It’s been a busy past few months and I was becoming irritated with my lack of adventure. Friday at work was slow, thunderstorms were giving way to clear skies, and I could sit still no longer. A last minute plan was hatched because that seems to be my modus operandi – and to be honest, trips with a set agenda drive me bonkers. After a brief glance at my Wisconsin State Park checklist, I chose Governor Dodge State Park and hit the road. The only plan was to get some fresh air and see something new.
I arrived late and snagged a campsite (these were still plentiful due to the earlier rain). Two things to know if you ever camp here: There are tons of raccoons who will steal your food if you blink an eye, and children are springing from the ground like orcs in LOTR. All was calm around 10pm besides a large pack of coyotes howling in the distance. Slept like a baby with overnight lows around 65°F and a light rain tapping my tent roof.
The next morning I woke early and took down camp to do some hiking. Down the entrance road a short way, I found a pull-off and noticed the stillness of Cox Hollow Lake. Not a bad start!
Stephens Falls / Lost Canyon Trail
At the visitor’s center, I picked up a brochure published by Friends of Gov Dodge with the suggested attractions. First on the list was Stephens Falls, a short hike on a mostly paved path. The trail above leads down a stone stairway that can be dangerous if you aren’t paying attention but is otherwise fairly tame. At the bottom is a fantastic view of the falls. I was the second person there that morning, and had it all to myself for 15-20 minutes (it gets much busier as the day goes on). Achievement Unlocked: First destination completed on my Wisconsin Waterfalls checklist!
Here is a short video of Stephens Falls in action from 2 different angles. Maybe in the future I will get fancy with video editing, but for now just enjoy the simplicity.
Heading away from the falls, the trail follows a stream through the rocky canyon. As you move north, rocks taper off into dense forests. At the end of the Stephens Falls trail is the intersection with Lost Canyon trail. Fairly unremarkable scenery here until reaching the clearing near the trail head where wildflowers and butterflies are abundant.
Back at the trailhead, I visited the Rock Spring House. Originally built in the 1850’s as a primitive refrigerator by the Stephens family who owned & farmed the land which is now the park.
Pine Cliff Trail
One of the next suggested hikes was the Pine Cliff trail due to some elevation gains, rock features, and plant life. Starting from the trailhead in the canyon, you climb a gentle trail until reaching a large set of wooden stairs that crosses a rock arch. Foliage was dense and covered many of the more “spectacular” views down the cliffsides. There were tons of different wild mushroom species – something I know nothing about, but began taking pictures to play with camera macro settings. After climbing to the top of the peak (again, views of the lake below obscured due to heavy tree cover), the trail winds back down around the opposite side of Cox Hollow Lake. From there the trail became less populated and more overgrown. I took the short loop in the interest of moving to other locations.
Deer Cove Trail
One of the “must see” spots listed in the FOGD brochure was the Deer Cove Rock Shelter. This wasn’t listed on the official park map, but after asking the park staff it was easy enough to locate. This trail is very short, but does require some scrambles over smooth rocks covered in sand making it very slippery. Very hard to photograph because the trail ties closely to the rock face, but it’s more impressive in person.
It was around noon when I reached the end of these trails. I wasn’t tired in the least, but I did have an “antsy” feeling that it was time to move on. There are plenty more trails & features at this park (overall size is greater than 5,000 acres) and I most definitely will return for the remainder at some point. Highly suggest checking it out while in the driftless region!Lat = 43.0279007 , Long = -90.1101913 -- Show at Google Maps