Since Baraboo is in close proximity to Wisconsin Dells and is home to Circus World, the town gets a lot of visitors. But this small Midwestern city has another claim to fame. A comfortable lake, caught in a chasm of ancient and prodigious hills, lies in wait for those in the vicinity-especially on a hot summer’s day. This small body of water and the billion year old hills that flank it are so profound, Wisconsin protected the area and named it Devil’s Lake State Park.
Usually, my summers are filled with road trips. This year has been different. In total, my day trips have amounted to two in the past four months. Yet, this past Thursday, Heidi and I engaged in that fun-filled American endeavor.
We ventured towards the original winter home of the now defunct Ringling Bros. Circus. The temps were in the nineties, so we sought sanctuary in the waters of Devil’s Lake. We also discovered a brewery whose restaurant sported an eclectic menu. It was an enjoyable afternoon in the south central portion of the state. I’ll give you the run-down.
Here’s my experience at Devil’s Lake…
It’s flippin’ hot out- ninety degrees to be exact. And, as our SUV winds toward the refreshing waters of Devil’s Lake, I’m stunned by the geological attributes of the nearby landscape. I’m driving slowly, giving myself time to gawk at the ancient hills and cliffs of the area. Finally, we happen upon the Devil’s Lake State Park entrance.
As we crawl through the scenic park, I wonder aloud, “Why do they call it Devil’s Lake?”
Heidi responds, as she scans the picturesque forest, “I’ll Google it.” Seconds later, she informs me, “It says it was a misinterpretation of a Ho-Chunk word. The Native-Americans actually named it ‘Sacred Lake’ or ‘Spirit Lake’. Devil’s Lake stuck. Officials thought of renaming it for commercial purposes but voted against it.”
“Yeah, Devil’s Lake does sound like a place with some mystique.”
When we reach the lake parking lot, large as it is, I sense an atmosphere of casual, relaxing fun. And as I situate myself, getting ready to tread the comfortable waters, that sense becomes an experience. There’s people riding floaties, kids playing with noodles, groups of friends tossing frisbees, kayakers paddling and sunbathers soaking up rays in and around the lake.
The setting for these summer acts is just as invigorating. As I have left the parking lot and now dig through my backpack, I sit on a picnic table. This table, as do many others, rests on a large expanse of tree-dotted lawn – accompanied with a few barbeque grills for those seeking a cookout at the lake.
Beyond this grassy flat, and just before the busy waters, a narrow rim of sand outlines the lake. But what is astounding about this scene happens to be the crumbling hills bordering the small body of water, making hiking and rock climbing this area a treat. I do not have to be told that these mounds, dominating the landscape, are ancient. It’s pretty apparent when you see the tumbled rocks at their base, but I wouldn’t have guessed they’re up to 1.5 billion years old!
The coolest thing about these rocky tree-topped crests are the pink and purplish quartzite that ride their slopes. I read later that this is due to iron being present during the quartzite’s creation. So yeah, these hills are so old that even the rocks are rusty.
Heidi and I swim and and engage in all sorts of beach-going activities before retiring. The lake is pretty shallow for a very long stretch. However, I do believe there is a steep drop off somewhere in the lake. I’ve read that its maximum depth is 47 feet. Anyways, I forgot how refreshing a day at the beach could be. I’m told, during the weekends, this place gets absolutely packed.
Lastly, as I almost omitted this portion, you’ll need a State Park Sticker to visit Devil’s lake. The park office is closed, so the normal $10 daily admission is unavailable at this time. An annual Wisconsin state park sticker costs $28 and, considering the great parks in the Badger State, it’s a bargain.
I was originally anticipated hiking the area also, as there are some pretty cool trails in this preserve. However, the steamy weather dictates otherwise. So instead, we choose another favorite activity of mine…visiting a craft brewery.
Tumbled Rock Brewery and Kitchen, aptly named for the aforementioned tumbled rocks at the hill’s bases, resides only a couple of miles from the park. This place incorporates a lot of different elements.
An old rustic barn greets us in the parking lot. As we reach the restaurant after a short trek, we discover a sleek and cool brew-pub. Across an inspiring outdoor patio and an artificial turf activity area, with game playing apparatus such as a giant connect four rack and ping-pong table, I find a small but crazy cool taproom. There’s actually an overhead door behind the bar that opens to the brewery.
As we’re seated, having made the choice to sit in the blazing sun, we’re given the choice of sitting next to some misting fans. Of course we opt for one of these tables on their patio. Here, the view isn’t spectacular, but with the barn and natural elements, I feel as if on the back patio of a scenic rural residence.
We scan the menu and beer list. The beer list actually differs from many craft breweries I’ve come across. It isn’t insanely adventurous, but it’s a curve compared to many. I find a couple brews I’m interested in and choose one, though I think the waitress got mine confused with another. Anyways, the beer is pretty damn good no matter what ale I’m downing.
As for the menu, there’s a wide array of selections to choose. With appetizers ranging from trout to lamb, a choice of soups and salads, a creative offering of wood fired pizzas and just as imaginative sandwiches, you’ll find a new favorite at the close of an outdoor recreation day.
We choose the Truffled Wild Mushroom pie, and it’s scrumptious! I should add, it’s fairly affordable. For a twelve inch specialty pizza and a couple of craft brews, the bill comes to under thirty-five dollars.
In closing, a day at Devil’s Lake can be full of adventure or a luxuriant wallow at the beach. With an eatery like the Tumbled Rock Brewery and Kitchen at your disposal, it adds to a fun outdoorsy type of day. And with the current state of affairs, a fresh atmosphere, whether in a private establishment or public lands, makes for an exhilarating day!