Willow Rive State Park Part II — Disappearance of the Lake, the Nature Center, and a Snake

Quick recap: Over Labor Day weekend, we went hiking and camping at Willow River State Park near Hudson, WI. The first day of hiking brought us to a gorgeous waterfall and some amazing views from the overlook point above it. If you missed that post, check it out here. The waterfall is a must see for anyone visiting the park.

Now for Part II!

Follow along by checking out the park map.

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Our plan for day 2 was to explore the trails south of the river and the last waterfall overlook point. This included the Little Falls Trail, the Trout Brook Trail, the Oak Ridge Trail, the White Tail Trail, the Knapweed Trail, the Pioneer Trail, and, for the second time, the Willow Falls Trail. In total, this was about 6 miles of hiking.

Little Falls Trail:

Length: .7 miles
Difficulty: Easy, the trail is relatively flat except for 1 short hill near the campground
Positives: The only paved path in the park, allows rollerblades and bikes, convenient as it connects to the 300 campground, this trail was literally across the road from our site.
Negatives: This trail can be busy as it is the best way to get from the campground to the beach area.

This trail starts at the campground and slopes downward towards the lake. The lake?

Just kidding! There is no lake. At least, there is no lake anymore. In 2015, the dam which functioned to create the lake was decided to be unsafe and was demolished. With the loss of the dam the lake disappeared, but the memory of it remains. That sounded overly dramatic. What I mean is there are leftovers and reminders from the days of the lake like a boat launch, a beach area, and oddly placed picnic tables and fire pits. (These make a lot more sense when you remember they were placed to be near the water and probably provided a magical waterfront experience.) It seemed to me, with my optimistic world view, that all of these reminders were likely kept around because there seems to be hope that the dam and the lake will one day be restored. (They totally weren’t kept because the DNR doesn’t have the budget to remove a beach and boat launch…)

In February of this year, Governor Walker visited the park to announce $11 million in the capital budget to go towards rebuilding the dam. That sounds like a great idea! However, with all things fiscal in this state, I’ll believe it when I see it.

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This fire pit a short distance off the trail would have been a great secluded spot so close to the lake.

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The same goes for this picnic table. In the distance, you can see the river in the middle of what would have been the lake.

While you’re looking at that picture, see the tree line on the other side of the river? That slopes up to a ridge that runs along the river. When we first arrived, we noticed some very nice houses on that ridge overlooking what seemed to be swampy grassland. This seemed very odd and out of place. Now, knowing more about the history of the park, this makes total sense. These homes were likely built with amazing views when a lake was still present. Or perhaps they were built after 2015 when land was less expensive, knowing or hoping the lake would come back. Either way, I’m sure these home owners are holding their breath on the plans to rebuild the dam.

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Just admiring a really big tree along the trail. This thing was seriously massive. Jon’s gorilla wingspan can’t even measure it!

The trail opens up to an area that used to be the beach. This area also has a playground, picnic tables, a shelter, and the nature center. Being labor day weekend, this area was already buzzing with families setting up their celebrations for the day.

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The nature center is worth a visit to learn about native and invasive plant and animal species found in the area.

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Make sure to visit Bob the Bison while you are there. Pictures are encouraged, touching is not. Bob doesn’t enjoy being petted. Look at the size of Bob’s head compared to Angela’s!

Alright, that’s enough learning. From the nature center we continued west to the Trout Brook Trail.

Trout Brook Trail:

Length: 1.4 miles, one linear portion, one loop
Difficulty: Easy, mostly flat, wide
Positives: Views of the river, abundant wildlife
Negatives: Challenging to find at first

The Trout Brook Trail begins on the other side of the parking lot and park road. We initially had trouble finding it as it felt strange and incorrect to be walking through a busy parking lot to get to a trail. This trail follows along the river during it’s linear portion before turning into a loop away from the river. Along the linear portion, this trail meets the Nelson Farm Trail at a bridge crossing the river. The farm trail is the longest trail in the park and sounded both diverse and challenging. Unfortunately we did not have time for it this trip.

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The bridge crossing the Willow River and marking the Nelson Farm Trail.

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The river is visible during only a short segment of trail.

The loop portion of the trail is clearly marked. This loop brings hikers through both pine forest and prairie. Along the trail several people were bird watching.

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We met this little guy on the trail. For once, I was the one who spotted him! (I’m usually the one who doesn’t see them and end up almost stepping on snakes.) In true little snake style, he stopped and stared at me while I took a picture. I say little snake style because I have no idea what a larger dangerous snake would do. Not that I intend to ever find out.

We completed the loop, traveled back on the linear portion of the trail, and met the Oak Ridge Trail.

Wow, I underestimated that amount of pictures I took and the information I learned about the park! I had originally intended the Willow River trip to only have two parts, but now I’m going to stretch it to three. This post has gotten lengthy and there are still miles and miles ahead of us on this hike. Stay tuned, my friends!

4 thoughts on “Willow Rive State Park Part II — Disappearance of the Lake, the Nature Center, and a Snake

  1. Pingback: Willow River State Park, Part III, The Final Overlook, History, and Really Old Graves – Hiking Hungry

  2. Pingback: Campsite Review: Willow River State Park, 300 Campground, Site #363 – Hiking Hungry

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