You don't have to go far in Wisconsin or anywhere in the Midwest to find some pleasant outdoor scenery. So state parks are often not really much of a thrill for Midwesterners who pretty much live around great nature sites. However, what sets Devil's Lake State Park apart from other Midwestern State Parks is that it presents scenery that you really don't see too often in the Midwest.
What makes Devil's Lake State Park special is the beautiful rock formations, much like you can find in the Wisconsin Dells. However, Devil's Lake is for the people who have more interest in hiking, swimming, and relaxing on the beach rather than the attractions and theme parks that the Dells offers.
For a small fee of $7 for those with Wisconsin vehicle plates and $10 for out of state plates you can enjoy a day of fun in the sun.
Devil's Lake state Park presents hiking trails for every kind of hiker. It has paved asphalt trails to scenic look outs for the casual hikers, a mixture of asphalt and stone steps for the medium hiker and difficult rocky trails for veteran hikers who like to work for some of the best scenic sites that the park has to offer.
Devil's Lake Trails include:
- Balanced Rock - Hard Difficulty
- CCC - Hard Difficulty
- Devil's Doorway - Easy Difficulty
- East Bluff - Easy-Medium Difficulty
- Grottos - Easy Difficulty
- Uplands Trail Loop - Medium Difficulty
- Sauk Point Trails - Medium-Hard Difficulty
- Johnson Moraine Loop - Easy Trail
- Palfrey's Glen Trail - Easy-Medium Difficulty
- Potholes - Hard Difficulty
- Steinke Basin Loop - Easy Difficulty
- Tumbled Rocks - Easy Difficulty
- West Bluff - Medium Difficulty
I have not had the pleasure to hike every trail, but being the daring person that I am, I have hiked some of the more difficult trails. My favorite trail was Potholes. It is not a very long hike distance-wise, but it is an incredibly steep climb. So if you find that your legs been to build some mucles, or just feel like making your legs ache it is a very rewarding climb. About half way through you travel through a rock face that has split. It's very neat and a nice shady spot to take a break. Though it is called Potholes for the end of the trail there is a series of rounded depressions in the eroded rocks. It is a good place to sprain your ankle if you are not careful, but it is a fantastic site to see.
The most popular trail, according to the park rangers is the Balanced Rock trail. It's a steep trail but it gives the best views of the lake. i have not yet hiked it as I always get distracted on the way to that trail. Apparently at the end there is a very famous balancing rock on a cliff for which it gets its name.
A lot of the trails go through some gorges left by the glaciers that passed through there during the ice age. If you want to experience history and the power of slowly moving ice, the Parfrey's Glen Trail is a great trail to hike. Unlike the others, it provides great views without a difficult hike. Though unlike the other trails, you cannot leave the path to play on the rocks (I love to play on the rocks!), the park will give you a fine if they catch you. For good reason too, the gorge you pass over is pretty steep and dangerous looking.
There are also areas to walk with your pets, go mountain biking, or do some hardcore rock climbing. None of those things are really up my alley, but I have been told that rock climbing around the Dells and in Devil's Lake is the closest thing you can get to climbing mountains in the Midwest.
There are two beaches at Devil's Lake that can be used for swimming. The lake is always nice and calm due to their ban on motorized boats (though you can canoe and kayak). The beaches are nice and sandy, like you are on a beach by the ocean. Though they beaches always get really busy during the summer months. The best place to go some swimming is the north beach, but if it fills up you will be sent to the south beach. The south beach is not as crowded, but the beach under the water can be a little rocky. The lake is beautiful and clean, with nice yellowish green water that you will find in most clean lakes in Wisconsin. Along the beach there is quite a large sandy shallow end so if your kids or yourself want to cool off without swimming out too far and getting eaten by fish, it is a nice place to do so.
The lake is also a fishing lake, so you can expect the water to smell a little fishy at times. however, I have smelled much fishier swimming spots in Wisconsin.
There are no lifeguards, so keep an eye on your kids.
While being a fun place to swim and hike, Devil's Lake is also a fantastic place to fish. Usually when you have a lake that gets as busy as Devil's Lake does, the fishing is not very good. However, I can personally attest to the great fishing. I did a lot of my fishing in the nearby Lake Wisconsin and the fishing in Devil's Lake was comparable as long as you go far enough away from the swimmers.
The only thing i don't much like about devil's Lake is they use fisheries to stock the lake and place non-native fish like trout in it as well. It sort of feels like cheating when you stock the fish in the lake, but maybe that is just me. You will need a valid Wisconsin fishing license to fish in Devil's Lake, but you can purchase those online fairly easily.
Some of the non-native fish they place in the lake are various kinds of trout (which surprised me before I found out they stock the lake), walleye, northern pike, and carp.
You can also find many native fish like bluegill, bass, crappie, perch and bullhead.
The Town of Baraboo, WI
Baraboo is the nearest town to Devil's Lake State Park and it is quite the nice little town. It is very rustic looking and has a lot of small town restaurants as well as some chains if you are looking for lunch. You can really tell by the old style buildings that they have tried hard to preserve their small town feel. I really like that. Since I lived Northern Illinois, Devil's Lake was always a drive to and drive back event, so I have never had any experience with the hotels in Baraboo. They look nice though.
If you are looking for theme parks, gambling, and other attractions Devil's Lake State Park is just a stones throw to from the Wisconsin Dells. So Baraboo is a nice spot in between the two. You can have the more relaxing experience of Devil's Lake and the fun attractions of the Wisconsin Dells.
In conclusion, I used to spend a lot of time at Devil's Lake when I was a kids and as I was growing up and we stopped going there, I always wanted to go back. Now that I'm an adult and I finally did get to go back, I was so happy to find things had not changed. The rocks were still huge and fun to climb around on, even if you are not supposed to. The views are still magnificent, and the lake still has great fishing. The only difference is that it seems to be busier now than it was when i was a kid.