I’m going to be honest with you all, this has been really tough one to hype myself up to write as many things I’ve attached to the memory of the trip have changed since I took that drive two hours north. Nevertheless, here we are, all together, reading what I am still determined to share. So, who’s ready?
Like I just mentioned, drive two hours northwest of Downtown Milwaukee and you’ll see what Wisconsin is really all about. Rolling farmland, lush forests surrounding small lakes, and trails for days. In the town of Baraboo, masked by winding roads and bright, open Skys, is Devil’s Lake State Park. The park is known for the picturesque feature it’s named after– a decent sized lake flanked by beach, forest, and campground– and the lure of spending a few nights in one of the many campgrounds draws crowds all summer long. This summer was no exception, and I have to say while I was shocked at the numbers, I was happy to see people still enjoying nature and one another.
Devil’s Lake is also known for its plethora of bouldering and trad climbing routes. The trad routes here boast best in the state and if you’re equipped with the gear, a top rope can be set on most of them. The approaches are moderate hikes up to the bluff depending on conditions flanked by stunning quartzite rock.
I took the drive with a fellow climber I met months ago in Kentucky. He took the trip up to Wisconsin and we set off for definite camping, bouldering, and the hopes of getting our hands on some big wall routes. I booked us a site in the Upper Ice Age Campsite which is about a five minute drive through the park to the North Shore parking lots.
*Tip: If you plan on camping, BOOK. IN. ADVANCE. Mid – late July into August is prime time for the lake. Some visitors book as much as a year in advance. However, Wheeler’s Campground is a 10 min drive and incredibly accommodating (especially for climbers!)
Since none of the sites are ready for check in until 3 pm, parking in the main lot and hitting the trails is your best bet if you’re there early like we were.
With the stoke for climbing high, we took the crash pad a few hundred feet away from the main lot towards an area called ‘Welcome to the Lake!’ on Mountain Project. Here, we found loads of problems (mostly V0-2) sheltered under trees. The problems were tall, but provided awesome, flat, top outs on each route.
We snagged a good hour or two climbing before the rain started. The initial drizzle was nothing that stopped us; the trees were so thick and welcoming they acted as our umbrella. A few moments later, though, there were streaks of lightning glinting through the bald spots of the coverage and deep rolls of thunder gurgling towards us. As soon as we stepped out of the bush – torrential rain.
Luckily our spirits were still up and we darted from the small array of cliffs to a covering nearby to wait out the bulk of the storm. In the clips of time where the rain softened, we waddled into the warm water the lake offered up to our knees. After about an hour and a half of waiting out the storm, we made it back to the car and drove ourselves back the the campsite.
Car camping seemed to be the move with the ground itself so soaked. The plots of land we reserved are big enough for the included picnic table and a car up to the size of a pick-up truck. Although, there are other accommodations for those traveling in RVs.
Thanks to my friend’s patience, a fire was built. We cooked vegetables in tinfoil, enjoyed the night, and made camp in the back of the Toyota Highlander we arrived in.
*Tip: Buy your firewood outside of the park. Although the park store offers it, you’re likely to get a better deal just across the road from the entrance.(we scored 2 bundles, kindling, matches, some nice vibes, and a nice piece of Hickory for $10)
Cliff Bars and thick humidity for breakfast was better than nothing. We woke up the next day and decided to hike assuming the rock would be too wet to climb. After cleaning up the campsite, we drove back to the lot and headed towards the West Bluff Trail.
The West Bluff trail is a piece of the historic Ice Age Trail that runs through most of Wisconsin and Minnesota. This particular segment in Devil’s Lake runs parallel to the East Bluff Trail (equally beautiful but a much longer hike) eventually running through another patch of picnic tables and parking lots to meet it. Our hike was hot, slippery, and at times uncomfortable, but the view was worth it all.
The main sight on this side is the view of the rock formation called ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’. It was there we confirmed the rock was not too wet to climb and seriously debated going back to the car for my rope. After a little more poking around, though, we realized Devil’s Lake is not bolted. Trad gear is used to create slings for anchors to top rope from if there’s room to do so safely.
Take the West Bluff Trail all the way through until you hit the service road. There, you have a few options:
1. Loop back through the trail you just completed.
2. Make a quick left turn and walk back to the start of the trail via a pathway hugging the lake
3. Walk the service road until you hit the East side. There you can choose to head up onto the bluff, or circle the lake on the abandoned train tracks like we did. (Hopefully you can accomplish this by not getting as turned around as we did)
By the time we exited the dilapidated and pebble strew tracks, we were content with the time we’d spent hiking that day. The lake was warm and we stopped to admire it once more before hitting the road sun drenched, a little smelly, very hungry, but happy with the time we spent there.
- Book in advance
- Be flexible and prepared for different weather conditions
- Buy firewood outside the park
- Arrive prepared (but if you don’t know there is a Walmart five minutes away to get things like a knife for dinner prep…something we may or may not have forgotten)
- Remember your state park car sticker
- Be patient when trying to make a fire because they don’t catch in three seconds like the cartoons make it seem (maybe this is more a note for myself…)
If you’re planning a trip to Devil’s Lake, I hope this helped you Get a small glimpse of what you can do and how to do it. What I did not mention is that you can absolutely come for a day trip, too! The lake is great for swimming/paddle boarding/lounging and the amount of unmentioned trails in the park are plenty. I highly suggest downloading AllTrails (hiking app) and/or Mountain Project (climbing) for helping you find specific trails/crags.
Our trip was short, but the park has much to be explored. I’ve included some photos from my 14 mi. hike around the East Bluff earlier this year as well to give you taste of it all.
Be well. Be Here. Adventure On!