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  • Writer's pictureDanielle St. Louis

High Cliff State Park

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

Lucky and I both had to work hard to contain our excitement for this State Park visit. Well, Lucky in general has to work hard to contain his excitement, but I was more excited than usual. Some people like to commune with nature in solitude. I like to bring lots of friends, and I was particularly excited about the group meeting me for this hike. A rag-tag group of misfits is as good a way as any to describe this group. And on an overcast day in April, this was just the group I needed to fill in for the lack of sunshine. I was also excited because I'd heard High Cliff State Park was particularly beautiful, and even in the grey diffuse light of a rainy spring day, it lived up to the hype.

The High Cliff Crew

Getting to High Cliff from Madison was easy; it's one of those routes that uses one main road (US-151) and then there are signs for the park. We stopped at the office and picked up a map, and both the Wisconsin State Park System's "A Guide For You & Your Pet" and High Cliff State Park's "A Guide For You & Your Pet" (mostly redundant information). Our first stop was the group campsite—we were doing our first overnight trip in a Wisconsin State Park! After getting the campsite set up and eating some lunch, we embarked on our hike.

We started with Red Bird Trail because we could pick it up at the corner of the group campsite. We followed Red Bird Trail for awhile, stopping to take photos with the statue of Red Bird and peeking at the lake from the top of the escarpment. But when we came across the connection to the Lime-Kiln trail near the family campgrounds, we couldn't pass up the mysterious staircase that seemed to disappear into the rock. So we detoured onto Lime-Kiln and began the descent.

A flight of wooden stairs deposited us between the escarpment towering over us on one side and a rock formation on the other, and when we walked through the narrow opening between them, we found ourselves in Narnia! No, not really Narnia, but a pretty magical place nonetheless. Looking up at the escarpment from below drove home the magnitude of this cliff that stretches all the way from New York to Wisconsin and beyond. And even though the trees are still working on getting green, the moss wasn't waiting. The combination of grey stone and green moss made me feel very zen. I'm not sure if it has any particular effect on Lucky, but he seemed to be enjoying himself.

We followed the Lime-Kiln trail down to the lake, which is where things started getting muddy. Once again I found myself sidestepping puddles, but the mud wasn't as deep and the water wasn't as high as at Richard Bong, so I think we were all able to make it through with dry socks. We looped back on Lime-Kiln, working our way back to the same staircase we came down on ealier. At one point, I saw a streak of tan and white and realized four deer had just run past us! By the time we made it back up to the Red Bird trail from this detour, we were all ready to just head back to the group campsite, so we cut back using the Indian Mound Trail. We spent the rest of the evening keeping warm with good company and a steady fire.

If the weather had been better, we would have loved to check out the pet swim area and some of the other trails the next day. Unfortunately the morning greeted us with rain, so we quickly packed up and headed home. But we're already planning another trip back to High Cliff because there is much more for us to explore and enjoy in this state park.

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

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