Generally, I tend to be an optimistic and positive person. Negativity just isn’t in my nature, especially when it’s about nature. (See what I did there…) Reflecting on this hike, however, I’m really struggling to find the reasons why I would suggest this park to anyone. It has beauty, yes, but so do many other locations. Does this park have enough beauty to outweigh the negatives and bring you here over another park? I’m not sure, so I guess I will let you decide.
Here it is, the natural bridge, beautiful and unique. It’s the reason for the existence of this state park and what it is named after.
How was it formed, you ask? Here’s a blurb from the Wisconsin DNR website. “Natural Bridge State Park has a natural sandstone arch created by the eroding effects of wind and water. The bridge has an opening 25 feet high by 35 feet wide. This weathered formation, in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, was missed by the glaciers during the last Ice Age.” Neat.
So let’s talk trails. Here is the park map for reference. With about 4 miles of hiking at the park, and no camping, its a great choice (or not a choice) for a day trip. The park is cut unequally by Highway C, with 1/3 of the park on the north side, and 2/3 of the park on the south. The smaller, northern side has the parking lot, the bathrooms, the natural bridge, and the overlook site. The southern side has more length of trail and passes through meadow and woods. We did not hike that portion at all, but I will get into that.
Heading out from the parking lot, we headed north. I was immediately worried about the width of the trail and the long grass bending over the trail. (Ticks!)
You can see the bathrooms on the left, and the trailhead by the stand, with the parking lot behind it. Worried, but not ready to immediately give up on a park, we pressed on. Luckily, once the trail entered the forest, it widened out significantly and the grass receded. (Whew!)
The trail continues like this until you reach the natural bridge. It’s a nice, short, slightly hilly hike. The hill to the bridge was large enough to wind me.
The bridge can only be seen from one side, but you can walk under it if you choose. There is a cave under one side of the bridge which according to the DNR website, “is a rock shelter used by native people when the glacier was melting, 11,000 years ago.” Along the rock wall you can see carvings of modern humans leaving their mark on the world. A little eerie looking, but mostly just annoying and destructive.
We encountered another group of hikers at the rock and got to talking. One of the hikers said he heard from a friend that there is a way to the top of the bridge. We later found this path and it was clearly blocked off by a fence. Stick to the designated trails, people! (Not saying that you wouldn’t, of course!) Trails are there for a reason and are meant to preserve and protect the park.
Continuing on from the rock, we decided to take the linear trail to and from the outlook point. This trail had some obstacles as there were several downed trees along the trail.
There was also a critter den you had to pass by. Knock, knock! I did not stop to find out if anyone was home.
Finally made it to the outlook point. Pretty, but it ends in a dead end, which means having to go over all the downed trees and stop by the critter’s home again, I’m not sure if I would have done this trail in hindsight.
Continuing on the trail from the point where the outlook trail breaks off, we encountered more and more downed trees and sections where the trail was very overgrown. At points, the trail again turned very narrow with tall grass and thorny plants on either side. While trying to be careful, I still ended the hike with several scratches. Luckily, there is an option to bail on the hike. There is a point where you can either continue on to the lengthy part of the trail on the other side of the road, or take the short connecting path bath to the bathrooms and parking lot. We bailed.
My take away from this park, the natural bridge was picturesque, but that section of the trail was the best kept and probably enough for me. Of course I say that without having hiked the other side of the road. I’m typically very forgiving of trails that have over grown sections, especially in a park with no onsite staff and a state DNR with a drastically cut budget. I draw a line on my forgiveness, however, when the condition of the trail made the hike unenjoyably and borderline painful. If I find myself in the area, maybe I’ll give in another shot, someday.