Let's Explore Devil's Lake
I think I can safely say that Devil’s Lake is one of Wisconsin’s most popular State Parks. It’s pretty easy to see why once you visit. It offers multiple hiking trails for all skill levels, a lake for swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding and large picnic areas make it a great place for family gatherings. It’s so popular that I wasn’t sure it really even needed a review. But after thinking about our recent family out there, I thought I could bring a unique perspective to Wisconsin’s most popular State Park.
This is our second trip to Devil’s Lake in the last two years. I know that doesn’t sound like many visits, but we try to mix it when it comes to hiking. Our family likes to experience different places throughout the state. However, we felt that it was time to go back to one of our favorite spots and experience something new at Devil’s Lake.
Two years ago, around this same time of year, my wife and I took our three children who were 8, 6 and 3 years old to hike. We knew were would have to go slow with three small kids but we really didn’t care, we were just going to enjoy our day. We weren’t the only ones who thought that. It was a Saturday in September and it was usually hot, almost 90 degrees. We decided to hike the West Bluff. For those that haven’t been to Devil’s Lake, Devil’s Lake sits between two bluffs, the east and the west. It offers hiking trails on both bluffs and on our first visit we choose the west. It was challenging enough for our young family. The steep climb up to the top of the bluff was almost too much for our at the time 3 year old. But walking along the top of the bluff was well worth the struggle. And I remember how patient all the other hikers were that day with us. Even though it was 90 degrees, no one got cranky or frustrated with us and our somewhat slow pace. We finished by letting our kids wade in the clear waters of the lake afterwards.
Flash forward to today and our second visit was just as unique and special as our first. This year, we decided to skip the larger weekend crowd and visit on a Friday afternoon. Like our first visit the weather was hot and humid out. I’m starting to think it must be something connected to us, Devil’s Lake and heat.
This visit we decided to see the attractions that make this a top tourist attraction, Devil’s Doorway and Balanced Rock. To see these Wisconsin marvels, you’ll need to get to the top of the East Bluff. There are multiple ways to the top of the East Bluff and the trail we took was the East Bluff Wood Trail. We choose this trail because first it was a shorter distance to the top than the other trail and we wanted to do a nice walk through the woods. What the trail maps don’t tell you is that the climb to the top is long, steep and steady. Tie that together with the humid weather and we were beginning to wonder if we should have taken a different trail. Our slow and steady climb to the top was rewarded with a glimpse of the lake below through the trees. It was just enough of a view to re-energize us and motivate us to keep going.
Once we reached the top, we were directed to take the trail to see Devil’s Doorway. This trail is short, but doesn’t take you directly to the doorway. You have to go off this trail to the loop that takes you to see this rock marvel. Now, if you’re afraid of heights, this might not be the trail for you. To really see Devil’s Doorway and get the same view you see in all the pictures you’ve seen you need to walk the trail as is gets closer and closer to the edge of the bluff. For the most part, my family handled it well, it was a struggle for my wife and my middle child, but this portion is short and wide enough that as long as you go slow, you’ll be fine.
After getting the picture I wanted and taking in the view we backtracked to where the signs said to follow for balanced rock. The beginning of this trail was marked pretty well, but after that we struggled to understand what direction we should go. We talked to a few different hikers with the same confusion we had and finally talked to someone who told us to just head back down the bluff and look carefully for it.
We thought coming up the bluff was tough, going down was just as hard and it was steeper and all rocks. We hiked down to what felt like halfway and finally saw balanced rock. We stopped and grabbed more pictures and kept going down the bluff. Again, this was a tough and slow dissent and we realized quickly that we made the correct choice in our decision of trail direction. We met many people coming up the trail who were struggling to reach the top. We were all patient with each other realized going slow is the key. We reached the bottom and looked back at our accomplishment with much joy.
We decided, as did other groups, to walk along some trail tracks back to the main portion of the park. Now I’m not saying what we did was right. I know that railroad track are considered private property and should be respected, but after a long hot hike, we decided this was our easiest path back. Plus, we got to see some great views of the lake as well as the bluff.
We were more prepared this time than we were two years ago and let the girls swim in the clear lake before we decided to call it a day.
I’ll say that it surprised me a little bit that we were able to go back to Devil’s Lake two years after our first visit and the experience was completely new. That’s important to remember. Just because you’ve been to a State or County park in the past doesn’t mean you should cross it off your list and never return. I’ll admit, on our first visit we wouldn’t have been able to do the hike we did this year. It would have been too difficult for our kids. But as our kids get older, we realized it opens up more opportunities to go back to some of our favorite places and experiences our love for them all over again.
So remember one of the great things about Wisconsin is that it changes with each season and that means you can experience new things each and every time you visit your favorites spots as you become one of Wisconsin’s Outdoor Explorers.