If you can only hike one trail at Devil’s Lake State Park, which one would it be? This question is asked every single day at the park by first time visitors. Well, we recommend the East Bluff Trail, hands down. If you are concerned about the elevation, then hit the Tumbled Rocks Trail through the talus fields along Devil’s Lake’s western shore.
East Bluff Trail
The Park’s East Bluff Trail has it all, from great vistas to amazing rock formations including the iconic Devil’s Doorway. The 1.6 mile (One way), rough, black top trail, begins on the park’s north shore and takes hikers gradually up 500 feet above the surface of the lake. Along the way there are many overlooks and amazing views. The first half of the trail includes the Elephant Cave & Elephant Rock formations and if you know where to look, the lesser known “Tomahawk Rock”. On the very top of the bluff along with more vistas, the trail goes through a quartzite glade and pygmy forest unique to Wisconsin.
When you reach the point where the East Bluff trail turns to the east and intersects with Balanced Rock Trail, you can return to the north shore and your car simply by turning around, or you can take the East Bluff Woods Trail back. The EBW trail is covers the same distance but takes you through deep forests and along a rocky stream.
If you’re not ready to return, you can also continue east from the intersection adding another half mile or so to your hike before turning around. This trail will give you views far into the distance including of Lake Wisconsin and beyond. It’s also on this part of the trail that you’ll find the famous Devil’s Doorway rock formation.
When hiking the East Bluff Trail there are some tips worth remembering;
- BE AWARE OF YOUR PLACE IN SPACE! There are sharp cliffs and no railings. Watch young children and stay back. Be careful backing up for those “selfies”. People DO FALL and DO DIE.
- Wear Proper Shoes. Flip-flops and loose sandals are a bad idea. The rock at Devil’s Lake is particularly slippery when wet or dusty. Tripping can be bad (see #2), and blisters suck.
- Stay on the trails. Years of off-trail exploring has damaged the environment along the cliffs. Help the land recover by staying on the trails.
- Pay attention to weather forecasts. Dress for the weather.
- Plan 3-4 hours for this hike. You’ll want to take your time on the way up and take time to just enjoy the views. Extra water and snacks will help you stay fresh and enjoy your day on the bluff.
Tumbled Rocks Trail
Tumbled Rocks Trail is a fairly flat trail that twists its way through the fallen boulders (Talus fields) along the lake’s western shoreline. Tumbled Rocks begins from the west end of the north shore beach area.
This walking trail is roughly, paved but not really “accessible” and a challenge for strollers as well. That said, the 1.3 mile trail offers a great overview of the lake basin. The trail also features an up-close look at the quartzite talus fields shattered from the bluffs during the time of the glaciers. If you pay attention, you can also find among the quartzite boulders fossilized “ripple marks” in the stone that come from a time when the rocks were just sand at the bottom of a shallow sea.
When it comes to hiking the Tumbled Rocks trail we still recommend wearing good shoes. The trail can be slippery in spots, especially in the mornings are after a rainfall. Plan about 2 hours to hike the trail to the south end and return. Less if you’re a fast hiker.
Certainly there are many more miles of trail to explore at Devil’s Lake State Park. The West Bluff trail is especially beautiful and offers many wonderful overlooks, some easily rival the East Bluff Trail. Personally, we’re big fans of the Uplands Trail near the Steinke Basin area. That said, when you are here for the first time and may never return again, we’re going to send you to the East Bluff or Tumbled Rocks.
O.K. I know some of you regular park visitors are busting to tell me what I’ve overlooked or gotten wrong… 🙂 So, add your comments below!