Wisconsin’s Governor Dodge State Park — Pine Cliff Trail, A Spring Hike with Birds and Views Abound

Just like that, the trees are budding, the flowers are sprouting, and the grass is green. Spring, you’re a beautiful beast and we welcome your presence, the sunshine, the storms, and even the occasional snow shower.

As antsy as spring makes me, there’s always a waiting period from the time the snow is done melting to the time trails aren’t completely made of mud. Spring rain factors into this too. I’ve definitely lost my patience a few times before and made the mistake of getting out on a trail too early, which always ends with boots full of mud.

This year seemed to be different. The snow melted pretty early and we had limited rain. (Evident by all the wildfires and burn warnings.) I took a gamble and decided to get out on a trail at the end of March. The park of choice? Governor Dodge State Park, which is always a familiar favorite of mine.

We parked at the Enee Point parking lot to access the Pine Cliff trailhead. We planned to hike the Pine Cliff Trail with the optional loop portion and part of the Lakeview Trail.

Links to follow along:
Park website
Park map
Trail descriptions

Let’s hike!

Pine Cliff Trail

Length: 2.5 miles linear with an additional/optional 2 mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Description: This trail offers a variety of views of the lake, from above it and next to it. Expect elevation, both up and down by stairs and by hill depending on the direction you travel.

The trail begins by crossing over a small creek. The creek offers the pleasant sound of moving water as you walk along it for the beginning portion of the hike.

To the right of the trail is a large rock formation, one of many in the park.

Ever wonder where these huge rocks came from? Governor Dodge State Park is part of the Driftless Area, an area of around 24,000 miles that was untouched by the flattening of the glaciers, leaving an area much different than the surrounding land. This area extends into Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, with about 85% of the entire region falling within Wisconsin’s borders.

Since this area was unchanged by glaciers, it means these rocks are old, dating back 450 million years.

After a short stretch of flat land passing by the huge rock, it’s time to climb the hill. This portion of the climb has a series of log stairs.

Someone got concerned and a little upset when I walked ahead of the group to take a picture. She still insists on being the leader of the pack while hiking. She’s nothing if not stubborn.

At the top of the stairs is a platform spanning a small gully.

A teeny tiny waterfall was running under the platform that day. Enjoy the view and the sound of any running water as you recover from the upward trek.

Continuing past the platform, hikers will soon have a choice of staying on the straight section of the trail or changing to the optional loop. We did the optional loop since it would travel closer to the lake.

This section of the trail (the optional loop) is along the top edge of the hill and quickly starts offering peaks of the lake below. It’s really more of a V shape loop. You walk to the point before quickly turning back along the other side of the V.

Traveling this direction on the trail will eventually bring you down to the lakeshore. This descent involves more stairs along with the trail itself on a decline. This is the view looking back on the stairs we just climbed down.

At the tip of the V shape, is another rock formation overlooking the lake.

A view of the lake below through the trees. It was so quiet you could hear the geese splashing and yelling below.

After turning onto the other half of the V, the trail quickly descends all the way to the lake below.

Gorgeous and still.

Gorgeous and still until the Moxxi. She could not help herself and had to jump in. Typical lab.

The trail continues to curve around the lake as it heads towards the Lakeview Trail.

Lakeview Trail

Length: 1.25 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Description: This trail offers views of the lake before curling away into the forest. Expect some hills.

Part of the trail travels through the wetland area next to the lake. This was very pleasant with abundant sounds of a variety of bird species.

As we walked, the telltale call of the sandhill crane grew louder and louder.

Finally this pair came into view! (Not the best picture as they were too far away and I didn’t want to spook them by walking any closer. I need to invest in a better lens for wildlife.)

Another bird enjoying the day, a trumpeter swan floating on the lake.

After walking around the lake for a short while, we turned around to head back. Upon reaching the fork in the Pine Cliff Trail, we decided to take the shorter route rather than the V shaped portion. Being at lake level, it was time to climb back up the hill to the platform. This side was all hilly trail with no stairs. It definitely left me winded.

The trail brings you back to the platform over the waterfall, down the stairs, and next to the big rock again. (This time it’s on your left.)

We ended the hike with a picnic lunch, a beer, and a view. Is there anything better?

Checking my boots before taking them off, I was surprised to find limited mud. All in all, a successful early spring hike at one of my favorite Wisconsin state parks!

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