Adventures in the Midwest: Camp and Climb in Wisconsin State Parks

Wisconsin's largest state park attracts local attention, but is an under-the-radar top destination for those unfamiliar with the Midwest. Wisconsin as a state itself feels like a time capsule, with natural lakes, historic trails and unique rock formations.
Prepared By:

Semaj Thomas

Photographer, Traveler & Writer

When preparing to travel throughout the US, we always hear about the must-sees. I’ve even fallen victim to concentrating on big National Parks and favorite states like the Southwest’s treasures. Now, I’m uncovering Midwest gems, ready for climbing, camping, and canvassing near the heart of the country.

Devils Lake

Photos by Semaj Thomas Photography

Wisconsin’s largest state park attracts local attention but is an under-the-radar top destination for travelers unfamiliar with the Midwest. Wisconsin itself feels like a time capsule, with natural lakes, historic trails, and unique rock formations. The lake sits in the belly of the park, surrounded by rock structures and prickly forests. These forests are locally famous for their fall-season foliage. The view from elevated locations like the boulder field along Tumbled Rocks Trail has a stadium feel, with the lake serving as the playing field and the undeposited features surrounding it posing as fans.

Photo by Semaj Thomas Photography

Tumbled Rocks Trail leads to a varying length of trails, with my two favorites being Balanced Rock and Devils Doorway. Balanced Rock is a fun trail for the experienced hiker, with lots of climbing sections and steep terrain as it rises from the lake. Devils Doorway is more of the same, albeit a bit easier. You can actually make the climb to stand in the ‘doorway’, though most prefer to take in the view instead. Either way, careful footwork is important! Both of these trails are rated as difficult, and become extremely unsafe when conditions are wet. Use safe judgment, and, like all hikes, know your limits.

Of course, the lake itself is a great way to relax, with a few spots for beach lounging, a boat dock, and kayak/canoeing options.

Governor Dodge

Why not go two-for-one? Just an hour away, Governor Dodge State Park is another prime example of Midwest magic! Sporting a double lake feature, a waterfall, and powerful rock climbing. Although it’s smaller than Devils Lake, this place packs in the fun!

Photos by Semaj Thomas Photography

While Devils Lake’s rock formations are mostly quartzite, sandstone bluffs dominate Governor Dodge, and sandstone means rock climbing heaven. The park is a bouldering paradise, with hundreds of ‘problems’ to get chalked up on and nearly 400 climbable routes total including sport routes, trad, and top roping! Not every rock or wall is suitable for climbing, however, so pay attention to the signage and unscalable terrain. No worries here, there are more than enough climbs to satisfy any visit, no matter how lengthy!

Governor Dodge also offers boating and canoeing at Cox Hollow Lake and Twin Lake. Additionally, spread out on 25 plus miles of mountain biking and skiing trails! Both lakes have campgrounds too, so kicking off your hiking or climbing shoes beside a crackling fire is a beautiful way to end the day! With sights and sounds in mind, night and early morning bring the inhabitants the of parks to the forefront. Four-legged fauna include white-tailed deer, red and grey fox, and the occasional coyote to name a few!

Midwest is Best!

There are so many things to tackle between these two parks, you can show the Midwest a little more love, and they serve as excellent short getaways or wonderful stops on long road trips!

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