Are your snowshoes right for Devil’s Lake State Park? Well, that depends on where you want to go.
Snowshoeing has become very popular at Devil’s Lake State Park over the last few years. It’s no surprise when you can borrow snowshoes FREE at the park’s nature center. You’ll often find visitors snowshoeing around the park’s north shore day use area. Others will head out on the park’s hiking trails. Usually the hiking trails are not ideal for snowshoeing. The trails are often well-worn, packed down often bare and icy. This means that snowshoes are little more than ice cleats that help prevent you from slipping. To get any real fun out of snowshoes you need to get out right after a heavy snow, or go off trail where your snowshoes can do their job… and YOU get to explore!
It’s important to note that snowshoe cleats are easily damaged on pavement and rocks, so while most any snowshoe will work on the flat terrain of the park, often a good pair of Yaktrax or other traction cleats would be the better choice.
If your goal is to get to the top of the park’s East or West Bluffs snowshoes may not be the right choice either, especially if you want to hike on the trails or near the cliff edges. Climbing and descending the snow and ice-covered stone staircases while wearing snowshoes is not for the faint of heart! Navigating uneven stairs in snowshoes is about 10% technique and 90% luck. You need to be able to clearly place each foot and do it in a way that gives you a solid bite into the snow/ice under your foot. With your typical snowshoe this usually means trying to get the ball of foot (where the cleats are located) down on the ground. This is NOT easy on stairs with snowshoes! What’s more, most snowshoes have rounded, metal frames that limit your mobility. If you can only get the frame of your snowshoe down, you’ll keep slipping. If you put your weight at the wrong angle, going down a staircase, you can even break your snowshoes! The frames of most snowshoes are not meant to hold your weight.
The bare quartzite on the bluffs is not only slippery, as I mentioned above it will also ruin your snowshoes. You can expect a lot of bare stone under your feet on the East & West Bluff trails. Once you bend your snowshoe cleats you’ll have no grip! Depending on the quality of the snowshoe, cleats can snap right away or break when you try to bend them back. Broken cleats may or may not be replaceable.
Most days, you are better off wearing crampons/cleats when hiking the bluff trails.
So What Do We Do?
My wife and I learned some years ago that we’d be pushing our snowshoes to their limits. We snowshoe a lot in Baraboo hills and usually in the wilds of the bluffs. We’ve found that you simply can’t avoid hazards around here. There are rocks everywhere, sometimes covered by snow, sometimes not. There are dangerous cliffs and steep slopes to navigate! Sad to say, I broke two pairs of snowshoes before wising up and upgrading to something that take what the Baraboo hills could dish out!
Finding snowshoes that could withstand our crazy adventures wasn’t easy. In the end, we choose MSR snowshoes. I have the “Lightning Accents“, her’s are the “Lightning Axis“. Both shoes are what some would call “extreme backcountry” shoes. They are overkill on flat terrain but appropriate to necessary in rocky hills. If you take a look at the shoes in the photo above, you’ll quickly see the difference between these and your typical snowshoe. Not only do the shoes have 3 sets of teeth under the deck, but killer feature is the that the entire frame offers traction as well. These shoes also feature heel lifts for climbing steep terrain.. (Yeah, that does make a difference!) We can’t count the miles we’ve put on them, or the rocks we’ve climbed with them on, but they’ve certainly earned their keep. At a price well over $200, they had better!
for what it’s worth…
Disclaimer: And of course, my crazy opinions are my own and often caused by too many hours of isolation in the deep dark woods. My posts certainly don’t represent the opinions of the Wisconsin DNR who’s leadership rarely snowshoes at all or may snowshoe all the time, I wouldn’t know, but they would certainly never off an opinion on such trivial matters.