I haven’t gotten out camping much this year, so I was happy that my friend Jon invited me to Governor Dodge State Park with him last weekend. At just over 8 square miles, it is the fourth largest of Wisconsin’s state parks and is just under an hour’s drive from Madison. I’ve been going here with family since a young age so the place has a lot of memories for me. I am always glad to go back and visit.
I arrived Friday night at 8, after having delays getting out of town. Jon was just finishing up cooking and I added some cold food to our selection. After supper we sat around a fire and talked of the election (and some more upbeat topics) while a tree frog sang nearby. It was not too cold out but the fire felt cozy.
In the morning we decided on our first hike- the gorgeous Stephens Falls and Lost Canyon trail. It is a short hike, just over a mile, but there is a lot to see along the way.
The trail starts off following a small creek. Not long after the trail begins the creek flows down the waterfall and the path curves around to follow it into a tranquil glen.
Where should you go after visiting the waterfall? A lot of people head back up the the parking lot, but taking the rest of the loop is much more enjoyable. The Stephens Falls Trail continues for about a quarter mile after the falls and when we reached the end of it we took a right onto the Lost Canyon Trail.
The loop ends at a small prairie. In the summer lupines are abundant but this time of year the best sight is the grasses turning their lovely fall hues.
For our afternoon walk we did something much longer. We took the Pine Cliffs Trail around Cox Hollow Lake, one of two man-made lakes at the park, starting at the beach. This loop was about four or five miles, including the portions we walked on the road and on the Lakeview Trail. The highlights are the two large cliffs that overlook the lake, each with a plant community that seems more northern in its makeup. White pines are the predominant tree and blueberry plants and ferns fill the understory.
We saw some animals, mostly turkey vultures. We heard some creatures too. Around every corner that day there was a spring peeper, Pseudacris crucifer, chirping in some hidden location. This small treefrog species doesn’t have much longer to go until hibernation. The woods get a lot quieter once winter hits.
Unfortunately I had to work on Sunday so this was a one-night trip for me. Governor Dodge is a large park that has many trails worth checking out. You can’t hit them all in one weekend. The two I did, however, are two of my lifelong favorites and I would recommend them to visitors of the park. Of the two, the falls is a the easier hike. Not only is it shorter but there is less of an elevation change. The pine cliffs are a little more strenuous but can be done on a shorter route than we did. The park’s trail network is very interconnected and it’s easy to create a custom route to see everything you want to.