Road Trip: Wisconsin State Parks

On Saturday, July 3rd I set out on a 4-day road trip to hike most of the remaining state parks on my list, part of a project I created for myself prior to my move to Oregon in 2014 to hike at least one trail at every state park in Wisconsin. I was unable to finish the project before I moved out of state but now that I’m back, I’ve decided to carve time out to hike the remaining parks and rekindle my love of hiking. The weather cooperated in the sense that it did not rain but it was very hot and humid every day of the trip. To add to my discomfort was the process of breaking in a new pair of hiking sandals which left my feet bloodied and blistered. Ouch! Even though I struggled to enjoy the hikes from a comfort perspective, I did enjoy the natural beauty of each of the places I visited and the sense of accomplishment I experienced from pushing through the discomfort to achieve my goal. 

Lake Wissota State Park | Beaver Meadow Nature Trail

This short trail was full of berries, wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies, and mushrooms. The forest canopy seemed to glow a beautiful hue of green and I was visited by a bird while I sat and enjoyed the creek for a bit. Also notable about the hike was an uprooted tree whose roots reminded me of a Celtic symbol, as well as a fence which had an eerie similarity to something you would see in the Stephen King movie, Pet Sematary. Needless to say, I didn’t cross through the opening to see where it led. 

Brunet Island State Park | Jean Brunet Nature Trail 

This was another short trail and started off paved but then transitioned to dirt which followed along some channels within the Chippewa River. There were many flowers, trees, and ferns to enjoy amongst the summer forest glow. The stillness of the river created beautiful reflections on the water’s surface as well as featured lots of lily pads. Wildlife sightings included deer and a slug feasting on some sort of tree fungus. Last but not least was a teepee style structure erected from tree branches which seemed like a good spot to hunker down and enjoy watching the river flow by.  

Interstate State Park | Pothole Trail

My first visit to Interstate State Park last year with Cole did not go so well so I was looking forward to a better experience this time around. I was not disappointed by the beautiful views from high up on the bluffs. There were lots of interesting rock formations and staircases to enjoy climbing up and down. There were several giant pothole style holes in some of the rocks which I assume is where the trail gets its name. Also interesting was all of the exposed tree roots growing over the rock surfaces. I found the trail system to be a bit confusing as it was not well marked but luckily I had my trail tracker app turned on on my phone so that proved to be a useful tool to find my way back to where I parked my car at the trailhead. 

Straight Lake State Park 

When I arrived at this park, I stopped in the main parking lot to grab a trail mail by the trail head and was immediately swarmed by a ton of biting flies. Knowing these pesky buggers were going to be an issue on the trail and make things really unpleasant, I decided to skip this hike for now and move on to the next one on my list. I will try to visit it again another time of year when the flies are less prevalent. 

Pattison State Park | Big Manitou Falls River Trail 

It took me a minute to orient myself in this park but eventually I did find my way to the trailhead for Big Manitou Falls. At 165-feet, it is the tallest waterfall in Wisconsin. Having lived in Oregon for just over 5-years, I became quite accustomed to much taller waterfalls but I still found I could appreciate this waterfall and all of it’s beauty. It was also fun to watch the reaction of others as they came upon it for the first time, reminding me of all the first time reactions I had in Oregon, whether it was waterfalls, mountains, the ocean or high desert. There is definitely something to be said for the experience of exposing yourself to new places and things for the perspective it can lend.  

Amnicon Falls State Park | Walking Trail

Being a holiday weekend, this park was super busy. There were lots of people at seemingly every point along the river. It was difficult to get the photographs I wanted because at every scenic spot, someone was already there. One guy in particular sitting on a lawn chair in the river directly in front of the waterfall I was trying to photograph looking at his iPad really seemed to rub me the wrong way. What is the point of getting out into nature if you’re just going to ignore it? By the time I reached the covered bridge, I had had enough and decided to call it a day for hiking and photography and head to my hotel. It was a lovely park though and the rocks, waterfalls, birds, wildflowers, and exposed tree roots did make for interesting photographs. 

Governor Thompson State Park | Otter Trail / Boat Launch

I arrived at this park fairly early in the morning and found it quite empty of people, just how I like it! I loaded up my pack and hit the Otter Trail but very quickly was approached by an aggressive biting fly that followed me down the trail relentlessly attacking me. Whenever I’d stop to try to take a photograph and therefore unable to shoo it away, it would attack more. It was clear that this fly was not going to leave me alone to enjoy the trail so I decided to head back to the car and try to find another place in the park to explore. I headed to the boat launch area and found lots of wildflowers and insects to photograph while frogs made their calls in the background. The water on the lake was very still and reflected the trees and sky beautifully. I was also excited to find a monarch caterpillar and several monarch butterflies as well as a lot of different kinds of dragonflies.  

Copper Culture State Park

I was unsure if there were actually any hiking trails at this state park as the website was unclear so I figured the only way to find out was to go. When I pulled into the parking lot, my car was immediately swarmed by biting flies. Since it wasn’t clear to me where a hiking trail would be, if there even was one, and I was already exhausted by the heat, blisters, and travel, I decided to skip the park and head home. That was enough for this road trip. 

After arriving home and unloading my car, I was quick to sit down, put my aching feet up, and relax after several days of a go-go-go travel schedule. I should not be surprised how tired I was as I learned on my 6-week western United States road trip a couple years ago that simply the act of constantly being on the move, regardless of how much fun you’re having, is exhausting. The tiredness is worth it though, to me, for the experience of being in nature, not knowing what to expect next, and all the wonderful things I get to photograph along the way.

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