I recently had the chance to visit Roche-A-Cri State Park in central Wisconsin on a hiking and camping trip. Before the trip, I knew virtually nothing about this park other than it had campsites, hiking trails, and some sort of mound in the center. Was this mound a large hill? Perhaps a Native American burial mound? Who knew!
Driving north from Madison for an hour and a few minutes, getting there was simple. According to the map, the park is only a few miles away from Adams and Friendship. I knew that these towns were small, but I also knew that they were just big enough to make the park feel less secluded than I was hoping for. I was pleasantly surprised that this wasn’t really an issue. Aside from a few ambulance sirens in the morning, the park was quiet and peaceful.
Roche-A-Cri State Park surrounds and protects the 300 foot high rock formation, the Roche-A-Cri Mound. (Mystery solved, a rock!) At the base, the rock contains Native American petroglyphs in the shapes of canoes, birds, and geometric designs. While faded and somewhat difficult to make out, these are worth seeing, if only to appreciate their age. (I’ll touch on those more in the part II post.)
The most scenic trail at the park by far is the Top of the Rock Trail. The Top of the Rock Trail contains 303 stairs that bring climbers up some 300 feet to experience incredible views of the surrounding forest and countryside. And yes, the only way to the top is by stairs. The trail isn’t marked by name on the park map, but is instead shown by a bunch of stair drawings/lines. I circled it in blue below.
Here we go! Beginning with a nice, gradual climb, the trail quickly turns to stairs. Lots of stairs.
No where to go but up! Or back down, I guess, but that would be quitting. The trail has ample places to stop along the way. At each landing you will also find signs teaching you about the mound, how it was formed, what it’s made of, etc.. These signs reference what amazing things you will see at the top, providing further motivation for you to get up there.
Trees growing on the side of the mound.
About halfway up, you can see the platform at the top! So close!
Made it! At the top you will find a long, fenced in walkway leading to an overlook.
Once on top, you can see for miles and miles. Pictures and maps found along the outer rail of the outlook platform show you other landmarks and rock formations near by that you can look for.
It’s likely that you will see a few turkey vultures flying around. One of the other trails in the park is named Turkey Vulture Trail for their presence and activity in the area. I personally find them to be kind of cute, in a crazy, raptor bird sort of way.
Once you’re done enjoying the view, it’s time to climb back down. Unfortunately, the only way down is the way you just climbed up. If your legs are feeling a little wobbly from the climb, and any hiking you did before it, grab on to those guard rails. It’s a long way to fall.
While this climb was strenuous and testing, it was definitely worth it. It was also a fantastic workout. The staircases are wide and well built, making them as enjoyable as they can be for stairs. If you’re at all worried about the difficulty, remember to take it at your own pace and pause for rests along the way. Many people were doing this, so absolutely no shame in that.
So ends part I of the Roche-A-Cri story. While this section of the hike was very scenic, it only made up a tiny section of the 4.5ish miles hiked. Stay tuned for more, including some gorgeous pictures of the mound itself.