Danielle St. Louis
Wyalusing State Park
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
HAPPY 100 YEARS TO WYALUSING STATE PARK 1917 – 2017!
A reliable Wisconsin state park source told me that the camping was better at Nelson Dewey State Park, but the hiking was better at Wyalusing. Since these parks are only about 30 minutes apart, we followed the source’s recommendation and camped at Nelson Dewey and day tripped out to Wyalusing. Obviously, there is an element of subjectivity to all reviews. But Nelson Dewey is much smaller and sleepier than Wyalusing, with more privacy between campsites. And Wyalusing is much larger than Nelson Dewey, offering significantly more miles of hiking and points of interest along the way. So, for our purposes, the recommendation was accurate.
Wyalusing State Park has around 14 miles of hiking and ten points of interest (some more interesting than others). In one day, we managed to do about five miles of hiking and take in eight out of ten points of interest—which is not too shabby but still leaves plenty of miles to trek on return visits.
When we arrived, the park attendant informed us that a couple was getting married at Point Lookout that day, so we should go there first unless we wanted to be wedding crashers. We did not, so we made Point Lookout our first stop. An effortless walk took us to a panoramic view of the Wisconsin River and the adjoining portions of Wisconsin and Iowa stretching on to the horizon. It was obvious why a couple would choose this spot for their wedding ceremony. We took turns posing and taking photos and then moved on to the Bluff Trail, heading through the Keyhole and down, and up, to Treasure Cave.
The park attendant had also mentioned Treasure Cave was accessed via two ladders. When she said this, my brain paused for a second and then moved on, mentally autocorrecting ladder to stairs so that when I saw the first ladder, I had an indignant “doh!” moment—like when, for example, my text message “I’m in the coat check line” is sent as “I’m in the cucumber line.” AUTOCORRECT [shaking fist in the air]. It didn’t seem to make a difference to Lucky though, and he easily descended the first of the two ladders. He also methodically ascended the second ladder, which was steeper and longer. I was happy he was game for going up into the cave. We spent some time checking out the cavern’s nooks and crannies and speculating where that super narrow tunnel in the back goes (to the treasure, right?!) And then it was time to go back down the ladder. Had I let him, I'm sure Lucky would have just gone for it and ended up tumbling paw over snout. But wanting to save us both from that experience, I decided to go down first with one hand on the railing and the other holding Lucky's collar. That way, I could control how quickly we both descended. It worked! We both made it down safely and soundly.
Next, we hiked the remainder of Bluff Trail, not realizing how remarkable this opportunity was until we read the park newspaper at lunch. Back in 2007, the park got a lot of rain. And then more rain—eight inches in two hours! Trails and roads throughout the park were severely damaged. Ten years later, the rehabilitation of Bluff Trail was finally complete, and the trail had just reopened for hiking this summer!
As its name suggests, the trail traverses the side of the bluff and offers intermittent views of the river valley through the trees. When not catching glimpses of the valley, you can’t help but be captivated by the yellow jewel weed (imaptiens pallida) that blankets the bluff above and below the trail. So thick was the jewel weed, and narrow the trail, it at times felt like the plants were creeping up and closing in around us. The jewel weed added depth and dimension to the hike; the trail sliced through the jewel weed revealing a cross section of forest floor supporting long slender three-foot stems topped by branching leaves and flowers. And in between the forest floor and the jewel weed canopy, one could imagine an entire world of various critters going about their daily business a la A Bug’s Life.
We slinked our way through the jewel weed and eventually merged onto Old Wagon Road Trail, which led us to the Knob, one of the park’s less interesting points of interest. The Knob is a stone gazebo that serves as a picnic shelter. But, from the parking lot adjacent to the Knob, there’s a spectacular view of the Curtis Memorial Scientific Area and Wyalusing Hardwood Forest that stand between you and the river off in the distance.
Having worked up an appetite, we took our picnic lunch at the Green Cloud Picnic Area and checked out some of the Indian Mounds and the Passenger Pigeon Monument. Then, with a questionable cloud overhead, we decided on our last hike of the day. We selected Sand Cave Trail, so we could tick three more points of interest off the list. Despite the Paul Lawrence Interpretive Center* and Little Sand Cave being rather unremarkable, Big Sand Cave made up for their mediocrity and then some. The DNR’s description of Big Sand Cave as “a washed-out area of limestone with a small waterfall” and the cave’s “descriptive” name do little to convey the magnitude of this geological feature carved into the hillside.
Before leaving the park, we drove out to Henneger Point Picnic Area to check out the view. It turns out Travel Wisconsin thinks this is a very scenic place to take a selfie (it is!) On our way back to Nelson Dewey, we stopped at the beach and public boat launch and enjoyed a snack of chips, salsa and beer and waited for the sun to set over Iowa.
Want more information about hiking with your dog at Wyalusing 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.
*It’s very hard to impress us as an interpretive center after our experience at the David R. Obey Ice Age Interpretive Center.