Devil’s Lake State Park – Tips for a great hiking experience

Devil’s Lake State Park – Tips for a great hiking experience

As soon as we reached Devil’s lake state park, we are already on our way to the popular Balanced Rock. The 0.5-mile hike which seems to be moderate on paper turned out to be 3-hour long trek. All because of a lack of information and planning. Here are the mistakes we did and tips for great hiking experience at Devil’s Lake State Park. Come, let’s travel together.

North-Shore view
North Shore at Devil’s Lake State Park

Located in Baraboo, Wisconsin – this State Park has huge and beautiful rock formations, easy-to-difficult trails on cliffs with amazing views, and a pretty beach. It is also well placed that it can be comfortably reached from various cities – within an hour from Madison, easy 3-hour drive on I-90 W highway from Chicago and just a little more from Minneapolis on I-94 E. No wonder its a popular choice for a day trip or weekend trip from all the surrounding states. And it is not a surprise that parking can be tough past noon, especially in the small parking lots at North Shore or even with additional parking lots at South Shore.

{read like you are whispering} But Devil’s Lake? Why would that be popular? It sounds scary.

Only to disappoint, the place got nothing to do with it. Ho Chunk, the locals, called it as Tawacunchukdah – roughly translated to “Spirit” or “Holy” Lake. How it became Devils’s Lake later is because of misunderstanding and marketing from local business owners.

Also, the park trails are part of 1000 mile historic Ice Age National Scenic Trail hiked by more than 1 million people every year, on top of 3 million visitors who enjoy scenic bluffs and beach at Wisconsin’s busiest state park – Devils’s Lake.

With thousands of people seeking new cliff views and off beaten paths, there are side tracks popping up on the designated trails every season. Added to it, several information boards on trails are destroyed, someone must be looking for a thrilling hiking experience. This all leads to a confusing and time-consuming trip which otherwise should be a pleasant one. Here all the things we would do to hike each of those trails right, next time we are up there.

Devils Lake State Park Map
Devil’s Lake State Park Trail Map showing trails with their respective icons – Courtesy of DNR WI 1.Prospect Point 2.Elephant Rock 3.Balanced Rock 4.Devil’s Doorway 5. Steinke Basin

Tips for East Bluff Trail

This is the trail which made us do – unprepared rock-climbings 😀

Being the most popular trail at Devil’s Lake State Park for views with easy hiking, it is difficult to stay on track as it is hard to figure out the designated trail in front of us. While it is fun to take the least-hiked path, there are few things we should be prepared for –

West Bluff View from East Bluff Trail at Devil’s Lake State Park
West Bluff View from East Bluff Trail
  1. East Bluff Trail is easily accessible with stone steps only from North Shore. Unless turned back or hiking the difficult Balanced Rock Trail, there is no easy way to reach South Shore.
  2. Not knowing this and speaking to a guy, we took a path that is like a regular hiking trail (just before Balanced Rock Trail) which it is, until we hit rocks and there is no turning back after that slide we took earlier. The trek on huge rocks took us an hour although it is a short distance. It is not dangerous but it is not for everyone.
  3. After descending the rocks, we hiked for a short distance on the rail tracks to reach South Shore. Although it is not legal, many people walk on these active tracks. Hopefully, when the train passes, it honks. And it is hotter on these tracks with all the rocks.
  4. Although we could stop at every cliff view, Elephant Rock Cave (there is no sign but it is a cave to pass thru) just about 20 min from North trailhead offered great views of cliffs and North beach. Also about the center, there are more plain rocks to stand at the edge of the cliff and enjoy views.
  5. The trail took us about 3 hours and there is no water source along the way.

Tips for Balanced Rock Trail

One of the most difficult trails in the park, yet with beautiful rock formations.

The first day, when we are at this trailhead, confused with the information pole as it is not clear enough to point the direction of the trail and not ready to climb those uneven stones, we turned away like several others. That’s when we took the tracks hoping there would be a way to East Bluff Trail but there is none until trailhead at North Shore. Better planning would have saved us a lot of time.

  1. Balanced Rock Trail is full of small step stones, slippery many times.
  2. It is hard to figure out the steps of the trail, as all rocks look the same unless paid attention to.
  3. Balanced Rock, the main and only attraction – where a rock balances on the edge of another rock, is off-trail and is easy to miss. The sign here is damaged and the Rock is behind the trees when seen from the trail.
  4. Balanced Rock is at the first viewpoint on the trail and on the rock where rock climbers climb, which is after 30 min of hiking on these difficult rocks.
  5. The Balanced Rock Trail continues to go up the cliff after the Rock, to meet the East Bluff Trail.
  6. The overall trail took us about 2 tiring hours with much-needed stops.
  7. We saw many come with infants or old people. It needs a lot of preparation. A woman vomiting, Where is Balance Rock, This is not expected, Is there an end? – is all we see and hear on the trail. Although it just looks like 0.4 miles on paper, it is a difficult trail and it takes a lot of stops to reach the top of the cliff. But the descend is quite a breeze though.

Tips for Devil’s Doorway Trail

I have said this earlier, but this is the ultimate trail if one of the above trails are hiked.

“The best view comes from the hardest climb”. This is never wrong and definitely not at Devil’s Lake State Park. Be it a long and simple hike – East Bluff Trail or short and strenuous – Balanced Rock Trail, they both end with an extraordinary view – Devil’s Doorway.

When Balanced Rock Trail meets East Bluff Trail on top of the cliff, there is a great view. But we knew there are greater things ahead and kept going on East Bluff Trail pushing us a little more. Just after 200 steps, we took stairs down, off the trail to only see several people waiting.

  1. Devil’s Doorway can be full of people. And we waited for an hour to get a clear view.
  2. There are few rocks on the other side where we can easily stand and feel like the edge of the cliff. They have great beach views.
  3. The best time to reach here is a couple of hours after sunrise and before sunset. It can be less crowded with prettier views.
  4. After steps down, we took a path to the left and we were at a dead-end soon. Devil’s Doorway is on the opposite side just a few more steps down the trail. It is a short hike.
  5. There is a small sign pole on East Bluff Trail with Devils’ Doorway icon at the trailhead. In fact, these sign poles on all trails are one thing that helps which points trails with their respective icons – Deer for East Bluff Trail and Balanced Rock for Balanced Rock Trail.

We totally forgot all the struggles on the trail once we reached the Devil’s Doorway. It is one of the beautiful rock formations. Totally worth it.

Tips for Other Things To Do

Devil’s Lake State Park has several other trails.

  • West Bluff Trail can be less crowded but with lesser cool views and rock formations than East Bluff Trail. 
  • Tumbled Rocks Trail is an easy 1.0-mile hike along the lake.
  • East Bluff Woods Trail goes along the forest for a more secluded hike.
  • CCC Trail is another difficult hike that runs thru rocks.

More details on all hiking trails are available here.

Park is more than just trails. Several people enjoy at beach which has some of the best amenities. Remember, its one of the most visited state parks in Wisconsin.

Kayaking on Devil's Lake
Kayaking on Devil’s Lake
  • South Shore is huge compared to the North. It has more parking, good amenities and for the same reason, it can be crowded later in the day.
  • Pretty South beach attracts more swimmers. The broad walk can be a great place for fishing. Shower houses are neat.
  • Shelters are another reason people love this park. There are several of them in South and North Shore. They can use the park grills or bring their own. Safe Coal disposals make it easy to clean up.
  • The park is well-known for rock climbing. But the cliff-jumping to the lake is not an option, as the lake is farther from the cliffs.
  • These trails on rocks are also full of hammocks as it is a perfect place to relax with views.
  • Park is also good for Campsites. We loved our stay at Quartzite Campground which is close to the lake. It has electricity, good showers, no mosquitoes, and enough amenities. Not good in terms of total privacy.

Overall, it is a great place for a weekend or even a day trip. It is worth taking these difficult hikes for views. And if not camping, evenings can be spent right on the beach for grilling and much-needed relaxation, as the park is open until 11 PM.

Are you going? Save this and treat yourself.

All you need to visit Devil's Lake State Park

What did you like most about this state park? Have you seen rock formations like these anywhere else? Drop a comment and let’s talk.

Looking for other places to quench your travel thirst? Check out this state park where otherworldly canyons put a show and another trending story about our camping at a beautiful state park. Or even travel to South India with this festival – one of the colorful and lovely festivals with so much food.

Cheers and Happy Travels!

Thoughts?

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