I’m always a little skeptical of the most popular state parks. I tell myself that they must be so popular for a reason, but still worry the experience won’t be the same with hoards of people. With an estimated 1.2 million visitors in 2016, Peninsula State Park is the 3rd busiest Wisconsin state park. (Beat only by Devil’s Lake with 2.6 million visitors and Kettle Moraine Southern Unit with 1.3 million.)
Even so, I’ve only heard great things about the beauty of Peninsula State Park. During a winter visit to Fish Creek with some gal pals on the wine trolley (really fun, by the way) I was surprised to see the entrance to the park right in the middle of town. It didn’t make sense how a large, popular park could be right off a main highway.
Looking at the map, this made more sense. The park is the entire landmass between the road and the water, all 3,776 acres of it. With the campsites near the shore, they are far enough away to feel secluded but close enough that you could walk to town for dinner.
We had one of these campsites right on the water, which was a pretty cool experience, but I will save that for a future post. Because I took so many pictures and can’t decide which to delete because they are all so gorgeous, this post will only focus on the first half of the hike.
Like I said, we camped on the shoreline so this is also where we started our hike from. We happened to be right next to the Minnehaha trailhead which is where we started our journey. (While this was handy, it was also strange at times. Later in the night, well after dark, people would ride their bikes onto this trail. I don’t know where they were going or why, but I did wonder how that turned out for them because it was super dark.)
Length: .7 mile linear
Difficulty: Easy – although sections of this trail was full of exposed tree roots and large rocks which demanded your attention to avoid tripping
Description: Access from the campground, this trail is an easy, bayside trail connecting to the popular Eagle Trail
This trail was flat and pleasant, with nice views of the bay. Walking to the sound of gentle waves is always peaceful. The trail wasn’t well marked at points but this wasn’t a big deal as long as you kept following along the bay.
This is a good example of what I was saying about the exposed tree roots. There are enough of them that you need to spend a good portion of the hike looking down or you might trip.
From the Minnehaha Trail we met up with the Eagle Trail.
Length: 2 mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate – while not overly strenuous, the uneven rock surface requires more sure footing
Description: This trail follows along the lake under looming limestone cliffs before doubling back and climbing to the top
If you are able to, this trail is a must do in the park. It offers amazing views of both the bay and the towering 150-foot cliffs.
Similar to the last trail, the Eagle Trail requires more attention and planning than a lot of trails as the larger rocks lie in wait to trip a hiker or twist an ankle.
Shortly after beginning the trail, it turned into a creek. This was a worrisome start but we pressed on as there were large rocks to step between without getting wet feet. The stream trail quickly turned back into regular trail and all was well.
(Yup, that creek is really the trail)
Walking along the bay/harbor, each view is as scenic as the next.
(Making sure we were still on the map.)
Soon the trail brings hikers between the bay on the left and the cliffs on the right. This sign is there to inform you of your approach and warn you of the danger.
The cliffs start off small but quickly grow in size. At a few points, springs emerge from the rock as the water makes it’s way to the bay.
(Mary Jane and Michael stopping for a photo.)
Like I said, they grow into 150-foot monsters. Standing at the bottom I remembered the “loose rock above” sign and suddenly felt very vulnerable. In that moment, we were all at the mercy of mother nature.
(Jon looking up, possibly contemplating his own mortality.)
Mother nature allowed us to pass and we continued on the trail. As the trail curves, it moves away from the bay and up the cliff. Knowing we would end up on top of the cliff, I expected this part to be strenuous. I was surprised by how quickly we got to the top. After a series of larger steps and a short incline, we were at the top.
At the top is a scenic lookout point and access to Eagle Terrace, which is also a scenic overlook point, but lower.
These stairs bring you down to the terrace, a flat landing surrounded by views of the bay.
(Views of Eagle Harbor and the land across)
The terrace is a great photo op and place to rest from the hike. Here we have Mary Jane and Michael looking great.
Jon and I. Why yes, that is a Natty Light fanny pack.
I should mention, the terrace is accessible by car. Off the road is a parking lot and picnic spot. Hikers can also access the trail from this direction and opt to climb down to the shoreline instead.
These steps bring visitors from the road to the steps pictured above for Eagle Terrace access.
On the map, near the terrace, you might notice Eagle Tower. As the map states, this tower was taken down in 2016. Fundraising efforts are in place to rebuild the tower and offer additional views from even higher up. There are donation boxes at the Eagle Terrace parking lot for this effort.
From the terrace we turned inland and headed towards the nature center, but I’ll leave that for part two. Until next time!