Devil’s Lake State Park is known for swimming beaches, high cliffs and many unique rock formations but not for its waterfalls. Certainly there are many fascinating waterfalls and cascades within the Baraboo Hills area. There are picturesque and popular falls Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area & Pewit’s Nest SNA just to name two nearby locations. That said, Devil’s Lake does have its waterfalls as well. Most are ephemeral (Running only in spring or wet seasons.) and most are well off the beaten path. They have never been officially named and there are still others waiting to be discovered! Well, maybe discovered isn’t the right word. “shared” is more like it. I’m reminded of this quote from, The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery…
“Most people tend to think that discovery means seeing it for the first time, but to be considered a discoverer you have to publicize your knowledge of a feature. There’s a controversy within Yellowstone that these waterfalls haven’t been discovered at all. After all, if you found Shangri-La would you tell everybody?”
– Dr. Judith Meyers, Geology professor at Southern Missouri State University.
Devil’s Lake State Park covers over 10,000 acres of Baraboo hills territory. Of that, only a few small areas are used by the general public. A small number of hunters, nature lovers, scientists and general crazy people do explore deeper into the park’s “back country”. Of those that do explore deeper into the park, most are not sharing information. The notion is that if you keep something secret, you protect it. Of course, I disagree. I think that it’s imperative to shed light on the many wonders of the park in order to encourage more people not only to appreciate nature and Devil’s Lake State Park, but to speak up for the park’s care and maintenance as well. The public cannot advocate for what it knows little about and only those who actually care about the land will provide the energy to protect it.
Black Bear Falls
The first falls we “discovered” we named “Black Bear Falls” as we found it on the same day we had discovered a large amount of bear scat nearby. Black Bear Falls is located in the south-west corner of the park in an area called Pine Hollow. This ephemeral waterfall drops about 20-30ft from the top of a rock cliff down into an overgrown boulder field before joining a stream at the bottom of the valley. You cannot access the falls from the south as that land is now owned by the Ho-Chunk Nation. To get to the falls, you must drive to the end of the winding and unpaved Burma Rd. At the end of Burma Rd., you will hike south-west and then climb down into a steep gorge. This is not for everyone! If you get into trouble out there, you’re on your own!
December Falls is located along the Ice Age / Roznos Meadow Trail on the north side of South Shore Road. This section of trail is challenging and climbs up to meet the Uplands trail on the top of the bluff. The waterfall can be seen from the trail, and if it’s running you’ll hear it as well. This fall is drops about 15 feet before sliding over a weathered stone and slipping below the talus (boulders) and out of sight. The thing I really love about December Falls is that it’s the first easily accessible waterfall we’ve found within the park. Yeah, it’s on a trail that not a lot of people use, but I think once people know it’s there, that trail will become a lot more popular. Especially in the spring and after a few days rain.
This brings me to an important point when it comes to this particular waterfall. Devil’s Lake State Park or the Ice Age Trail Alliance should seriously think of extending a loop trail spur out to December Falls. The area is now invaded by knee-high thorn covered invasive Japanese Barberry in between fallen brush all on top of a boulder field. It’s not an easy, safe or even attractive approach. I feel that we should treat the location as if we were at a national park. We should make it easy for folks to approach and enjoy the waterfall while staying on the trail. Most of the falls we find in Devil’s Lake will not be so easily accessible, this one is an opportunity. Because of its accessibility & visibility, in time, if we do not manage it, this area will become trampled, eroded and damaged just as Parfrey’s Glen and Pewit’s Nest are now.
Oh, and why the name “December Falls?” Well, because of all the times, over all of the years myself and others have passed this location, it happened that one weird 50F December day was the first time that I know of that it’s been photographed actually flowing.
More Discoveries To Be Had
Another find I’ve called the Coyote Marsh Falls after the coyote I surprised while trekking in the area, is still waiting for me to photograph. I’ll have to get on the rubber boots for that one! Don’t worry, I’ll be adding a page to this website soon with a map to each waterfall that we or others find within the park. I’m inspired by Paul Rubinstein, Lee Whittlesey and Mike Stevens who discovered over 200 unknown waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park in just the last 20 years. We often think that we know everything about our parks, but amazingly there is a lot left to explore and discover. Here at Devil’s Lake State Park there are more waterfalls to discover as well. Yeah, they will be ephemeral and not nearly as tall as those in Yellowstone, but they are out there and waiting to be discovered, or rediscovered and shared. That’s our… (and maybe YOUR) next adventure.
Provisos, Disclaimers & Such…
** I should probably clarify this blog post by defining “waterfall”. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary a waterfall is; “an area in a stream or river where running water falls down from a high place (such as over the side of a cliff) or a perpendicular or very steep descent of the water of a stream”. While Devil’s Lake State Park has some pretty scenic cascades on both the south and east bluffs, they are not, by definition, waterfalls”.
** I have named these falls as I have come across no printed or official names for them to date. These are the names I will use on this website, unless we find earlier names have been published. In that case we’ll defer to those earlier names of course.