Backyard Explorer – Yellowstone Lake State Park

Backyard Explorer – Yellowstone Lake State Park

If you’re looking to get away from it all, Yellowstone Lake State Park in southwest Wisconsin is certainly worth a look.

Yellowstone Lake State Park is about an hour and a half’s drive southwest of Devil’s Lake State Park near the village of Blanchardville in the heart of Wisconsin’s driftless area. The 1,000-acre park while much smaller than Devil’s Lake State Park, encompasses a 455-acre man-made lake which is slightly bigger than Devil’s Lake. Yellowstone Lake SP offers camping, a swimming beach, miles of hiking trails, fishing, boating, mountain bike trail, picnic areas and more. Unlike Devil’s Lake, Yellowstone allows power boats, which makes it a bit sketchy for paddlers on thoes occasionally busy weekends.

Yellowstone Lake State Park Swimming Beach

When it comes to hiking and exploring the park, we always look for the trails or locations best define the park. In the case of Yellowstone Lake State Park, the “star” is the lake. We’re definitely going to have to get back and paddle. But as I said, there are miles of hiking trails to explore as well.

On our visit in July of 2017, we combined a number of trails including the Timber Trail, The Windy Ridge Trail and the Oak Grove Trail covering about 4 miles on our chosen route. I hesitate to call the hikes “strenuous”, especially by Devil’s Lake standards, but if you are not used to it, walking the continuously rolling “driftless” landscape could take it out of you. The Blue Ridge, Windy Ridge & Savanna Loop trails often lead out into open and somewhat restored prairies now in need of a bit of TLC. While still beautiful, I have to say that on all of our excursions, I’ve never seen such large oceans of Queen Anne’s Lace as covers the hills of Yellowstone Lake SP!

A Sea of Queen Anne's Lace

A Sea of Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot)

All in all, the trails are well maintained, but you often have to dodge a maze of invasive and toxic wild parsnip reaching in from the edges. Wild parsnip seems to be becoming the bane of Wisconsin State Parks in our area. Once only along the sides of trails and roadways, the stuff now seems to be expanding well into open prairies and wet areas. It may be time for a serious management effort within the parks for this invasive and a bit dangerous plant.

I’m also guessing that at one time Yellowstone Lake State Park hikers could look out over the lake from locations on the Oak Grove Trail which have now mostly filled in with brush. Restoring those vistas would certainly enhance the hike. Of course, I tend to be more sensitive to such things as I spend so much time exploring our parks.

The Beach at Yellowstone Lake State Park

The Beach at Yellowstone Lake State Park

There is a nice public swimming beach at Yellowstone, concessions and a variety of picnic areas along the shoreline. It’s not too hard to find a quiet location. Recent storms and flooding have made the beach a bit smaller, and some picnic areas are rather wet on our visit, but that should change quickly IF we get a bit more sun!!

There are 2 good boat landings on the lake which was originally developed for fishing and is regularly stocked with walleye and musky. Interestingly, when the lake was first created in the early 1950’s, “rough fish” in the tributaries leading to Yellowstone Lake were poisoned two weeks prior to filling the lake to protect the game fish, which were stocked later.

Yellowstone Lake State Park offers 128 individual campsites. 108 are reservable and 38 have electrical hookups. The campground, which is a short walk from the lake, is open April through November. On the day we visited, I was impressed with the over all maintenance and care of the campground. You can reserve a campsite online through

Yellowstone State Park is also some other nearby points of interest. The park is just a few miles from Wisconsin’s Troll Capitol of  Mt. Horeb, WI., and from the New Glarus, WI., where the Badger and Sugar River State Bike Trails meet. You’ll also enjoy the shops and architecture of “America’s Little Switzerland”. We recommend stops at the New Glarus Brewing Company for a tour and a brew, and for lunch, the Cow and Quince.

Oh yeah, and while you’re there. Check out the bat houses.. they’ve got ’em everywhere!!!

I receive a pile of emails each week during the summer months from folks looking for camping alternatives. The big state parks here in central Wisconsin are nearly always booked throughout the summer. Even if you’re just visiting for the day, finding a parking space can be rough, finding a space at the beach can be stressful and a popular hiking trail can feel like the sidewalks of Manhattan. If you just need a change of pace, it’s worth checking out the lesser known and outlying parks. Yellowstone Lake offers all the amenities you expect, but also offers a real opportunity to “Get away from it all”.

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