If you’ve never been to Devil’s Lake State Park on a holiday or summer weekend, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. With Memorial Weekend kicking off tomorrow, here are some honest truths and tips to make your visit to Devil’s Lake more enjoyable. (I might have added more than 10!)
- When You Arrive: Prepare For Long, Long… Long Lines.
Arrive early in the day or mid-week to avoid long lines. Devil’s Lake State Park is by far the most popular state park in Wisconsin and one of the most popular parks in the country. Think about this, Devil’s Lake State Park annual visitor numbers are comparable to both Yosemite & Yellowstone National Parks (Give or take 700,000) crushed into less than half the space. That said, you can expect long lines to enter the park Friday after 5 pm. Saturday by 10 am or 11 am and Sunday from around 10 am to 6 pm. Lines are just part of the experience these days. If you can purchase a park sticker online or at another park before you visit, it can save you time as well.
- Parking Lots WILL BE FULL
Best tip? The park opens at 6 am. On weekends, enter the park early & have your car parked by 8 am. As I mentioned above, the park is usually slammed on weekends and holidays, especially in good weather. Devil’s Lake State Park simply does not have the infrastructure to cope with the number of visitors. Parking lots on the north shore can fill by 10 am on Saturdays & Sundays. South Shore parking lots can fill not soon after. Driving and finding parking can be a frustrating experience. Often no parking is available within the park and you really have no options but to park somewhere outside of the park and find some way in. I should add, that when you think you’re parking “outside” the park along the road.. you’re still inside the park and may get a ticket.
- Don’t expect to camp in the park without reservations.
You will NOT get a campsite on the weekends at Devil’s Lake State Park without a reservation. As of 2017, the park only has 10 non-reservable campsites!! Here is a list of local private campgrounds. If you don’t have your reservation yet, call the private campgrounds. Plan ahead. Know where you’re sleeping before you arrive.
- Don’t call the park phone line for timely info
Rarely will a real person answer the phone at the park during busy weekends. Just Sayin’. Back in the day, when I worked in the visitor information office, we answered the phone. Folks used to call us for everything. Often because they were lost out on the highway or in town and didn’t know how to get to the park. Those days are gone. Just remember, from the Interstate take Exit 106 to Hwy 33 and follow the signs. 🙂
- Pack A Lunch!
Food at concessions is expensive. The food is good, concessions helps to support the park, but you pay for the convenience. Leaving the park for lunch and hoping to come back in is unwise (See the top two bullet points!) Bringing your own food and drinks will help you keep stress levels under control.
- Campers, leave your car parked.
Don’t drive your car out of the campgrounds unless you have to, or be ready to get back in line! The road into Devil’s Lake State Park’s main public area is one way. To access the Northern Lights & Ice Age Campground you MUST go through the main entrance. This means that if you leave the campground in your car, you will have to deal with the traffic entering the park. There is no other solution. It can be very frustrating to wait an hour to get back into your campsite after running to the local store for supplies. Make your shopping runs in the early morning or evening to avoid traffic.
- Cool it in the Campground
Have a good time, consider your neighbors. Hey, we all love a good party.. However, no one likes rowdy, loud, drunk campers. If you are loud enough to get your neighbors attention at your campsite, be prepared to be kicked out. Law enforcement spends a lot of their time dealing with campground issues. They will not hesitate to remove people who are disturbing others.
- Hike The East Bluff or West Bluff Trails
The best views and iconic rock formations are located on the East & West Bluff trails. Most summer visitors to the park come to Devil’s Lake to swim and/or see the vistas from atop the Baraboo Hills. When you get your park map, mark the trail head locations and make sure to hit one or both of these trails. That said, both trails are quite challenging. Wear good shoes. NO FLIP-FLOPS if you want to avoid blisters. Take snacks and water. Parents will want to keep your kids on a “short leash” on the bluff trails. There are many dangerous cliff ledges and one quick move could bring tragedy. Yes, people do fall nearly every year. Yes, people die. Enjoy the bluff trails, but be careful.
- Don’t count on your cellphone
Cell phones & wireless devices often don’t work within Devil’s Lake State Park. Depending on your provider and where you are located within the park, your cell phone probably won’t work. The worst locations for cell reception are the south shore areas and many of the park’s nature trails. Verizon tends to work better than AT&T. Paper maps are a good idea. If you need to get online, WiFi service is available at the North Shore Chateau. (Park WiFi is adequate, not great. Plan accordingly.)
- Prepare to deal with loose dogs
Loose dogs are a problem at Devil’s Lake. Devil’s Lake has made an effort to be pet-friendly, but with the lack of enforcement of restricted areas, clean up and leash laws, pets have become a problem. If you or your kids have issues with dogs OR you keep your dog on a leash (as is the law in Wisconsin) be aware that loose dogs are everywhere in the park. I hate to make this a “tip” but loose dogs running up on you on a hiking trail on the beaches and boat landings are common experiences. Dog waste bags on trails are common.
- Don’t sweat the wildlife!
Don’t fear wildlife in the park… Better yet, IF you are lucky enough to see the wildlife, just leave the critters alone. Your chances of seeing a rattlesnake at Devil’s Lake are just a bit better than that of seeing Bigfoot. That said, DO BRING BUG SPRAY WITH DEET. You will encounter mosquitos and ticks including deer ticks which can carry Lymes.
- CAll 911
Don’t waste time looking for a ranger, warden or park staff in an emergency. Call 911. If there is someone close within the park, they will be called by the dispatch center and sent to you. Trying to locate park staff on your own will simply waste time.
The bottom line is that Devil’s Lake State Park is very busy, understaffed and lacks the infrastructure to manage the weekend & holiday crowds. If you can’t make it in the off-season or mid-week, you want to plan ahead, set some priorities and be prepared to wait in lines. If the only time you can visit is during a busy weekend, just relax and roll with it. Devil’s Lake State Park is certainly worth it!
HAVE MORE TIPS? Post them below!
** 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 or any other group, organization or book club.