Wisconsin’s Magnolia Bluff County Park, A Wisconsin State Natural Area, Country Views from the Bluff

Now a throwback to a summer hike on a Monday afternoon. (Oh how I already miss the green grass and lush foliage.) While I don’t normally get to hike on a Monday afternoon, this day happened to be my (our) 1 year wedding anniversary. Since our planned anniversary trip and celebration to the UP was cancelled because of the pandemic, we celebrated in a much smaller way.

Magnolia Bluff County Park is located 27 miles south of Madison and 18 miles west of Janesville. This 112 acre park is managed and operated by Rock County. It has trails, lookouts, and picnic areas.

A portion of the park is designated as a Wisconsin State Natural Area or SNA. I saw this information proudly displayed on a sign at the park. Not knowing much about them, I looked for more information.

According to the Wisconsin DNR website, “State natural areas (SNAs) protect outstanding examples of Wisconsin’s native landscape of natural communities, significant geological formations and archeological sites. Encompassing 406,000 acres on lands owned by the state and its many partners, including land trusts, local and county governments, and private citizens, Wisconsin’s natural areas are valuable for research and educational use, the preservation of genetic and biological diversity and for providing benchmarks for determining the impact of use on managed lands. They also provide some of the last refuges for rare plants and animals.”

If you want to checkout SNA’s near you, the DNR has a handy map to all of them in the state. You should be able to find a few to visit as there are currently 687 SNAs in Wisconsin.

Now onto the hike!

The trail system at the park has two main access points, below the bluff and on top of the bluff. Upon entering the park, the road passes the lower parking lot before curving up towards the upper parking lot. We started at the upper parking lot.

Normally I would arrange the rest of the story by trail name. This park doesn’t separate trails by name but instead uses numbers to show trail intersections. I will refer to these numbers as we go.

From the upper parking lot, we started on the ADA trail that accesses the lookout point. This point seemed to be a big draw of the park as several people parked in the parking lot for a quick walk to the stunning views of the country side.

The exposed rock of the bluff is visible from the ADA trail. The bluff is mostly made of sandstone with limestone making up the top layer.

This point is the second highest in the county, offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

A few narrow trails provide up close and personal access to rock ledges.

Jon was excited by the view he saw. (I think? Not sure what’s going on here.)

Another option is to park at the parking lot below and hike up. While this sounded like a fun and more challenging option, we were once again limited by our (at the time) 3 month old puppy and her growing puppy joints.

From the edge of the bluff, the ADA trail turns back towards the parking lot. It also provides access to the non-ADA hiking trails. We hopped on the hiking trail at the access point and headed towards trail intersection four.

The trail began as pleasant, flat and made of packed dirt.

Tiny Moxxi puppy!

Once at trail intersection four, we planned to continue onto trail intersection three and then two. Intersection two is near another lookout point on the north side of the park. (Or so that map said.)

As you continue to the north, the trail switches from dirt to more rock and becomes uneven and jagged in some sections. In other sections, the trail is made of surprisingly deep sand. Portions of the trail are hilly, but nothing too extreme.

(Rocky section of the trail)

(Obligatory fern pic)

(A Deep sandy section. The sand came up to my ankle in some sections and made me feel like I was walking on a beach.)

Something else to know is that a few of these trails are shared equestrian trails. Seeing horse trailers in the parking lot, we were prepared to meet horses on the trail. While we didn’t pass them on our trail, we saw them on a nearby trail. This was Moxxi’s (the dog’s) first time seeing a horse. Even being about 50 feet away, she froze when she saw them. She did enjoy trying to (and once successfully) eating their droppings. Gross.

Upon arriving at the north lookout, we found that it was a lookout into trees. There was at least a steep hill so I imagine this would be pretty in the fall.

From the lookout, we hiked back to the parking lot and called it a day. While not the planned way to celebrate our anniversary, it was good to get outside and explore a local park. (Part of the celebration, anyway. We also had sushi later in the day.)

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