Christmas is sure to be different this year, so why not embrace it? Why not start a new tradition such as going on a hike each day from Christmas to the new year? Josie the Cockapoo, my husband, and I discovered many new trails this year or found new aspects of old favorites. Listed below are our top seven. All are within 30 minutes of the Dells. Number 7 is the one we discovered just last week.
Caution: some of these trails require state park stickers and some are dangerous because of high cliffs and the nearness to the Wisconsin River which has a strong current. Also, some may be closed so google them (https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/Parks) to check and to get specific directions.
1. The Wisconsin Dells Riverwalk is a must-do especially now when you can enjoy the gorgeously decorated “Tree of Light.” If you love Christmas lights, take this short walk at dusk. Hike on the paved pathway that hugs the river and soak in the magic of this time of year.
2. Ableman’s Gorge State Natural Area near Rock Springs was a new find for us this year. This dramatic gorge includes ancient quartzite rock faces. We hiked it before snow and ice arrived, so we were able to climb the difficult vertical trail and enjoy the scenery from on top of the bluff. It’s off of Highway 136 near the Baraboo River. Bring a container so you can fill it with water from an artesian well located near the site.
3. Quincy Bluff and Wetlands State Natural Area in Adams was another new discovery in 2020. This area has many options, some of which are challenging. Frank, Josie, and I chose to spend our time rock climbing. We reached an impressive height on Quincy’s Bluff where we took in the view of area wetlands.
4. Chapel Gorge Trail is a 1.8 mile loop trail located near Birchcliff Resort in the Dells. Hike through a densely wooded area. At midpoint, enjoy the view of the Wisconsin River, including the Narrows.
5. Rocky Arbor State Park requires a park sticker and the main gate is closed for the sea-son so you’ll need to park at the entrance and walk in, but it’s worth exploring. Last week I hiked for an hour and although four parked cars showed other visitors, I didn’t see a single person. I especially enjoy hiking the valley with wetlands on one side and massive rock walls on the other. Watch for the huge boulder. Hiking this path in the spring is wonderful since the honking of geese drowns out the interstate noise. It also features a delicate periwinkle-colored spring flower called a hepatica (thank you, Shirley Tollaksen, for identifying it) which I rarely get to see.
6. Sadly, Mirror Lake State Park cancelled candlelight skiing this winter, but we can still hike or ski on popular trails such as Echo Rock or the less traveled trails south of Fern Dell Road. Several are marked “easy” but some offer a challenge.
7. And now, for our find of the year, Pulpit Rock Trail. The Friends of Mirror Lake recently added impressive signage about the history of the Fern Dell area to this picturesque trail. After arriving at Pulpit Rock, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the emerald-green water of Fern Dell. Soon, spectacular icicles will be visible. In fact, this month’s Wisconsin Nat-ural Resources magazine (p. 11) shows the spectacular scene in winter. I’m waiting for the next big snowstorm when we can try snowshoeing on this trail. Parking is available between the Mirror Lake Park entrance and the Seth Peterson cottage.
You might have realized that this list doesn’t include any of the awesome Ice Age Trail segments. Those will be in a future column, along with any favorites that you send my way.