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  • Writer's pictureDanielle St. Louis

Governor Dodge State Park

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

When it's in the high 60's in November in Wisconsin, there's no better place to be than exploring a new state park. Governor Dodge State Park (GDSP) is a short enough drive from Madison that it's a great option for a day trip. Having never been to GDSP, I was curious to see what information was available about bringing your dog to the park. Like most of my pre-park visit research, I found the standard "dogs allowed on leash" boiler plate at a number of websites. But unlike other searches, I did come across one site that was more informative. This blog post from Hiking with Heather gave me some idea of what to expect, including that the park has two dog beaches that don't appear on any of the park maps and aren't mentioned on the DNR GDSP website (but they are mentioned on this page. Guess you just have to know where to look).

Pine Cliff Trail Governor Dodge State Park

Date of Visit: November 6th

Trails Hiked:

*In both instances, I forgot to stop MapMyRide until we were in the car and a little ways down the road. . . whoops.

Best for Breeds: M, L, XL

Dog Fitness Level: weekend warrior to avid adventurer

Human Fitness Level: weekend warrior to avid adventurer

Water Availability: Water fountains were turned off at this time of year

Bathrooms for Humans: pit toilets open

Trashcans for Dog Waste: none available at this time of year

What We Liked : This park is huge and offers plenty of trail options. Even in the fall, when most of the leaves have fallen, the trails are still full of vegetation (including Poison Ivy, so be cautious!). At some points, the trails were bordered by so many ferns, it felt like we were in a different world.

We were excited to explore Stephens' Falls and take in views of Cox Hollow Lake. We probably got to see the lake from more vantage points than normal because foliage wasn't obscuring our views. We even took a small detour off of Pine Cliff and found ourselves a sweet spot to have a snack overlooking the lake. After snack time, we made our way to the dog beach. We liked the actual dog beach, and Lucky was happy to take a dip.

What We Didn't Like: The liberal use of the term "dog beach." Governor Dodge has one dog beach and one "dog embankment." The actual dog beach is just a short walk N/NW from the people beach at Cox Hollow Lake. This dog beach has sand and a gradual grade into the water. You know, like a beach. It was pretty quiet when we were visiting. One other woman came by with a beagle, but she said he wasn't friendly and it was his first time trying out a dog beach. The beagle apparently didn't care for it much, because they left in a matter of seconds. So Lucky had the whole beach to himself. Before we left the park, I wanted to at least check out the second dog beach because it's not often a WI state park has two dog beaches. And it turns out, GDSP doesn't actually have two dog beaches.

The "dog embankment" is a short walk S/SE of the people beach at Twin Valley Lake, and it's just that, an embankment. There is no sand or gradual incline to the water. Just a two to three foot drop off of the edge of the grass. Lucky isn't one for jumping into water, and if he had manged to get in, I'm not sure how he would have gotten out. He sniffed around skeptically while I looked around skeptically, and we just decided to not even bother.

What We Weren't Thrilled About: I swear when I looked at the DNR site, it only mentioned the hunting season that begins Nov 15. However, when we arrived at the park, there was a sign at the entrance indicating that the park was currently open for bow hunting.

Given the funky formatting and typo of this section on the website, I think this information may have been added recently and hastily:

"In addition to the opportunities that are available during the state parks hunting/trapping time frame, hunting opportunities in state parks that were already established by rule and in place prior to the enactment of 2011 ACT 168, remain in place. At Governror [sic] Dodge State Park, this includes archery deer hunting, which is allowed in the park from Oct. 15 through the Sunday nearest Jan. 6 and small game hunting from Nov. 1 through Nov. 14 ending at noon each day."

If I had known there was active hunting going on in the park, I would have put Lucky's blaze orange crossing guard vest on him, and I would have worn more conspicuous clothing as well. During our visit, we came across one bow hunter on the trail and we heard at least four gun shots. While I don't plan on suspending my state park visits during the months of Oct - Jan, I do plan on outfitting us in more appropriate "don't shoot me" attire and familiarizing myself with the areas of the park where hunting is allowed, so we can avoid those areas as much as possible.

Want more information about hiking with your dog at Governor Dodge State Park? Order your copy of A Dog Lover's Guide to Wisconsin's State Parks now!

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