While the trails at Natural Bridge are open to hiking with dogs in the winter, the same is not true of trails at Mirror Lake State Park. After close inspection of the map, I realized only 1.4 miles of trail are dog-friendly in the winter, and 0.6 mi of that available trail (Wild Rice Trail) is completely disconnected from the other 0.8 mi (Lakeview Trail + Echo Rock Trail). But after seeing so many amazing pictures of Fern Dell Gorge on Instagram, I decided it was worth a visit, even if we didn't get a ton of hiking done.
We loaded back up into the car and made our way from Natural Bridge to Mirror Lake via a network of country roads that wound through the tiniest of rural towns. When we arrived at Mirror Lake, we decided to start with the wee 0.8 mi of dog-friendly trail that was near the lake, and then head over to the gorge from there. We parked in the lot that has access to both Lakeview and Echo Rock trails and discovered there was an ice fishing competition going on. This meant the parking lot was packed and the lake was covered with ice fishing shanties and pickup trucks. It was a very busy day out on the lake.
The one upside to the ice fishing contest was it confirmed that Mirror Lake was frozen enough for us to walk on. Angela remarked, "Who needs a lakeview trail, when you can walk on the lake?" So we made an easy loop, heading south on the lake down to the next beach, dodging abandoned ice fishing holes along the way. Then we took the actual Lakeview Trail north back to the parking lot. It was a short, easy walk with periodic loud speaker reminders that chili and beer were available at the concessions stand.
After completing our Lakeview loop, we did the remaining 0.6 miles of dog-friendly trail. Though the trail was short, everything was beautiful covered in snow. We'll definitely be returning in the summer to experience more of Mirror Lake SP when additional trail options are available.
Our final stop on our visit to Mirror Lake was Fern Dell Gorge State Natural Area. You won't find Fern Dell Gorge indicated on the Mirror Lake map, but the DNR has indicated its location on this topo map, and if you stop into the park office, the ranger will help you locate it. There's a small parking lot off of Fern Dell road (also not on the map) that gives you access to the gorge, and it's definitely worth finding! Fern Dell Gorge was the most exciting stop of this adventure.
We hiked down into the gorge from the parking lot, which wasn't terribly steep or arduous and then hiked the length of the gorge, at times having to climb over, under, and around fallen trees. The DNR site says the gorge is a mile long tributary to Mirror Lake Gorge, but it didn't feel like a mile hike, probably because we were so enthralled with the scenery.* The ice formations were unbelievable and sneaking through the rocks felt like entering a different dimension. Then, the tributary opens to Mirror Lake Gorge, and we took the opportunity to walk out onto the ice and experience standing in the middle of Mirror Lake Gorge. It was beautiful. The sun was beginning to set, we were far from the noise and activity of the ice fishing contest, and were surround by rocks, trees and snow. The only thing that would have made the moment more perfect would have been a bald eagle flying overhead (but don't worry, we saw one on the drive home!)
Since the sun was setting and the temperature was plummeting, we turned around and hiked back through the gorge to the parking lot. And despite not getting in a ton of mileage, Lucky seemed pretty worn out from the day's adventures.
Want more information about hiking with your dog in Mirror Lake State Park? Order your copy of A Dog Lover's Guide to Hiking Wisconsin's State Parks now!
*My photos hardly do the gorge justice!