Danielle St. Louis
Copper Falls State Park
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
It was late afternoon when we checked in at Copper Falls State Park, but if felt much later as we set up our tents—to say our site had full shade was an understatement. There was something comforting about being wrapped in a thick stand of tall trees, like being shrouded in a mossy green afghan, until I read the park newspaper with its mentions of black bears. Then it occurred to me that there could be something else, something more menacing, shrouded in these trees. Thankfully, there were plenty of other things to keep my mind occupied, like making our campfire fajitas and planning our hikes for the next couple of days.
We were going to take a day trip up to Big Bay State Park, which we mentioned to the ranger when checking in. He informed us that there was an annual sandcastle building competition taking place at Big Bay on Saturday. Anticipating this event would draw larger than average crowds to the park, we decided to stick close to camp on Saturday and save our visit to Big Bay for Sunday. So after only a semi-restless night sleep (me every time a branch snapped or leaves rustled: “was that a bear?!” Lucky: [snoring]), we stashed some breakfast bars in our packs and made our way over to the Red Granite Falls Trail.
Unfortunately for Lucky, the Red Granite Falls would be the only falls he’d get to see at this park. Copper and Brownstone Falls, the main attractions at Copper Falls State Park, are accessed by the Doughboys Nature Trail, which is off limits to dogs. I’m not sure what the Doughboys have against dogs, but at least the park makes up for this slight by having a giant pet picnic area nearby. Angela and I took turns hanging out with Lucky at the pet picnic area while the other checked out the Doughboys Trail and falls. Knowing that we’d have to take turns, we brought all of the necessities to the pet picnic area: camp chairs, hammock, cooler, food, and more food. Oh, and some treats and water for Lucky too. It was disappointing to discover that none of the trees in the pet picnic area were appropriately spaced to set up the hammock, but we got over the disappointment when we discovered a tiny river-side beach partially hidden from view. It is the perfect place to relax and read a book, take a nap, and eat lunch with your dog. And it almost makes up for not being able to go with your friends and family on the Doughboys Trail.
I set out first for the trail, trying to be quick about my exploration just in case Lucky was causing trouble for Angela. First, I huffed and puffed my way up to the Observation Tower, and when I got to the top, all I could see between the stars that were swirling around my head were the tops of trees. Apparently I’m pretty out of shape, and also I suspect the trees were much shorter when the tower was built. I snapped a quick photo capturing my incredulity and headed back down to the falls. The Doughboys Trail is one of the most manicured and well-maintained trails I’ve seen in a Wisconsin state park. Between the smooth and uniform log railings, the even path that skirts the edge of the bluff overlooking the falls and the groups of people lining the railings to take photos, I felt like I was at Disney World in line for the flume ride. Any second, I expected to see a raft fashioned in the shape of a log and full of people fly down Copper Falls. None did.
Despite the somewhat commercial feel of the trail, you’re still surrounded by a forest, navigating along the edge of cliff, overlooking a river and occasionally catching glimpses of waterfalls; what’s not to like about that? I made sure to see both Copper Falls and Brownstone Falls before heading back to take over Lucky-duty, and I also made sure to tell Angela that she could skip the Observation Tower unless she wanted the exercise. Angela left, and I repositioned my camp chair, opened a beer, and got comfortable. Lucky and I had a couple of visitors to our beach retreat, a few of the other left-behind humans and dogs found our little enclave, so we used these opportunities to work on Lucky’s manners. Once Angela was back, we ate a leisurely lunch and then decided to get one last hike in before dinner.
Now, I’ll let you in on a little something I’ve learned over the course of visiting many state parks: there are hiking trails that turn into ski trails and there are ski trails that turn into hiking trails. They are not interchangeable.
We set out on Takesson Trail expecting a nice hike through the woods, along a ridge, and with a view or two of the Bad River below. It was certainly a hike through the woods along a ridge. And it had one spot where we could kind of make out the river through the trees. But it was also what I’ve come to expect from a trail that’s primarily used for skiing. The grass was long. And where there’s no grass, there’s dirt or mud ruts left by vehicles. And with the long grass comes more noticeable bugs. And then come the Governor Thompson flashbacks. As we made our way through the long grasses of Takesson, we decided hiking one of the two loops would suffice, and we looped back towards the trailhead when we had the chance. I’ve decided that my preference is for hiking trails rather than cross country ski trails masquerading as hiking trails in the summer. There is a difference. But, I do think Takesson is probably one heck of a cross country ski trail in the winter!
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