Donald County Park, Dane County, Madison, Wisconsin, A Short Hike to a Big Rock in the State Capital Area

Now let’s take a short break from the Wisconsin state park system. I spend so much time driving to parks all over the state that sometimes I forget there are great options for hiking right in my backyard. One of these options is a park located 19 miles out side of Madison and managed by Dane County, Donald County Park.

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Wisconsin’s Governor Dodge State Park — A Waterfall, A Canyon, and Farming History

I love when parks surprise me. Let me rephrase, I love when parks surprise me in a positive way. I don’t love being surprised by an army of mosquitoes, finding the trail underwater 2 miles in, or finding your campsite has no shade on a 90 degree day. I do, however, love when you start a trail with only a vague knowledge of what’s to come and find so much more than you expected.

I had this experience at a park I’ve been going to for years, Governor Dodge State Park. Living in Madison, this park is an easy drive for a day-trip. Although I’ve been to the park numerous times I somehow never explored the area around one of the park’s main attractions, Stephens Falls. I’ve been to the falls but it was always full of multiple groups of people. Maybe that’s why I ignored all the trails around it. I tend to avoid crowds, especially in natural areas when I’m trying to get away from people. Boy, was I missing out.

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Wisconsin’s High Cliff State Park — Hiking the Niagara Escarpment with views of Lake Winnebago

Imagine this. It’s a Tuesday night in summer. You’re thinking about the upcoming weekend and how you would love to get out and hike. You decide to start planning your weekend trip. What makes you decide which park you want to visit? What features of the park do you hope to hike in, up, or around? In my experience, those features are often water, hills, and history.

If you’re lucky, the park you select might have all three. High Cliff State Park happens to be one of those parks.

Last summer we took a trip to hike and camp at the park. Located on the northern shore of Wisconsin’s largest lake, Lake Winnebago, the park is a short 20 minute drive from Appleton. This makes it a popular destination in the summer for locals and non-locals alike. During the trip we had the chance to both hike and camp at the park.

The park is named for the high limestone cliffs created by the Niagara Escarpment. I’ve written about other parks dominated by this landscaping feature in my Peninsula State Park and Ledges County Park posts. The entire escarpment runs for 650 miles through Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario. The feature begins (or ends) in Wisconsin’s Waukesha County. It then travels northeast through Lake Michigan and Lake Huron before turning southeast. It eventually becomes the most famous feature of the escarpment and one of the most famous waterfalls in the world, Niagara Falls. In all, Wisconsin has 230 miles of the escarpment. With the dramatic cliffs and scenic views it’s no wonder that a variety of parks line the escarpment. High Cliff State Park is one of those.

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Wisconsin Dells, Chapel Gorge Trail and Rocky Arbor State Park, fall throwback

It’s the hottest week of 2020 so far. As I write this, it’s a muggy 89 degrees outside. Let’s cool off with a look back to a fall hike in October 2019.

Every year a group of friends rents a cabin and gathers for a weekend of games, laughter, and togetherness. It’s a wonderful tradition that continues to grow and take on little traditions of it’s own. One that I fully support is the annual hike. Anyone in the group interested in incorporating a little movement into their weekend of board games, over indulgence, and lazing around is welcome to participate in the short, local hike.

This past year featured two locations around the Wisconsin Dells area, the Chapel Gorge hike and a hike at Rocky Arbor State Park. Let’s start with Chapel Gorge.

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Wisconsin’s New Glarus Woods State Park — Spotted Cow Pairs Well With These Easy Trails

I’m kind of embarrassed about how long it took me to write this blog entry. In one month, it will be one year since this trip. Oops! To be fair, this trip was right after the bachelor/bachelorette parties and two weekends before the wedding. We had a lot going on!

Before we got to the hiking and camping portion of our New Glarus excursion, we had to check out a few of the local businesses. New Glarus, Wisconsin is the cutest little town! It calls itself “America’s Little Switzerland” and leans heavily into this brand with the design of the buildings, restaurants, shops, and festivals resembling what you might find in a small Swiss town. We happened to be in the downtown area during music fest. which was a lot of fun.

We started with a wine tasting, checked out the music, bought some meats for the campfire, and went to the brewery.

Check out where we went. All of these businesses are worth your patronage.
Hawk’s Mill WineryRuef’s Meat MarketNew Glarus Brewery

Okay, back to the nature part of this story, New Glarus Woods State Park. We camped and hiked at this park, staying there for two days.

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Big Bay State Park Camping, Wisconsin’s Madeline Island, Site #59, Oh Deer!

To finish up the tale of the mini-moon, we end with the review of the campsite at Big Bay State Park. In case you missed it, we arrived at Madeline Island late in the afternoon and checked into our site for the next two nights. In addition to camping at the park, we also hiked. Check out those recaps and reviews here with PART 1 and PART 2.

Helpful Park Links:
Park Website
Camping Reservations

The park has 60 campsites with some electrical sites, some walk-in sites, and some group camp sites. There are both flush and vault toilets with showers available. The park sells firewood in a shed near the park office. (Bonus, the woodshed had a box of free newspaper for fire starting It was the local island newspaper. Sure, the news was a few months old, but it was interesting to read the happenings of the locals.)

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