• Danielle St. Louis

Rib Mountain State Park

Updated: Jun 3

My sister and brother-in-law just moved back to Wisconsin after 13 years of living in Oklahoma, so naturally, I can't wait to show them everything that makes living in Wisconsin better than Oklahoma—including all of our state parks. If I could, I would drag my sister and one of her various dogs along to every state park on the schedule, but since that's not possible, I'll take whatever I can get. Our visit to Rib Mountain State Park was my first opportunity to play tour guide to my sister, and I don't think she was missing Oklahoma during our hike. I'm not sure the same can be said for her dog Zoolander. Zoolander is her white German Shepard, and he is apparently a classic white Shepard—sweet and gentle and needy and insecure. I think the move has been hard on him, and this was his first time hiking on leash. It may be harder to win him over to life in Wisconsin than my sister.

On the Homestead Loop Trail, Rib Mountain State Park

During the drive to Rib Mountain, we read through the trail descriptions and decided to skip the Yellow Trail. Despite the temptation of "a highly aesthetic mature maple forest," we decided we weren't in good enough shape for "the most physically demanding [trail] in the park" and wanted to skip the "deep breathing with traveling upslope." But after ruling out the Yellow Trail, we weren't sure which option was our best, and we were struggling to add up total mileage using the DNR map.

The attendant in the office was helpful and suggested a route that would take us along the easier part of the Red Trail, connect us to the Quarry Trail, with a additional loop on the Homestead Loop Trail, before bringing us back on the Quarry Trail and the same segment of the Red Trail. His advice was to stay on the north side of the mountain, where the trails were relatively flat. The south side of the mountain, he said, is where things got more adventurous and steep. He also highly recommended the Quarry as a nice place to have a picnic.

We headed over to the Concession Stand parking lot and picked up the north section of the Red Trail from there. There are a number of ski lifts along the north side of the mountain that are part of the Granite Peak Ski Area, and as we hiked along the edge of the ridge, it was strange to still see snow on some of the ski runs below. It was cooler up on the mountain than I had expected based on the weather report, but I hadn't factored in that we'd be at the fourth highest point in Wisconsin. Thankfully, I insisted on both Natalie and I wearing and bringing many layers.

We followed the narrow path of the Red Trail to the Quarry Trail, which opened up and allowed for us to walk together. Side by side was much easier for the four of us; when we were single file, Zoolander wasn't confident to be in front and lead the way. But if he was behind Lucky, he just wanted to be up with Lucky and would pull on the leash. So we stuck together on the Quarry Trail and the Homestead Loop Trail, enjoying the peace and quiet and the colors springing up around us. The only thing I did not enjoy during this section of the hike was the deer leg Lucky managed to sniff out along the side of the trail. Literally, just a leg—bone, skin, flesh and hoof. I think he felt quite proud of himself and then disappointed when I forcefully dragged him away from his rotting discovery. Ah, nature.

We stopped for a snack by the Quarry as the attendant suggested. It is a cool spot to hang out and read all of the messages spelled out in rocks below while hawks cruise by overhead with regular frequency. After fueling up for the return hike, we agreed we were jacked up on jerky enough to try the more challenging section of the Red Trail on the way back—the section on the south side of the mountain. The attendant was right again. This southern section of the Red Trail did include more elevation changes, but we found it manageable with only a few short sections of deep breathing. At one point, I had to stop to roll my pants up to their capri setting to cool my legs off. Lucky, obviously in better shape than me, was cruising along easily, with the exception of a couple of rocky areas that are always a little awkward for him to navigate with his backpack on.

In no time at all, we found ourselves back at the parking lot and were immediately confronted with the delicious smells of charcoal and hotdog. Settling for the other snacks we had in our pack (trailmix and an apple), we vowed the next time we hiked, we'd come prepared with hotdogs to grill. On the way home we drove through a Culver's, which did not help my "Wisconsin is so much better than Oklahoma" argument. Freddy's is better by far (and they have hot dogs!) I guess you win some and lose some, and I'd rather win in the Best Outdoor Activities category. :)

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

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