Danielle St. Louis
Hartman Creek State Park
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
There’re only a few state parks left on our list, and there’s only so much time left until it starts snowing, so I took the day off work the other week to take Lucky to Hartman Creek State Park. When we reached the park, I stopped in the office to talk with the park ranger about our hiking options and ask about dog-specific areas. The ranger asked what kind of hiking we were looking for, and my response was, “Anything but wide, flat trails that double as cross-country ski trails.” He looked at me with a frown and said, “Well, that’s most of our trails.” WHOOPS. Taking my foot out of my mouth, I asked him what his favorite trail was, and he recommended Deer Path Trail. He also mentioned the single-track mountain bike trails as an option since it was a week day and bike traffic would be lighter. Armed with a map and the ranger’s recommendations, we made our way to the parking lot by Allen Lake and plotted out a course for our first hike.
It was a chilly day, and I was glad I had thrown an additional jacket in my backpack before leaving the house. I was wishing I had packed a winter hat and gloves as well, but since I hadn’t, I flipped up my hood and pulled my sleeves as far down onto my hands as they would go. Lucky and I started out on Deer Path Trail and then, because I wanted to do at least three miles before lunch, we added on some of the red trail of the Oak Ridge Trail System. Deer Path was a good suggestion—it was scenic and a tiny bit technical. The red trail was a typical cross-country ski trail—our favorite [she said sarcastically]. Even when we end up on trails like the red trail, I try to find something I like about it. I try to appreciate being out in nature. I try to be happy for the experience Lucky and I are having together. As I was convincing myself of the merits of this trail, we reached an intersection with the Ice Age Trail, and I made a split-second decision to bail on our originally planned route and to detour onto Ice Age. This was the best decision ever. The segment of Ice Age was more our style than the red trail, we were still able to get almost three miles in, and our route still finished with the second part of Deer Path Trail. Triple win!
While eating lunch and warming up in the car, I looked at the map and debated what Lucky and I should hike next. It seemed like our options were either more cross-country ski trails or the single-track mountain bike trails, and I had mixed feelings about both options. It should be clear by now how I feel about cross-country ski trails. And the last time Lucky and I attempted a single-track mountain bike trail, I almost died. (I am being overdramatic, but it was honestly the most worried I’ve ever been out on a trail.) I decided to compromise and plotted a course that included a portion of the easy single-track mountain bike trail, but not the whole thing. I will say this about Hartman Creek―I appreciate a trail system that reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
I packed some extra snacks into my backpack (just in case we got stranded out there, I wanted to make sure I had plenty to eat lol), and we got started on hike number two of the day. The route to the single-track mountain bike trail had some charm. Part of the trail went through a stand of apple trees, so Lucky was in heaven sniffing the apples that had fallen to the ground while I was trying to not roll my ankles on said apples. We picked up the Ice Age Trail again for a bit, which took us through a prairie full of milkweed pods unfurling their seeds in the breeze. And then back in the woods, we arrived at the portion of single-track trail that we’d follow back and forth for maybe about a mile?
Twice, I heard a freewheel spinning and looked in the direction of the sound to see the flash of a biker on the trail somewhere. I’d prepare for the biker to overtake us, but in both instances, I never saw the biker again. It was both reassuring to know that Lucky and I weren’t totally alone out there and a little unsettling to think that a person could be so close by one second and then never seen again. Thankfully, this single-track adventure was uneventful, and we popped back out at the trailhead exactly where I thought we’d eventually end up. Once again, I made a game time decision to not backtrack on the same route to the car, mostly because I wanted to avoid the apple orchard obstacle course. Instead, we followed the sandy rut carved in the path by the mountain bikes, like a railcar on a track, all the way back to the parking lot.
Want more information about hiking with your dog in Hartman Creek 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.