While the East and West Bluff trails get all the attention for their amazing vistas, they are not the stars of autumn at Devil’s Lake State Park. The ultimate fall color trails are the ones less traveled… and more wooded.
You see, as we get to this time of year many of the more exposed trees change early and this year, some have begun to lose their leaves already. Certainly, there’s still a lot of color on the cliffside trails and the vistas are great, but if it’s really the fall color you’re going for, here are your best bets within the park…
1. East Bluff Woods – The East Bluff woods trail begins at the East Bluff Trailhead but goes straight while the main East Bluff Trail turns off to the right. If you follow the much wider East Bluff Woods Trail, you’ll see some dazzling oranges and yellows all around you when in peak color. As a bonus, you’ll follow a rocky stream most of the way. Eventually, once you reach the top of the bluff, the East Bluff Woods Trail will meet up with the main East Bluff Trail and you can still enjoy those magnificent vistas on the return trip. It’s the perfect fall color loop!
2. The Uplands Trail – Beginning at the Steinke Basin Parking Lot just east of the main park entrance, you can either go straight on the gravel road and explore the trail counter-clockwise, or head to your left right out of the parking lot. Either way, you’ll enjoy a nearly 4-mile hike up and over the bluffs and again, among some great color. What’s particularly nice here is that you’ll cross a total of 5 small bridges along the way. Four bridges are small and cross over now mostly dry, stream beds and the fifth bridge, on the gravel road, is much larger but again takes you over a rocky stream. This spring, nature center volunteers cleaned up the areas around these bridges and now they are great spots to get out your camera! If you’re new to this trail, watch your signs and take a map!
3. Steinke Basin Loop – This approximately 2.5-mile loop is a great alternative to the Uplands if you have less time and don’t want to go up the bluffs. Again, you’ll find some amazing colors.The Steinke Basin loop meanders through forests and wetlands. You’re more apt to see the yellow poplars and white birches along the way. There are also more “red” leaves on this loop each fall than the other trails featured here.
4. Johnson Moraine Trail – Again, this trail can be accessed from the Steinke Basin Parking Lot. To start this short loop, simply cross the road and you’ll see the trailhead dividing two farm fields. In about a quarter mile the trail will spit. You can turn right here and walk down a short steep hill to hike between two kettle ponds. The trail will slowly go back up the hill, then travel through a forest before curving back to the road. Once you cross the road you’ll walk a short way before you’ll arrive at an intersection between multiple trails. Just turn right here to go back to your car. (Consult the trail maps)
5. Grottos Trail – From the South Shore day use area, follow the paved trail east past the Bird Mound. You’ll walk across the railroad tracks and turn right to hike the Grottos. This wide, flat and heavily wooded trail travels at the foot of the east bluff offering spectacular views when you look up and lots of colors during peak season as well. It is also possible to create a loop by combining the Grottos trail with the Group Camp Trail which connects the CCC parking lot to the South Shore beach area.
Whatever trail you choose, Mid-October is the time to get out there. 2017 is proving to be a strange fall color season and we can’t make any promises what dates are going to be the best at each location. Still, peak or not, there’s always some wonderful fall colors out there to enjoy!
OK locals, What trail do you recommend for the best fall colors???