Danielle St. Louis
Kohler-Andrae State Park
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
When you grow up outside of Milwaukee, the phrase "cooler by the lake" is a common expression. Yet when I was getting our gear ready to head to Kohler-Andrae State Park, it didn't cross my mind. It wasn't until I stepped out of the car to grab a map from the office and started shivering that the lightbulb went on. How could I have forgotten?! Thankfully I had thrown a light jacket in the car at the last minute; it did the trick for the most part.
This visit ended up being a solo mission (or duo mission?) of just Lucky and me, which meant there was no one in the car to guard my protein bar when I went to get the map. As I walked back to the car, I could see Lucky sheepishly looking at me through the window. I opened the door to find just the wrapper of my bar and an already energetic Lucky hyped up on an extra 20 grams of protein. For the second time that morning I was kicking myself because I know better. So far, we were off to a great start.
Kohler-Andrae has particularly well-defined guidelines for dogs in the park. In addition to the regular park map, they also have a pet-specific map, which shows you where your dog can and can not go. From the trails dogs are allowed on, we picked the Black River Trail. The trailhead is outside of the main park entrance and is incredibly dog friendly, with a poop bag dispenser and trashcan at the ready. These accommodations should have made me feel welcome, but a small part of me felt like this trail was a purposeful segregation—as if the park is saying "fine, if you insist on bringing your dog, we'll make this area for you far from the main park itself so that way we don't really have to deal with you." But that was just a small part of me. The rest of me was thrilled to have a trail to hike with Lucky and a trashcan for his poop.
We geared up (and I bundled up) and then headed through the open brush towards the trees. Once into the woods, the trees offered respite from the stiff wind coming off of the lake, and I was finally comfortable in my light jacket. Along the trail we ran into more dogs than we've ever encountered at a state park so far. It makes sense that the dog traffic would be concentrated on this trail, since it is the longest of the few trails where dogs are permitted. Also, over half of the dogs we saw and encountered were off leash, despite the state park leash rule still applying to this area. I suspect the dog-friendliness of the trailhead and the segregation from the rest of the park has resulted in a lax approach to using leashes, especially by locals who come routinely for their dog's daily exercise.
Lucky and I worked our way around the perimeter of the trail and then added in a couple of loops in the middle, all on leash. The state parks have a lot of legitimate reasons for requiring dogs to be on leash, and I can vouch for all of those reasons. As Lucky and I came out of the woods and back into the prairie, we both spotted four white-tail deer just off the trail on the edge of the woods. The deer spotted us as well and took off, quickly bounding back into the thick underbrush and tree cover. I was thinking "how cool! I wish I had been able to get a photo!" Lucky was thinking "MUST CHASE!!" And if he hadn't been on leash, he would have because, frankly, his impulse control is not great despite all of the work we've done training. He was so riled up we had to take a time out and do some focus exercises before continuing. And even then, I could tell he was keeping an eye out for any more of those big brown bouncy things. Being a good steward of our environment and an ambassador for dogs in state parks means keeping our dogs from chasing after and disturbing wildlife. And for many dogs, a leash is the best way to keep them from chasing and disturbing. So for that reason, plus many others, Lucky and I encourage all of our #wistateparkdog friends to use their leashes too. (I can make a recommendation for a great hands-free leash if anyone is interested.)
The rest of our hike was less exciting. Lucky got to meet an off-leash Japanese Chin, whose owner was happy with the positive interaction (apparently she had been attacked by a larger dog at some point and still has some residual fear of larger mutts . . . which hints at another reason for keeping your dog on leash. . . ). We returned to the parking lot, and I ate a snack in the warmth of the sunbaked car before Lucky and I braved the cold and wind at the beach. After all, you can't go to Kohler-Andrae and not go to the beach!
Want more information about hiking with your dog at Kohler-Andrae State Park? Order your copy of A Dog Lover's Guide to Hiking Wisconsin's State Parks now!
Through the University of Wisconsin Press site.
And if you must, through Amazon.