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The largest state park in Wisconsin, Devil’s Lake State Park is about thirty-five miles northwest of Madison and is on the western edge of where the last glacier stopped, right in the heart of the River Country.
It was originally a gorge of the Wisconsin River prior to the last ice age. At what is now the southern end of the lake, the river turned from a southerly direction to an easterly direction. During the ice age, a lobe of the glacier passed to the east of the Baraboo Hills and came up the river valley.
A Complete Guide To Devil’s Lake State Park
From Effigy Mounds to hiking trails, Devil’s Lake has so much to offer the person that simply wants to connect with nature.
History of Devil’s Lake State Park
First settled by pioneers in the mid-1800s, it became a vacation hot spot for the Chicago and Madison elite who wanted to escape city life.
A few hotels and homes popped up to cater to that crowd, leading to the park being founded in 1911. At that time it was home to five resorts, two of which were perched on the west bluff.
No trace of any of these hotels remains today as, by the 1940s, the hotels were all closed, and the park was retreating to its former natural self.
Whew – right?
How did that happen?
From 1934 to 1941, approximately two hundred members of the Civilian Conservation Corps resided in a work camp. These young men built many of the trails, buildings, and benches still in use today.
Isn’t it amazing how they could build things almost 90 years ago that are still holding up and the roads we build now are in need of repair in less than 10 years? It astounds me!
In 1974, the National Park Service declared the Southern portion of the Baraboo Hills a National Natural Landmark. The Nature Conservancy also designated it as one of the Last Great Places; it is one of only 77 of these places in the world.Wikipedia
It has pretty much stayed the same through today – and enables us all tons of great ways to commune with nature.
Is Devil’s Lake State Park Haunted?
With a name like “Devil’s Lake,” y0u would think there are tons of stories about people meeting their maker and coming back to either warn others about it or to bring them along with them.
There are a lot of stories about unique animal sightings, from a “monster in the lake” to even seeing a large alligator…even Bigfoot gets a turn.
My favorite? The 10-ton ghosts of Baraboo, who were said to be deceased ghost elephants that roamed the area. After all, Baraboo was the home of the Ringling Bros. Circus – and there is a long history of how those poor elephants were treated in circuses. (I am not saying there are specific allegations against Ringling Brothers).
As for human ghosts, there is the old hitchhiker that walks along the old highway 12 on the south-west side of Baraboo. If you don’t offer him a ride he will show up further down the road. And again…
If you stop for him, he vanishes.
He wears jeans and an old army jacket – let me know if you ever see him!
Of course with the effigy mounds across the parking lot from the nature center, there are rumors of Native Americans being spotted too.
Devil’s Lake Effigy Mounds
There are several different ones at Devil’s Lake, both shaped and linear. To be seen are a Bird, Panther, Bear, and Lynx.
Please remember that these are sacred spaces – used for either burial or ceremonial purposes and they are not meant to be walked on.
Many mounds were in the area and sadly ruined with that hotel building before the Great Depression. The ones that survived were not in the path of those buildings, parking lots, and play areas. That is what makes them so special.
Have no fear – the ones left are protected and people can learn more about them at the Devil’s Lake State Park Nature Center.
Devil’s Lake State Park Camping
Devil’s Lake State Park is more rustic but beautiful and has three campgrounds with a total of 423 sites that each accommodate a family of up to 6 people.
There are 3 main campgrounds at Devil’s Lake located on the north shore of the park and a group camp area on the south shore.
If you hang with your friends and plan “group camping” then there are nine sites for you that can accommodate a total of 240 campers – they are on the south side.
There are no campgrounds near or on the shoreline of Devil’s Lake itself.
If you’re planning to visit the campsite then a reservation is a must, as they no longer have non-reservable sites. You can make your reservations 11 months in advance.
If you are a winter camper, the Quartzite campground is the one to look at. It is also the only one open in the winter, LOL.
The campground offers wooded electrical sites too. You can take a look at Devil’s Lake’s blog to see a summary of the campsite and pick your favorite.
Devil’s Lake State Park Activities
The campground has a little something for every adventurer from small to tall, with over 29 miles of hiking trails and 2 sandy beaches this place is sure to keep your group or family busy.
Devils Lake Water Sports
In the summer there is fun to be had scuba diving, fishing, swimming, kayaking, boating, and canoeing. Keep in mind that when looking at boating – NO gas motors are allowed on the lake. It is mainly kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards.
Devil’s Lake State Park Fishing
While I am not the best fisherman out there Devil’s Lake is known for being a good location. It has good depth, clear water, some rock structure, and an assortment of beautiful green weeds, and when added to the fact that each year the DNR stocks the lake with Brown trout? How can you go wrong?
Just make sure you have your fishing license and you are good to go year round.
Devil’s Lake State Park Swimming
Devil’s Lake State Park offers two large and comfortable beaches to frolic in with amenities like grills, picnic areas, and a children’s play area with slides and a climbing gym.
The north shore gets more sun than the south shore but the sun lingers late along the south shore. The south shore can be a little rocky so be a little extra cautious like wearing aqua socks can keep your feet safe from nicks and cuts.
It makes for a perfect place to cool off on a hot day – just read our section on dogs (below) before you let Fido join you!
We put together a Wisconsin State Parks Bucket List Free Printable for you – to keep track of all the state parks and nature areas you visit. Get it here:
Devil’s Lake State Park Kayaking
With such a clear lake and good quality water, this is the perfect place to kayak! Especially since gas motors are NOT allowed on the Devil’s Lake.
Devil’s Lake State Park Kayak Rental
If you don’t have your own kayaks – they have you covered. Devil’s Lake State Park Concessions rents rowboats, paddleboats, canoes, kayaks, and standup boards. For more information including rates visit the concessions page.
Hiking at Devil’s Lake State Park
With over 29 hikable miles you’re sure to find adventure and endurance you might not think you had. Whether the hike is a solo trip to see how far you can go or a learning trip for the family or a group there will be wildlife to be seen along with fun to be had.
The trails vary in levels of the difficulty some have steep climbs, stairs, and descents, take a look at the trail map to see which is the right for the activity level and attendees you have in your group or family.
Keep in mind that there are rattlesnakes at Devil’s Lake State Park – should you encounter one on the trail, use your head and follow precautions.
Devil’s Lake State Park Trail Map
Devil’s Lake State Park Nature Center
The Nature Center offers a lot of different programs – for both adults and kids alike. You can sign up for a kayak tour or even help them with ecology.
Program themes include astronomy, snakes, skulls, worms, stories, beavers, rocks, spiders, Indian mounds, beetles, bird watching, bats, plants, geology, and more.
You can see a picture of Miss Sarah here – helping with their big Monarch Butterfly Count!
We love the Wisconsin Explorer Books that have nature activities, scavenger hunts, games, hikes, and crafts.
You can also check out an Explorer backpack! These gems have magnifying lenses, bug boxes, pencils, crayons, and field guides to help your kids complete the activities in the books.
What an incredible way to help the kids connect with nature!
Devil’s Lake State Park Rock Climbing
Devil’s Lake has some of the best rock climbing sites in the Midwest. The park hires some of the best instructors, climbing guides, and outfitters for the job. Guides offer private or group anchors courses, climbing trips, bouldering, and even traditional lessons from the beginner to the experienced.
Golfing in the area
No, Devil’s Lake doesn’t have a golf course of its own, but there are three that are close by Baraboo Country Club in Baraboo, Fairfield Hills Golf Course & Range in Baraboo, and Devil’s Head Resort in Merrimac.
Devil’s Lake State Park Hunting
Yes, you can hunt at Devil’s Lake. You need to follow general safety precautions like wear the trusty blaze orange gear and know where you can and can not point that rifle.
Devil’s Lake State Park has over 6,400 acres of land that are available for hunting.
Devil’s Lake State Park in Winter
A visit in the winter is a little different than the summer but all the more adventurous. Activities range from snowshoeing, cross country skiing, sledding, and hiking tours.
When out snowshoeing you can travel anywhere you’d like just not on the ski trails, there are a lot of other trails for you to see instead of trekking close to or on the ski trails though.
If you’re a beginner you can take a hike around the trails before heading out on your snowshoes to get the feel of the trail. If you have forgotten to bring your own snowshoes you can get a pair free at the north shore nature center!
Maybe snowshoeing isn’t your thing but skiing is, Devil’s Lake State Park offers 5 miles of cross-country ski trails. Make sure to check the conditions before heading out to ensure the safest route as conditions vary due to terrain, shade, sun, and steepness making some trails only one way.
The park takes the time to pack the snow but does not mark the trails, you’ll be able to pick up a map or print it from the website.
Devils Lake State Park and Dogs
Let’s start with the obvious: dogs shouldn’t be left unattended and you should pick up the poop. Waste should be disposed of in dumpsters or trash receptacles.
Dogs are allowed in most campgrounds, trails, roads, and outlying areas of the parks. They must be on a leash no longer than 8 feet at all times, if they are not under control at all times, they can be seized and subject to local laws pertaining to stray animals.
ID tags are a good idea if your dog isn’t micro-chipped. If you do lose your pet you can contact the Sauk County Humane Society at (608) 356-2520.
Rabies could be a thing as there are wild animals like raccoons your pooch could come in contact with so make sure your pooch has all current vaccinations.
Other animals like deer, red fox, coyote, squirrels, and beavers. Black bears, cougars, groundhogs, and wolves have all been spotted at Devil’s Lake.
Pets are not allowed in the following places:
- Picnic areas and picnic shelters
- Marked Nature Trails (Applies to Parfrey’s Glen)
- No Pets are allowed on the ski trails when they are snow-covered.
- The Devil’s Lake South Shore Picnic area, except on paved roads and walkways en route to areas where pets are allowed.
Of course, if your dog is a service animal, those rules do not apply.
Does your dog like to swim?
Devil’s Lake State Park has 3 official pet swim areas. 2 on a leash and one off-leash. The off-leash pet swim area is at the South Shore boat landing. There is one “Pet Friendly” picnic area located on the north shore, east of the railroad tracks. Use the map below to find these locations.
Get Your Wisconsin State Park Sticker Now
Day pass or annual pass, it gets you in any Wisconsin State Park. YES, there are discounts for Wisconsin residents.
Camping fees are always additional – but less than if you didn’t have the sticker.
Get it here –> Wisconsin State Park Pass Info
Restaurants Near Devils Lake:
I know not everyone camps or likes to make an entire day out of hiking or swimming at the park. Packing a picnic? Forget it! That is why so many people search out for restaurants in the area – to help make a day out of it on their own terms.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Log Cabin Family Restaurant
The prices are great and the portions are generous. Known for their soups and pies, you really can’t go wrong here. Yes, it is an oversized log cabin and they serve breakfast all day. 1215 8th St, Baraboo, WI 53913
Baraboo Burger Company
This is more of a sports bar & grill but has tasty burgers & pub grub. In the summer you can enjoy their patio. 116 4th Ave, Baraboo, WI 53913
Gem City Saloon and Eatery
Like Pizza? This great hole-in-the-wall offers that and wings With a full bar available, it is the kind neighborhood hangout you will feel comfortable in. 124 Ash St, Baraboo, WI 53913
Check out other Wisconsin State Park Guides
Like what you learned about this Wisconsin State Park? Make sure you check out our other Wisconsin State Park Guides Here.
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- A Pop Up Camper Offers The Best of Both Worlds
- 7 Common Mistakes New Campers Make
- 4 Places To Go Camping In Minnesota
- 18 Tips for Camping with Your Dog