Devil’s Lake State Park is in south central Wisconsin about 3 miles south of Baraboo and less than an hour from Madison. At 9,217-acres, this is the biggest state park in Wisconsin.
There are plenty of activities and recreation at the Park. Hiking (29 miles of trails in the park, including 1.5 miles of trail that are accessible for people with disabilities) is probably the most popular.
We saw no bikes, but bicycling (5 miles of off-road bike trails, but no official paved road-bike trails in the park) is permitted.
We did see rock climbing going on (though the park is not maintained for rock climbing; do it at your own risk) and someone heading out to do some bouldering.
The lake is a paradise for water sports, with boating (only electric motors are allowed), canoeing, kayaking, swimming (beware the parasites that cause Swimmer’s Itch, reported here almost every year), and even SCUBA Diving (use a dive flag!) represented.
Fishing (the lake is home to brown trout, walleye and northern pike, bass and panfish) is very popular, along with hunting and trapping.
During the Winter, 3 miles of cross-country ski trails are available, snowshoeing on any trail, as well as ice fishing (dependent on snow and ice conditions).
A surprise to me was the fact that effigy mounds are located in Devil’s Lake State Park. One in the shape of a bear was near our parking lot at the north end of the lake – we thought about climbing a tree to get a better look at it. Other mounds can be found at both the northern and southern ends of the lake.
For accommodations, the on site campgrounds are the nearest option (they book up FAST during the warmer months), while cabins can be rented close nearby as well. The closest hotels near Devil’s Lake are in Baraboo – we stayed at the Clarion Hotel And Convention Center (dated, but relatively clean and not expensive). Some smaller inns and B&Bs are nearby if that’s more to your taste.
Devil’s Lake State Park weather follows the seasons, with hot and humid air during the summer, cold air in the Winter, and varying temps in Spring and Fall. Based on the forecast, you’ll see more or less people enjoying the park. Since this park is so close to the capital city of Madison, it is always well-used, so don’t expect too much solitude when you go (the current estimate is 1.3 – 1.7 million visitors per year).
Time permitting, the nature center (open limited hours and days during the off-season and closed when we visited) is a great place to learn about the park before heading out on the trails or water.
With 2 younger boys and a puppy in the group, we thought an easy hike would be to circumnavigate the lake via the East Bluff and West Bluff trails. We had a devil of a time completing our trek (pun courtesy of my son). While the trails are not overly technical, the East Bluff trail had plenty of stones to climb up, over, and down, and the climb down from the bluffs to lake level at the southern end was slow-going down a stony slope (not scree, but more of a staircase made of stones.
The North Bluff trail has a steep climb at either end, but is much flatter overall once you get to the top. We would definitely suggest doing the East Bluff first and then the West Bluff, to make the second half of the hike easier. Both trails offer endless vistas over the lake, benches for resting, and are partially paved between stony areas. This was kind of a let-down, but I imagine the trails will last a lot longer since they won’t be eroded as quickly by use and weather.
The bluffs are beautiful, but in some cases quite dangerous. Devil’s Lake has had its share of deaths, but keeping basic safety in mind mitigates any dangers. Or most. There was an 1889 lake monster report, so be careful swimming, haha.
Fees are required: Vehicle admission sticker, camping fees, and hunting and fishing licenses.
Pets must be on a leash 8 feet or shorter at all times and there are not a lot of trash cans, so expect to pack out any pet waste. There are some areas pets are not permitted, but there are also 3 pet beaches, which is really nice.
This park really has it all, and a long weekend exploring it would barely scratch the surface of all the activities offered. We are really looking forward to returning and getting to know this park better.
How to get there: