A weekend at Devil’s Lake

This past Memorial Day weekend I went to visit my friends in Chicago, and one of them organized a short outing to the Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin. The plan was to drive up on Saturday and go directly to the park for a hike till the sunset. Then we had an Airbnb booked for the night not too far. Next day, we planned to do some more hiking and hit the road back to Chicago in the evening.

It is a relatively easy drive that takes approximately 3-3.5 hours. One thing that one should take into account is that I-90 is a toll road, thus this option will cost some $$. The alternative is to take I-94 to Milwakee and continue to Madison, from where it is best to take Hwy 12 through Sauk City to the park.

After successfully making it to the park, we chose to park on the southern side of the lake, near the Boat Ramp Trailhead. As it was well in the afternoon, we decided to explore the lake’s West Bluff, as the trails there are shorter and less strenuous. We started beautiful Tumbled Rocks Trail (1 mile according to the park map) that goes along the lake’s western shore, and then came back following the West Bluff Trail (1.4 miles) that took us up on the top of the bluff and offered some breathtaking views of the lake. The two trails make a loop, which was perfect as it took us back to our car.

Devil's Lake from the Tumbled Rocks Trail along the western shore
Looking north from the Tumbled Rocks Trail.

Devil's Lake view from one of the cliffs of the West Bluff Trail
View of the Devil’s Lake from the West Bluff Trail.

Next morning, we got to the lake relatively early as we had a longer to-do list. We decided to park in the main South Shore area, which is closer to the East Bluffs trailheads. Also, according to the information that we had, south parking is usually less crowded (however, there was a line of 15-20 cars at the entrance to the park, and all cars must have admission stickers to enter the park).

Panorama of the Devil's Lake from the south shore not far from the parking lot
Devil’s Lake from the south shore.

There is also a loop that is made of two trails on the East Bluff – however, none of them follows the lake’s shore. Both trails offer a pretty steep hike-up in the beginning, if accessed from the south shore. If you are not looking for an exercise, you may consider entering the loop from the north shore, where the trail will gradually lead you up to the top of the bluff.

There are multiple hike-up paths on the east side of the south shore, and we chose the CCC Trail to get on to the top. We then followed the East Bluff Trail for an almost two-mile tour along the bluff’s rim, with a short diversion for the Devil’s Doorway Trail. The main trail offers the scenery that is second to none, and the pictures can barely convey how beautiful this place is! There is also plenty of space to make a stop, relax, have lunch or just admire the nature’s harmony in its finest. The East Bluff Woods Trail took us back through beautiful woods, offering plenty of shade – a very welcome amenity on a sunny day in late May!

Devil's Lake from the cliffs of the East Bluffs Trail
Surrounding forests as viewed from the East Bluffs Trail
East Bluffs trails offer plenty of amazing views.

We took the Balanced Rock Trail to descend back down to the shore. It was a busy weekend, and the trail was a little congested, which brought some extra inconvenience as most of the path goes on large rocks, and there is little to sometimes no opportunity to have efficient two-way traffic.

Having explored the Devil’s Lake bluffs from both sides, we had another place that we planned to visit – Pafrey’s Glen. A couple that we met on the hike and had a nice chat with suggested that we visit, and we unanimously decided to take a look before hitting the road back.

The trail goes along the creek, goes into a small canyon, and eventually ends at a waterfall. Be prepared to climb on and over large (and sometimes wet and slippery) rocks, walk on log bridges, and not fall into the creek by all means. The creek itself is shallow, but it will certainly get you wet (and muddy). Overall a nice and somewhat fun hike that sometimes resembles an obstacle course.

Parfrey's Glen Creek trail runs along the canyon
The trail follows Parfrey’s Glen Creek in a small canyon.
Waterfall at the end of Parfrey's Glen Creek trail
Waterfall at the end of the trail.

There is plenty to do in the area for visitors with any style of spending time outdoors. We tried to have a taste of the main attractions and hit the most famous trails that offer the best scenery – however, there are miles more yet to discover! This place is a perfect destination for a weekend, but one can certainly spend much longer here without getting bored!

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