Danielle St. Louis
Perrot State Park
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
After Tick-Palooza at Governor Thompson State Park, it took mustering every bit of courage, and applying three different kinds of tick repellant, to get me back out into nature the very next weekend. My sister, who was joining me for this visit, was trying to be optimistic. I was trying to be prepared. We went with a combination of Coleman spray to pre-treat our clothing, some Deep Woods OFF!, and essential oils to dab on us and the dogs. I also picked up a couple of essential oil sprays for the dogs as well because frankly, I don't trust just a dab. Thoroughly doused with these various tick repellants, we headed to Perrot State Park.
Our car packing skills are getting better with each trip. The Jeep Renegade was loaded up with two people, two BIG dogs, and all of our gear, and I could still see out the back window. The drive was easy up I-90 to Lacrosse and then north along the mighty Mississippi. We knew the river was going to be high—recent flooding in the area had shut down all of the campsites at Merrick State Park, just 21 miles northeast of Perrot. But the trees along the semi submerged banks of the river looked like little broccoli florets. When we got to the park entrance, we went inside to check in and get more information about the park. With only one main road, we easily navigated to our "water view" campsite and set up our tent before sitting down to lunch.
There are a number of campsites in Perrot that are designated as having water views, but in our case, the trees and shrubbery were so overgrown that we couldn't see beyond them to the water. Curious about what we were missing out on, we took a walk to peek at our neighbor's unobstructed views and saw a swampy expanse of stagnant water. These sites are on the bay and not on the river proper, so we weren't too disappointed when we saw what was behind the overgrowth. And despite not really having a water view, we enjoyed the privacy and serenity of our campsite and the flush toilets nearby.
After lunch we set out on our first hike. Our party consisted of Lucky, me, my sister Natalie and her mutt Asoka. This was Asoka's first time hiking on-leash and with a backpack as well as her first time camping, so we decided to start out with an easier trail. Plus, it was really hot—like August in Wisconsin hot even though it was only the first weekend in June. From the campgrounds we picked up the Riverview Trail, which offered shade and a light breeze. Our plan was to take the Riverview Trail out to its end and then head back the same way we came, but Asoka's slowing pace had us turn back sooner. We stopped to drink water often, and, on the way back, stopped at the boat launch to cool off in the river. Lucky enjoyed a swim, Natalie and I walked in ankle-deep, and Asoka, who had never seen a body of water larger than an Oklahoma puddle, reluctantly let the water lap at her toes. The water was cool and refreshing, and in Lucky's case reenergizing.
We made it back to the campsite and sat in the shade for a bit. To my delight, the de-ticking process took no time at all. I found two ticks, hanging out together, on the back of one of Lucky's hind legs. Natalie couldn't find any ticks on Asoka, and we didn't find any on each other either. Had the concoction of tick repellants worked? Or was this park just less tick infested? Either way, I was relieved and finally able to relax and enjoy the experience more fully now that my fear of a tick invasion was quelled. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing, cooking hot dogs and s'mores over the fire, and drinking sippy cup tumblers of wine. Both of the dogs were pooped from the day's adventures. Lucky even voluntarily laid down in his dog tent. As the daylight was fading and the fire was getting low, Lucky and Asoka both made it clear they were ready for bed, so we packed up all of our miscellaneous items and climbed into the tent for the night.
Sometime later, I woke up to the sound of a crinkling can. AH! We'd forgotten to put our trash in the car, and now there was a woodland creature rummaging through our recyclables. I woke up Natalie and used a flashlight to confirm the scavenger's identity. To Natalie's relief, it was a raccoon and not a bear (I was pretty sure if bears were in these parts, the park reading materials would have mentioned them. . . right?). I made her go grab the grocery store plastic bag that was hanging on the cooler handle and throw it in the car, and then we fell back asleep to the noise of frogs and distant thunder.
The next morning we tried to hit the trail before the heat and humidity made exercise too uncomfortable. This time we wanted to hike a loop trail and take in some views from the bluffs, so we drove to East Brady's parking lot and the trailhead for Perrot Ridge Trail. By the time we made it up to the vista along the ridge, we were all breathing heavily. But then a bald eagle took off from a tree just above us, and I forgot about how out of shape I am. I was also excited that, despite missing the eagle's initial take-off, Natalie was able to catch a glimpse of it as it cruised along the ridge before disappearing into the distance. "Bet you've never seen that in Oklahoma!" I thought to myself, as if I still needed to convince Natalie that her recent move back to Wisconsin was a good decision.
We left the vista, looking forward to gravity's help on the remainder of the hike. At the four-way intersection with the cross-country ski trail, we took a break on a bench and ate a snack before continuing the rest of the way down the bluff. When we finally emerged from the forest onto the road, we opted to take the road rather than Riverview Trail back to the parking lot. By this time, it was hot and humid, and Asoka had had enough. Even Lucky had been slowing down on the final leg of the trail. Our next stop was the boat launch for another dip in the river. While a dad and his three kids fished off of the dock, Lucky wadded in neck deep and gulped up mouthfuls of river water. Natalie and I took off our hiking boots and waded in to our ankles. Asoka made it as far as her toes before becoming more interested in something smelly on the riverbank. After cooling off, we went back to the campsite for lunch and to discuss our plans for the afternoon.
Once back to our site, we did a quick tick check of the dogs that came up negative, and then Asoka plopped down in her favorite shady spot. We ate lunch while the dogs rested, and Natalie decided her and Asoka would skip the next hike in favor of relaxing at the campsite. She was tired and hot, and it was unlikely we'd be able to get Asoka to move from her spot. Lucky on the other hand was ready to go and impatiently waiting for me to digest my food. I refilled our water bottles and loaded them all into my backpack. Next up was hiking up Brady's Bluff, and no matter which route we took to the top, it was going to be steep and strenuous. To make sure Lucky could manage on the trail, I didn't saddle him with the added weight and width of his backpack. We drove to the West Brady's trailhead, went down for one more dip in the river, and then made our way up to the top of Brady's Bluff.
Lucky was cruising. His dip in the river had given him extra life, like a 1-Up mushroom in Mario Brothers. And with no backpack, he nimbly climbed the successive flights of stairs along the trail. I, on the other hand, was carrying water for both of us, and could feel my hamstrings and butt working harder than they're accustomed to. We stopped frequently to "take photos" in the shade, but when we broke above the tree line, I committed to a final push to the top where a shelter and more shade awaited us. When we made it to the shelter, we both flopped down and for the first time on this hike, Lucky looked tired. After catching our breath and drinking some water, I peeked out of the shelter and realized why this was the office attendant's number one recommended hike. The view of the Trempealeau Bay, Mississippi River, and surrounding area was amazing. As I took in the view, I shifted my focus from the landscape in the distance to the sky nearby and saw numerous hawks taking to the air. In moments like this I often wonder if Lucky can perceive and appreciate what we're seeing. Does he feel any wonder at the view? Any pride for summiting this bluff? I look at him and he's wearing his typical "What's next?" face, which makes me sigh and smile.
After taking some more photos, I strapped on my backpack and we started back down the way we came. Again, Lucky is cruising along while I carefully navigate some of the more technical parts of the descent. When we get back to the parking lot, we go back down to the river for one last refreshing dip. This time Lucky is joined by some other #wistateparkdogs who were playing off leash nearby. Back at the campsite, a final tick check was negative. Hallelujah!
I can't say for certain whether it was the cool waters, scenic views or tick repellant fumes, but I was feeling good. Our visit to Perrot State Park was just what I needed to reinvigorate my enthusiasm for Wisconsin's State Parks.
Want more information about hiking with your dog at Perrot State Park? Order your copy of A Dog Lover's Guide to Hiking Wisconsin's State Parks now!
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