Devils Lake Wisconsin
Directions: Coming From The South: From Interstate 90-94 just take exit 106 to Highway 33. Take a right at the stop sign and go to Baraboo. (13 miles) When you get to Baraboo Take a left at the 2nd stop light. (This is Business Hwy 12) Then go through town and watch for a sign to the park. You will turn left on Highway 123 and follow it straight out to the park. Coming From The North or Wisconsin Dells: Just take Highway 12 south (Exit 92) and go about 1 mile past Baraboo (approximately 14 miles). Take a left on Highway 159. This will bring you to Highway 123. Take a right and follow into the park.
Formed 1.6 billion years ago, the Baraboo Hills rise 500 feet above the surrounding landscape. The Green Bay Lobe covered the eastern half of the Baraboo Hills and deposited the end moraine, which created Devil’s Lake. To the north and south of the Baraboo Hills, the trail crosses glacial out-wash plains and small moraines. A combination of interesting geology, diverse fauna, prehistoric effigy mounds, historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) buildings and spectacular scenery make Devil’s Lake a popular “must-see” destination.
As it was going to be warm today (in the 90s) and the park will be busy due to the fact that it is Memorial Day, we set out early. It was a beautiful drive into the park. The entrance drive is wooded with a wide variety of trees. The greens were vibrant and the sun shining through the canopy made the drive a psychedelic trip of greens. A kaleidoscope of greens passed your eyes as you glimpsed rays of sun escaping the grasp of the tree limbs. Each ray streamed toi the ground in a jubilant rejoice of freedom a it splashed the color of the canopy across the road. At each corner ss you drive into the park along the winding road there are outcroppings of Baraboo granite. A reddish hard rock. On some days you will catch glimpses of rock climbers scaling the granite walls as you drive in. They balance on the side of the rock precariously supported by a rope. Like spiders on a strand of silk they find their way among the cracks in the granite. The granite is a dark earthy color when washed with the greens of the canopy. Moss grows on the side of the rock displaying its love of the cool shade of the maples and oaks. The wonder of spring is welcomed after the cold winds of winter have diminished.
We decided to park by the lake. We needed to get a sticker to park in the state park and the visitor lodge is located by the lake parking lot. While we had stopped I asked the ranger if Parfrey’s Glen was open today as I had seen ropes drawn across the entrance to the second destination for hiking today. She said that it would be closed for the rest of the year for repairs. THe flooding of 2008 had caused extensive damage. The flood af water had washed out trees, boulders, stone pathways and bridges from the gorge and glen. I was sorry to hear of the close. I will welcome the opening next year with delight as it is one of my favorite spots to hike in the spring and summer. We parked with the few cars in the empty lot. It was just after 8 am and we had certainly beat the rush of park visitors.
The lake spread before us. Waves from the brisk wind caught the early sunlight, sparkling like a myriad of gems strewn across a midnight blue velvet cloth. It was as if the stars had fallen from the sky into the lak the night before. Now they could be seen at the crest of each wave in the daylight. The sun jealous of this new light reflected brightly off the tumbled rock walls of the bluffs in tones of grey, red and purple. Child’s blocks that had tumbled after a misplaced block fell causing the blocks to tumble into an unorganized pile. White pines and maples dotted the rocks. Their seeds had found earth between the rocks and the seedings had jutted up growing into magnificent trees. The spires of green shown brightly against the gray tones of the rocks. Each tree a testament to the veracity of nature.
The head of the trail lies at the west end of the beach at the line of trees. A gravel trail weaves up the side of the bluff with large boulders on your right and green undergrowth lining the forest bed on your left. I start to snap a couple of pictures of the rock formations and blooming may apples when my camera whines. Damn. I forgot to charge the battery. I had to decide if I should continue without pictures for my blog or to head back home and charge my batteries. I decided to head back home as I could not deny you the wonderful scenery of this park. I quickly dashed back home and charged the batteries just long enough to take a full set of pictures of the hike. As I made my way back into the park I knew it would be getting busy. I parked in lot partway up the bluff by the nature center and made my way back down to the lake where Tom waited for me. THere was a line of cars at the visitor center that stretched up the switchbacks of the road. I was happy that I had parked above.
Tom and I made our way back up the trail. The rock outcroppings are magnificent. The cool rocks had retained the moisture from the rain of the previous day, glistening in the sun that shone through the green leaves. Silent guardians of the trail. Just ahead lies the rock stairs the take you to the top of the bluff. These guardians ushered you through a doorway into the lush landscape of the West Bluff Trail. We made our way to the sign at the foot of the rock stairs. This marker mapped out the trails of the park and also the ice age trail the wound through the park and included the West Bluff Trail that we were to soon hike along. Trails criss-cross the bluffs and take you through the many wonderful features that dot the landscape. This trail has a grand lookout on the cliffs that give you view of the park as if you were on the back of a hawk gliding on the warm updraft of winds.
We mounted the stairs and began our climb. Quickly it becomes evident how high you are climbing as you start to breathe heavier. A look behind you and you can see the trail below you far below. The stairs wind through the trees and underbrush that line the side of the bluff. Only a short way up there are people resting on the path to catch their breath. It will be a long climb so brief rests are always welcome.
The rocks that make up the stairs are still wet with the rain from the day previous. Vigilant at every step I make my way up the side of the bluff.
The trees tower above our heads as we make our way along the path. With each step the song of the local birds greet our ears. The scurry of small mammals can be heard from under the plants and along the brown leaves from lat autumns drop of foliage. If you hike this trail at the end of may you can see the wild geraniums in bloom. They line the forest with blossoms of pink that smile up at you through their deep lobed leaves.
Our fist stop up the bluff is an out look over the beach. You can see the Baraboo Hills in the background. The wooded area stretches for miles in each direction. The rock cliff does not jut out far enough to see the town of Baraboo but I joke anyway that I can see my house from up here. The beach lies below with the many park visitors already enjoying the cool water of the lake filled by the cold rains of spring. The water is refreshing on a hot day like today. Already the temperatures are rising well into the 80s. I can feel the sweat running down the small of my back. It tickles as it makes its way along my skin. I can hear the swimmers and picnickers below. wild screams of enjoyment and high-pitched giggles float up the side of the bluff intermingling with the birdsong.
This is not the expansive look out the lies farther up the trail but a taste of what lies ahead.
I catch a picture of Tom as he stands close to the edge. He is shaded by the overhead trees so it is hard to see his smile. Yet if you look closely you can see the mischief at the corners of his lips.
The walk up the bluff starts to level. We hike in and out of the rocks the line the edge of the bluff. If you peer over the edge you can see the tumbled boulders below. Relics of the eons of erosion. Each rock must have a wonderful tale to tell that stretches over millions of year. If you concentrate you can hear them whispering in the wind that is caught in the white pines above.
We spy a plant popping up through the dead leaves on the floor of the forest. They look to be a saprophyte with a golden color. Meticulously lined pinecones that have been bleached of their dark brown and been placed each standing erect one can imagine. They can be seen through out the hike dotting the pathway. I am curious as to their name but have yet to find any information about them. I will have to hike up again and look for them as they ma change in appearance in a couple of weeks.
We break into a clearing and behold the view before us. We have reached the lookout over the lake and park. The water lies in a pool below us. The green bluffs spread out beyond the lake sheltering it from the heat of the day. We have reached the pinnacle of the hike. A vista of green hills lies before us. Hawks and vultures ride the updrafts on the face of the cliffs. I feel as if I could reach out and touch one. It is exciting to be so close to one of these big birds. You cannot take in the scenery without turning your head. A full view of the lake and surrounding park lie before you.
From the edge of the cliff you can see the rocks far below you. Green trees dot the rocks. From so far up they look like toys that you can reach out and place where you would like. I was able to get this string of pictures taken before the many hikers scrambled close to the edge. Myself, I stood back from the edge. The height makes me gasp and sends vertigo through my body. I am happy to enjoy the view from a couple of feet away from the edge.
Now that we have seen the outlook we make our way down the bluff. The trail winds along the edge of the bluff then makes its way inward though the forest. There are several views of the South end of the park before you descend along the trail. The East Bluff rises from the like with steep tumbled rocks and cliffs along its edge and base.
The coolness of the shades touches my skin. It is welcome after the hot sun on the edge of the bluff. Shades of green mellow your sight after the harsh reflections from the rock ledges. The chatter of birdsong greets your ears. I make my way down a series of rock stairs. It is much easier hiking down this side than hiking up the other. There are many hikers climbing up the trail as the day is getting toward noon. On the way down is a bed of maiden hair fern. The green lace covers the area hiding the brown earth and leaves. Each overlaying the next striving to capture what little sunlight filters through the canopy.
I stop. I direct my eyes on the path that I had descended. Many stairs dot the path. I spy some hikers coming down. A small boy who makes light of the strenuous hike. It is hard to believe that I once had that energy.
I move to the side and let them pass. The small boy with his father and mother in tow. What a wonderful hike for a family to share. As I make my way down I can hear him giggling as he comes upon each new wonder. We are close to the end of the hike. I can hear the passing of cars below. The trail turns to blacktop on the last descent. The road lies on your right and the bluff with its expanse of underbrush lie to the left. THere is a trio taking a picture of the mayapples in bloom. White flowers with golden centers plump with pollen for the many honey bees. Two heavy green leaves shade the flower. Hiding its beauty from all those except for the inquisitive few. Soon they will have the small green fruit that bares the seeds for next years new growth and the next season of spring.
We emerge from the trees upon a road with the lake beyond. The cool water beckons us on this hot day. Many hikers have taken refuge from the heat today in the glistening water. I stop to take a quick picture. No time for a swim as we are on our way back to the other side. It is going to be hot. This chance at a cool dip will be sorely missed later.
Onward along the tumbled rocks trail. This trail makes its way along the edge of the lake where the erosion of years has left thousands of boulders along the edge of the lake. THe trail weaves in and out of the boulders with a few areas of shade from white pines that have sprouted up many years ago to grow into towering shade trees. The smell of them is almost delicious on these hot days.
We make our way down a short road with 5 lone cottages on the shore of the lake. The road leads to the trail that opens to a tumbled rock field descending to the water. Quartzite rocks line the shore and stretch far above. The path is blacktop and winds in and out of the boulders. Many of which are taller than I. The wind has started to pick up. The waves on the lake are higher now and the breeze feels good on this hot day.
There are many hikers along this path. It is an easy path to hike. The backtop provides sure footing and the undulating path is a far cry from the steep climbs of many of the other Devils Lake trails. This makes it a draw for many a person. I see people walking their dogs, pushing strollers, large families, and women carrying their babies along the trail.
The first shade along the trail is a stand of white pines along the shore. The wind can be heard blowing through the pine needles whispering in you ear. The cool shade is noticeable. THe sweat on my arms is cools immediately. I smile as I find the comfort from the heat of the day. Up above the boughs of the tree block the sun with only small bits of sunlight breaking through the dense needles upon each bough. THe thick trunks of the pines jut out from the rocks miraculously. It is a wonder that the saplings ever found soil among the tumbled rocks. I take a seat to enjoy the breeze.
The trail again weaves through the tumbled rocks. The sun bakes the rocks during the day so there is no growth of moss upon them. Yet the proliferation of custose lichens on the rocks is fascinating. The blue-green color is inspirational. It contrasts with the rose gray of the quartzite. I have taken many pictures of it before. I was so taken by it that I painted my bathroom the same color. The lichen is flaky and some rocks are completely covered with aqua blue flakes. I run my hand down the face of the rock to feel the rough ness of the lichen. It is like green-blue calluses on the rock face and they tickle the palm of my hand as I brush the surface.
There are people climbing the boulders far above me. They have mats strapped to their backs that they use to lay on the rocks as the climb or descend them to break their fall as the jump from boulder to boulder. I can hear them chatting back and forth between gusts of wind. I spy a group taking a picture far above me. Their big packs strapped to their backs jutting over their heads.
Canoes dot the lake. Each person struggling against the strong wind gusts. I can see the grimaces on their faces as the exert themselves with each stroke of the oar. One lone kayak travels with the wind as the passenger has capitulated to the wind as they turned around and made way back to the North shore.
I see the North shore beach nearing as the trail comes to an end. The bustle of the beach is accented by the laughter of children in the water. I walk through the last shade before the end of the hiking trail. A couple has taken refuge from the afternoon sun and made use of the lazy day by taking a breather. A snap a quick photo before I move on thanking them. Such a cute couple.
The trail ends and sills out onto the beach/picnic area. I sign marks the path for those interested in a quick hike along the lakeshore. I have enjoyed my day at Devils lake and look forward to my next hike on the East BLuff. Steep climbs up the Balanced Rock Trail followed by woodland hikes along the bluff crest.