Lake Wissota State Park was a quick twenty-eight-minute drive from our base camp at Brunet Island, and it’s a pretty scenic drive too—the highway hugs the edge of the Chippewa River and Old Abe Lake most of the way. Once you get out of sleepy Cornell, you only go through one other town, Jim Falls, and to our surprise, Jim Falls was not sleepy at all. We just happen to be passing through during the Jim Falls’ 57th Annual Sturgeon Fest. When we drove through town at around 9:30 am, chairs lined the road for miles, set up in preparation for the parade that was happening at noon. Though tempted, we didn’t stop at Sturgeon Fest—we knew there was going to be plenty to explore at Lake Wissota State Park.
After grabbing a map in the office and asking about the pet friendly areas, we decided on a long circuitous route that would take us through many different sections of the park. My favorites were the towering red pines and, surprisingly, the prairie! The prairie grass was super tall and purple and was complimented nicely by the bright yellow and purple prairie flowers. Nature can totally pull off that purple-yellow color combo.
Our route also included stops at both “Leashed Pet Use Areas.” The northern pet area was a large clearing with several picnic tables next to a scenic overlook of the lake—nice as far as Pet Picnic Areas go. Around a couple of wide pines and picnic tables, we found a little sign that said, “Lake Access” with an arrow pointing to a weathered wooden staircase. Standing at the top of the staircase, it was impossible to see past the first landing. So down we went, and the stairs deposited us on a tiny rocky area right on the lake’s edge. True to its word, Lucky could in fact access the lake from this point. He went for a brief swim before becoming too distracted by the apple I was eating to do anything but drool and drip lake water on my knee. We hung out on the rocks for a while enjoying the views and solitude before heading back up to continue our hike down to the second Leashed Pet Use Area.
Man, was I happy we’d stopped for our snack at the first pet area—we couldn’t get away from the second one fast enough! While the first had been spacious and accommodating, the second pet area near the beach could have been the setting for a swamp monster movie. The plant life surrounding the pet area is tall and thick, and wooden planks reinforce the trail to the area to keep hikers from ending up ankle deep in muck. When we finally emerged from the thick brush into the pet area, we were dismayed to see one lone picnic table in a very small clearing next to the lake and the nastiest lake water we’ve ever seen. I held Lucky back for fear he might wade in the water, lap up a drink, and suffer some mutation. The water was slime green. We snapped a couple of quick photos and turned and ran.
Just down the trail from this pet area is the swimming beach and a large picnic area. I was disheartened that compared to the people area, this pet area was so tiny and uninviting. I was also shocked to see people swimming in this water. Even from a distance, we could see the green tint of the water as children splashed each other. We didn’t linger, choosing instead to head back to the car for lunch.
When we left Lake Wissota, we were pretty pooped. We’d hiked a little over 5 miles but had barely scratched the surface of the 18 miles of hiking trail available. Even though the lake itself had been a bit disappointing, the hiking was decent. There certainly was plenty of it, and the varied scenery guarantees something for everyone. And after all, there was one nice pet area.
Heading back through Jim Falls, the chairs along the roadside had been replaced by parked cars and pedestrians streaming into the demolition derby. Again, though tempted, we passed on Sturgeon Fest and the demo derby to explore the ice cream shops of Cornell.
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