Rock climbing, camping, hiking—close-by Wisconsin has all of these great outdoor fall activities.
This state park is about 3 1/2 hours from most of the North Shore, so it’s not a one-day destination, but it’s a great weekend trip. If you’re a hiker or rock climber, it’s really the only nearby location that offers enough vertical trails to call it a hike.
The park’s signature bluffs are made from quartzite stone, which gives them a beautiful purple hue. It also makes for great boulder scrambling, which we guarantee will wear your kids out by the end of the day.
What to do:
Rock Climbing – We went to Devil’s Lake because my daughter is a rock climber and wanted to get out of the gym and onto a bluff. Devil’s Lake has routes for beginners and the very experienced, but you need a lot of gear. Northwest Passage runs climbing and camping trips, and they aptly organized our trip.
The bluffs are about 500 feet up from the lake, but most routes are 80-100 feet, so don’t let the number scare you. We loved the routes around Balanced Rock on the East Bluff, and would recommend the West Bluff on weekends when the park can get crowded with climbers.
As a novice who has only climbed on indoor walls, I found real rock climbing to be challenging, but doable. You need an experienced guide with well-maintained gear. While I can only vouch for the wonderful guide we had with Northwest Passage, here are other local companies that provide day and half-day climbing packages.
Hiking – Devil’s Lake has a range of trails, but the reason to go is to hike up! Too much “hiking” in the Midwest is really walking. Our favorite trails were:
- Tumbled Rocks looping into West Bluff Trail. Lots of up and down on the quartz “steps,” and unbelievable views of Turkey Vultures riding the wind currents.
- You can loop or make a figure 8 by combining Balance Rock, CCC, Potholes and East Bluff trails. You will feel your glutes the next day! Don’t forget to get a photo of your child trying to push over Balanced Rock. A classic.
Insider’s Tip: You can bring a leashed dog on the trails, but not on the beach. And we saw lots of Fidos enjoying the climb with their owners.
Where to stay:
Camping – I’m not a camper, but spent a comfortable night in a tent thanks to gear provided by Northwest Passage and loans from a friend. We could hear nesting herons singing to each other, and sat out by the almost-bug-free campfire for a very relaxed evening. Bathrooms and showers are close by. (Thank goodness.) For reservations, call 888-947-2757 or go to wiparks.net.
And check out “Camping with a Blow Dryer” for two campgrounds near Devil’s Lake that have cabins and even electricity!
Wisconsin Dells – Devil’s Lake is 30 minutes or so from the resorts in the Dells, so these resorts are an option, but don’t get sucked into the waterparks and miss the great outdoors! If you’re going sans kids, our readers rated Sundara Inn and Spa as a “Best of 2012” pick.
If you’re going with the kids, here are our recommendations for hotels with a waterpark.
Baraboo, WI – The town nearest Devil’s Lake has plenty of chain motels that while not luxurious, will provide reliable accommodations.
What to Eat
The dining around Baraboo is heavy on fast food. Our travel writer Laura Tiebert recommends The Little Village Café for pasta and their famous Friday night fish fry.
For eating in the great outdoors, we recommend: S’mores and even have a few non-traditional combos you’ll love.
If you need more ideas on camping, we highly recommend a new book, “Glamping with Mary Jane.” It’s full of clever ideas (and recipes) to make any outdoor adventure—from your backyard to actual camping—more glamorous!