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  • Writer's pictureDanielle St. Louis

Mirror Lake State Park (Summer)

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

This visit to Mirror Lake State Park was made possible by my absent mind.

Mirror Lake State Park

I was taking the week of the fourth of July off to spend with family, and though Lucky is family, I hired a pet sitter through Rover to watch him for the week. My dad’s side of the family was coming to Wisconsin for a family reunion, and during the week we’d be staying at a rented lake house that didn’t allow dogs. Though it felt strange leaving Lucky, I knew he was in great hands. During the week he was spoiled with multiple walks a day and sleeping in bed with his sitter. I don’t think he was upset about missing out on the 40+ people, screaming children, and craziness that was the lake house life.

On Friday of that week, I packed up everything and made my way back to Madison, only to discover I had returned from vacation a day early. DOH! For some reason, I was convinced I had only booked my sitter through Friday. And in the flurry of the family reunion, I never bothered to doublecheck the dates.

Now back in Madison with a whole weekend ahead of me, I decided to revisit Mirror Lake State Park. Since I had just spent a week at a lake, I thought Lucky might enjoy some lake time too. And since our local lakes are often off limits due to blue green algae, I decided to venture a little further afield. The 55 minutes to Mirror Lake from Madison are really no trouble at all, and I had peace of mind that the water was safe for Lucky.

We explored some trails that had been off limits to us during our winter visit, and Lucky went for a swim and made friends with some kayakers (he was mostly just scoping out their kayaks looking for food). We stopped for a snack at the pet picnic area, and then my curiosity got the best of me.

During our winter visit, we explored Fern Dell Gorge. In the winter, this gorge is a corridor of icicles. It is beautiful and was my favorite part of our winter adventure at Mirror Lake. I couldn’t help but wonder what this area is like in the summer. What do the stone walls look like without their ice façade? I drove west to the small lot off of Fern Dell Road, parked, and examined the area. There hadn’t been an official trail down to the gorge in the winter, and there definitely wasn’t an official trail down to the gorge in the summer. Lucky and I followed the path of least resistance down to the floor of gorge, and I made note of a janky looking branch as a landmark for when we were making our way back.

The initial entry into the gorge was as I had remembered it – obstructed by fallen trees. We weaved our way over and under the first few obstacles and eventually made it to a portion of gorge with fewer fallen trees. I remembered this section too. I remembered how we stopped to take photos in front of the icicles oozing over the stone ledges of the gorge. Now, it was the forest oozing over the sides of the gorge. We went a little bit farther. Foliage was growing in everywhere, and it eventually halted our progress. Well, it didn’t initially halt Lucky’s progress. Without taking a pause, he forged through the wall of dense vegetation. But I paused, wondering if what laid ahead was worth the bushwhacking. My uncertainty coupled with a swarm of opportunistic mosquitos forced my hand. I called Lucky back and gave up on the mission.

We made our way back to the car, and as we did so, I couldn’t help but feel like I was freestyle waacking. I thought for a moment about trying to hike up to and along the ridge of the gorge, but the mosquitos quickly sucked up any will I had remaining. I loaded Lucky into the car and resolved to return again to Fern Dell Gorge – in the winter when the mosquitos are dead and the ice is back.

Want more information about hiking with your dog at Mirror Lake State Park? Order your copy of A Dog Lover's Guide to Hiking Wisconsin's State Parks now!

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