Love it or hate it, the Wisconsin Dells area is a staple of Wisconsin tourism. People from all over the world choose to visit the waterpark capital of the world every year. While I might not understand the reasoning behind having so many waterparks in a state that is too cold to open them for more than a few months each year, I do still appreciate them for what they are. Sliding down the Point of No Return is a fantastic mix of nostalgia and adrenaline, all ending in a mega-wedgie. (Which, as it turns out, is the very apt name of a slide in Hurricane Harbor at Six Flags Great America.)
With all the waterpark attractions, however, comes a host of touristy restaurants and over priced hotels. While this was always a part of the Dells, it seems to have exploded in the last decade or so with the addition of hotel giants. I love visiting the Dells, but I don’t always want to spend a night in a cookie cutter room eating the same old. So what’s a great alternative? Camping and cooking over an open fire!
Enter Mirror Lake State Park.
A few miles south of Wisconsin Dells sits Mirror Lake and Mirror Lake State Park. The 2,200 acre park contains beach, forest, and wetlands and offers an activity for everyone. Hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, camping, and winter activities are all popular activities within the park. There’s so much to do, you might not be able to fit it all in the same day you spend at a waterpark.
Hiking: The park has 19 miles of trails in a variety of lengths and difficulty. Many of the trails connect which makes longer hikes easier and more efficient. Of the 13 trails and connecting passes, we hiked 4, for a total of 6.6 miles.
Fern Dell Trail
Length: 3 miles
Positives: Mostly well maintained, a lot of tree cover
Negatives: Not a large variety of terrain or views, very sandy at points
This trail was very pleasant. A short walk or drive from the park entrance, the Fern Dell Trail begins at a parking lot just off Hastings Road. (If you aren’t familiar with the area, definitely stop in at the ranger station for a map.)
The trail begins with two options. 1) Start directly on the trail or 2) start on a short, looping segment that ends up back on the trail. We chose to hike the small looping section. This portion of the trail followed the road for a short while before turning back towards the main trail. It was near the road and not very secluded. It was short enough but, in hindsight, would have been okay to skip.
The rest of the trail is mostly wide and flat. The ground cover switches between pine needles, sand, and grass. The needles and grass were ideal, but the sand made walking difficult and dirty. Getting sand in your shoes and socks in never fun.
(Tent caterpillars just off the trail. Yes, those dark masses are all caterpillars.)
Half way through the Fern Dell Trail we took the connecting pass to the next trail. We finished the last half of the Fern Dell Trail on the way back.
Turtleville Trail and Wild Rice Trail
Length: 2.4 miles and .6 miles
Positives: Curves near the water
Negatives: Not very well kept in areas
The Turtleville Trail is accessible by crossing Turtleville Road halfway through the Fern Dell Trail. The transition is well marked and easy to find. The trail immediately begins in a meadow with little to no tree cover. For a hot day, this wasn’t ideal.
We did see this little guy on the trail. He paused long enough for me to have a photo shoot.
From the meadow, the trail then moves into the woods before meeting up with the Wild Rice Trail. This is a short trail that curves towards the water. After seeing woods and meadow all morning, this change of scenery seemed like a welcomed idea. While the trail does near the water, the overlooks and scenic points are overgrown and seemed to be falling apart.
The point where the trail meets the water is the furthest point from the parking lot. From this point we finished the Wild Rice Trail, then the Turtleville Trail, and then the last half of the Fern Dell Trail.
Had we known the views of the water were less than great, or non-existent in parts, we would have skipped this portion of the trail.
Echo Rock Trail
Length: .6 miles
Positives: Views of Echo Rock, paved – more of a tourist trail than a hiking trail, unique views of a supper club.
Negatives: Busier than most other trails, which is to be expected being so close to the campground.
This trail is located in the park near Cliffwood Campground and a parking lot. It is a wide, paved trail that slopes downhill from the road towards the water. The purpose of the trail is to bring travelers either to Echo Rock or past the rock to Ishnala Supper Club. The supper club is visible from the side of the rock. It was unique to see kayaks and canoes docking. Sitting on the rock, you could easily hear the music playing from the club. It was old timey, and made the scene a little eerie.
Looking back, it would have been fun to end the day with dinner and a drink at Ishnala. After hiking in the heat all morning, I’m sure the staff and other dinner guests would have appreciated a change of clothes though!