these photos.
A another trail takes visitors above the gorge to view one of the potholes and another water fall along Skillet Creek. But those warning signs stop the responsible visitors from going further.
I’ve made visits to Pewit’s Nest over the past 5-6 years but usually in the fall. So I dipped into my archives and found a few photos from a couple of those excursions. I think these photos really show the beauty of this natural place and why is so popular in the fall of year. What do you think?
Across the road from the parking lot stands this red granary in a field of corn. The top photo was taken this year in July and the second photo a few years ago in late October. Same barn, same field, same trees, a new crop of corn, a blue sky and a few clouds, what a difference!
This completes our brief visit to Pewit’s Nest, hope you enjoyed the trip. Remember this is a low impact area so please practice “ethical” tourism. Aldo Leopold, the author of the oft quoted “The Sand County Almanac”, UW-Madison professor, ecologist, conservationist, and environmentalist said: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Let us all keep that in mind as we traverse our natural areas set aside for us to enjoy the bounty, beauty and peace they offer to all of us.
Until next week, travel safe.