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  • Writer's pictureDanielle St. Louis

Tower Hill State Park

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

Tunnel at Tower Hill State Park

My pre-state park visit research always includes reading through trail descriptions and studying the park map. For Tower Hill State Park, this research took about two minutes because the park only has about two miles of hiking trail. My other pre-visit research included reading some reviews of the park. In the case of Tower Hill, one thing stood out – mosquitos. I shared my research findings with my sister Natalie who was going to be meeting me at the park, and then I loaded up the car, making sure to pack the bug spray.

Getting to the park was easy from Madison, and even though I left a little later than I planned, our timing was perfect. We pulled into the park a second before Natalie pulled in behind us. I grabbed a map and identified where the parking lot for the trail head was, and then I drove right past it. Tower Hill is one of those parks where the scale of the map makes everything look like it’s further away than it really is. After a quick reverse and hard right, we were in the parking area and unloading. I knew Natalie was going to bring her two big dogs, Zoolander and Ahsoka; they are frequent companions on these state park visits. But to my surprise, a third dog sprang from the Toyota Sienna. Tedd! Tedd (with two d’s) is one of my sister’s Pekingese who has a habit of breaking out of the yard to go on adventures. So, when she heard there were only about two miles of hiking, she thought Tedd might enjoy a chaperoned adventure. Tedd’s chaperone was my brother-in-law, Sean.

After getting the big dogs geared up and using the pit toilet (ew, not the most pleasant of pit toilets), we set out on the left branch of the trail from the picnic shelter. The trail was paved and benign to begin with, but soon we found our butts burning as we climbed the steep grade up to the shot tower. You know who wasn’t complaining about his butt? Tedd. He was cruising along with the big dogs and looked to be having the time of his life.

At the shot tower, we stopped to learn more about the lead mine and pellet making process. The view from the shot tower was scenic and the view down the tower shaft impressive. Departing the shot tower, our next stop on the tour was the tunnel entrance, which is at the bottom of the tower shaft. To get there, we followed Old Ox Trail and then looped back on a segment of trail that runs along a tributary to the Wisconsin River. This segment of trail must be responsible for the many biting reviews—I mean the reviews of biting mosquitos. The tributary was less a flowing stream and more a stagnant puddle. The mosquitos swarmed. We hiked faster. We reached the tunnel entrance and made quick work of checking it out. Unlike our time spent at the shot tower, there was no reading placards and contemplating the ingenuity that went into the construction of this edifice. We got in, and we got out.

The map showed a fork in the trail and a branch that should take us west, back to the campgrounds and parking lot. But we couldn’t find the fork. We weren’t sure where to go, but we didn’t really want to backtrack on the buggy bog adjacent trail. With every second of indecision that passed, we were being served up as an all you can eat buffet to the resident mosquito population. At the same moment Natalie realized her water bottle had fallen out of her backpack somewhere along the bug trail, we saw a janky set of stairs overgrown with forest. We decided to divide and conquer; Natalie and Sean set out to find the water bottle, and Lucky and I started up the stairs to determine if this was a legit trail or the remnants of lead mines past.

Lucky and I navigated the stairs, squeezing in between the overgrowth and delicately stepping on stairs whose structural integrity was in question. The stairs brought us to a narrow trail traversing the side of the bluff. We continued for a way and determined, though in a state of disrepair, this was certainly the official trail. I called Natalie. They had located the missing water bottle and were heading back to meet us at the janky stairs.

We followed the trail back to the campgrounds and parking lot, took a little break, and then Natalie and I took the big dogs to hike another smaller loop made up of the middle and right branches of trail from the picnic shelter. At this point, Tedd was adventured out, but considering this was his first #wistateparkdogs adventure and the elevation gains, he did a great job!

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

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