Road Trip Part IV: Copper Falls State Park

Welcome to my final post about my July 2017 road trip. Sorting through my photos took a lot of time, but almost a month after my vacation I’m finally done. This is much harder than it sounds; the process requires thinking about which pictures would best sum up each place and sorting through dozens, or even hundreds, at each park. I took more at Copper Falls than any other place I visited on my journey, as it was the only park I spent multiple nights at.

How would I describe Copper Falls to a southern Wisconsinite? I would say it’s the Devil’s Lake of the north. It’s a well-known park, and deserves to be because of the splendid views. While Amnicon Falls has a cozy feel, Copper Falls State Park is a land of deep gorges and lofty views. Like Devil’s Lake, the views attract a lot of visitors. The trails were crowded when I first went during the day, but starting at about 5 in the evening the traffic slowed way down. I ran into very few people at this time and hardly any starting at about 7. Packing a meal I could easily eat on the trail paid off because everyone else was eating back at their campsites.

This gave me a lot of time to enjoy the numerous overlooks without feeling like I’m hogging the view. My favorite views were from the backside of the falls, watching the water cascade down. There was so much energy in the water’s rush toward Lake Superior. The water is colored a warm brown with tannic acid, but that is not how the falls get their name. The name also has nothing to do with the color of the rocks. Instead, it comes from failed attempts at copper mining in the area. That is a fact I learned from the many interpretive signs along my hike. I have to say the colors are interesting though, and I do not blame myself for thinking the falls were named for them before my visit. The color of the water is especially nice; it’s like watching beer tumble into a glass.

Along my hikes, especially the more solitary ones, I was wary of bears and other regional megafauna, but I never saw any. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a black bear (Ursus americanus) from the distance. Instead, a saw a few red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) and black squirrels (a color variation of the eastern gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis). On a side trip through Ashland county I didn’t encounter any moose (Alces alces) but I saw several white admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis) butterflies along a stretch of gravel road.

White admiral

The falls themselves are part of the Bad River (Copper Falls) and the Tyler Forks (Brownstone Falls). Copper Falls is 29 feet high and Brownstone Falls is 30. In addition to the falls there are also smaller cascades, rapids, and a geological feature known as Devil’s Gate.

Copper Falls
Copper Falls, second view
Brownstone Falls, front view
Looking down from Brownstone Falls
Tyler Forks (foreground) flowing into the Bad River
Fallen logs in the gorge
Devil’s Gate (background) and an island with cairns

Upon leaving Copper Falls State Park I made the long drive back to Madison.

I did not leave the state on my week off as I had originally planned on doing, but I found spectacular landscapes nonetheless. I had wanted to go up north again for a while now, but I hadn’t known it was the right time until it happened.

A popular picture spot at the park

Road Trip Part III: Wisconsin’s North Coast

The distance between my 2nd and 3rd destinations, Amnicon Falls State Park and Copper Falls SP, was short so I decided to take a few extra hours and check out the sights along the way. There is plenty to see along Highway 13, as this route follows Lake Superior for much of the way, and when I wasn’t right by the lake I was driving through boreal forest.

Port Wing Boreal Forest SNA

Port Wing Boreal Forest is a beautiful State Natural Area where I had my first stop of the day. I didn’t see much of it, which is a shame because pictures of the beach look amazing, but I spent a few minutes in a small clearing with a calm, isolated vibe.

My next stop was Bark Bay Slough SNA, which was a good SNA to get decent views of from just the road and parking lot. In fact, I didn’t head off-road at this one at all. The namesake slough was on one side of the road, an expansive bog on the other.

Unusually cooperative belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) at Bark Bay
Bog view
Open pool in a small stream with tamarack (Larix laricina) trees
Bark Bay Slough and surrounding forest

Next I wanted to get my nostalgia on and revisit the site of my first Great Lakes memories at the unincorporated town of Cornucopia, near the belly of Siskiwit Bay. I was 5 when my parents first took me and my brother there. When I was a kid, the sight of the water shocked me. Never had I, in living memory, seen water that stretched as far as the eye could see. I would squint and try to see the far shore. As with anyone else gazing out at the lake, I couldn’t.

Flash forward to 2017, and it was still a dizzying spectacle. Half of that was the size of the lake, half of that was the weather. It was a hazy day, but still plenty bright and the horizon was a hard point to focus on as the lake and the sky were equally bright.

Kind of neat in an abstract way, but it strained my eyes at the time
Siskiwit Bay, east side

After spending some time by the bay, I headed to Ashland to get some lunch (with a lake view!) and continued on my way toward Copper Falls, which will be the subject of final road trip post.

Road Trip Part II: Amnicon Falls State Park

On the third day of my road trip I arrived at Amnicon Falls SP, and it is now one of my favorite parks. Situated on the Amnicon River in Douglas County, this is the smallest state park I visited along my way. That might be part of why it was my favorite stop for a few reasons.

This is not a high-traffic park, at least compared to ones like Devil’s Lake or Copper Falls. Walking around, I did not have to worry about walking into the frames of several photos, even during the busy times. By the waterfalls I was always guaranteed that I would be able to find a place to sit by myself.

With the park being so small, all the falls are within walking distance of each other. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good hike, but it’s neat having a park where everything is, well, right there when you come in. I really mean that when I say it: the park lobby is next to a decent set of rapids. I was briefly distracted by them before I went inside to purchase a site.

The three biggest waterfalls are Upper Falls and Lower Falls on the north channel and Snake Pit Falls on the south channel. Between the two channels is a rocky island that allows good views of all the falls (though the views of Upper and Lower Falls are also great from the other side of the river). What I liked about the setup at Amnicon Falls is that you can get as close to the river as you want. There are no guard rails and it is very easy to walk out to it. I could do things like eat lunch by the rapids or take a seat by Lower Falls and just watch the water rush by with a roar. Getting into the river itself is technically not allowed, but that didn’t stop another visitor from entertaining me with his cliff-diving feats at Snake Pit Falls. I wouldn’t recommend diving, and I didn’t do it myself, but I can’t say I wasn’t impressed.

Lower Falls
Lower Falls from a different angle
Snake Pit Falls with a diver
Upper Falls

Out of these three falls, Snake Pit was my favorite, and not just for the name or the diver. It does not have the volume of the other two falls, but its twists and turns captivated me, as did the deep, bowl-like pit and narrow gorge it flows into. Snake Pit was the hardest to get a decent look at from all angles, which made it the most intriguing. What goes on in the narrows? The cliff diver might know but I do not.