Complete Guide to Governor Dodge State Park

Complete Guide to Governor Dodge State Park

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Are you looking for a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life? Governor Dodge State Park is perfect for people who are looking for peace and tranquility in nature. Governor Dodge State Park offers visitors many different things to do, including camping, hiking, fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, and more!

Complete Guide to Governor Dodge State Park

While many people may think I am referring to Governor Dodge State Park in Iowa, I am really talking about Wisconsin. Governor Dodge State Park in Wisconsin is a great place to visit and offers visitors many fun activities. Governor Dodge State Park has something for everyone (even if you hate the outdoors).

Complete Guide to Governor Dodge State Park

Let’s take a look at this great property and everything it has to offer…

Bring on the Glaciers

Imagine a vast, flat expanse. Now imagine that this land had never been touched by human hands and only nature existed on it; all of its features were intact! Forests covered mountainsides, rivers ran through vales like veins in an arm….and then you see four huge glaciers come tumbling down from Canada into Minnesota with their massive sheets “peeling off” hilltops filling valleys left behind as they marched southward toward what we now know as Kansas.

When the glaciers receded, they left behind four unusual circular patches of land in southwestern Wisconsin. These “islands” were encircled by flat country on all sides – a circumstance that made them stand out from their surroundings more than anywhere else around here.

The term “Driftless Area” is given to this region because it is devoid of drift or the accumulated rock and soil left by retreating glaciers. As you make your way through Governor Dodge State Park, it’s hard not to get lost in time. More than 5,000 acres of this unique “island” make up a landscape that is both majestic and serene with the sounds from nature all around us at every turn.

The sandstone bluffs date back 450 million years, to a time when the area was covered with vast warm seas. These deposited layers upon layer and then retreated leaving behind them an incredible gift for us today – this breathtaking landscape!

The waters of time and space began to carve out the flat seabeds with an unceasing hand. Century after century, they carved ever deeper valleys until we can see what lies beneath them today.

Today, you can stand within those valleys and view the park’s many bluffs. Look up at these ancient sand—pages of time locked inside the rock with awe as each new layer is revealed before your very eyes. It is just stunning!

History of Governor Dodge State Park

History of Governor Dodge State Park

Governor Dodge State Park has a relatively rich history dating back to times before humans occupied the park. In earlier times, the area saw many glaciers living in the region, and after leaving and going back to their Canadian home city, people started populating the area.

The hilly and valley interior present in the park is now used as a form of recreation for everyone but once served as a shelter for those looking for refuge from snow and icy weather conditions. The overhanging regions of the hills and its sandstone wall were a great solace for those living there – over 8,000 years ago.

However, as the years passed, various activities started to occur in the park, including farming and mining. Sure enough, the park has a history worth taking note of. In 1948, Iowa County gifted the Henry Larson estate farmstead to the state of Wisconsin.

The first 160 acres of the property would later become what we now know as the Governor Dodge State Park. Around ten years after this gift and much development, developers saw it fit to create a dam across Mill Creek, and from that came the Cox Hollow Lake. This was just the beginning of creating art that would become one of the best recreational parks in Wisconsin.

With the years passing by, the state purchased more lands to add to its already massive area of prospective luxury, and to date, Governor Dodge State Park now covers an average of 5,350 acres. 

In 1966, another dam was constructed, and the Twin Valley Lake was formed. Other developments such as trails, beaches, bathhouses, shelters, and other park amenities were created to increase the relaxation exercises.

So, with no more hunters and miners, the park has become a refreshing piece of what nature has to offer. Sure enough, their trails are still evident, but you can feel free to traverse the terrains of the park.

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There are so many activities you can indulge in while at Governor Dodge State Park, some activities that many other parks worldwide will never offer you. As you plan your next vacation, here are a few activities you can be sure to enjoy at the park…

Governor Dodge State Park Camping

Camping is one of the most flexible activities at the park as it comes in a variety of packages to best suit your relaxation needs. The park features an average of 269 campsites in both the Twin Valley and Cox Hollow campgrounds.

Governor Dodge State Park Campsite Map

Eighty of these sites have electrical connections.

There are options to choose from, including…

Group Campsites

From the campsites, eight sites can host groups of between 15 to 40 people. This takes place in the Hickory Ridge Group Camp, but only tents are allowed in this region, and campers can bring their picnic amenities along.

The area provides pit toilets, a fire ring, and picnic tables. You can access drinking water at the shower building close to group site B or next to the parking lot close to group sites E, F, G, and H.

Backpack Campsites

Close to the Hickory Ridge, there are a total of six backpack campsites, and all are located around half a mile from the parking lot. There are water and toilet facilities in place to make your stay comfortable.

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Horse Campsites

Are you a horse lover and want an environment where you can be free in your own little world? Well, Governor Dodge State Park has 11 regular campsites and two small groups sites for horse campers who prefer to dwell around the Trails End Horse Camp.

This campground is open between May 1 to November 15 and fees are the same as the other sites. Bear in mind, there is no electricity on this campground. For those planning to camp out in this area, you should take your tether poles or contact the information desk to find out the types of restraining devices you can bring along.

Winter Camping

In the Twin Valley campground, there are more than 30 winter-based campsites for those who love to be out in the white fluff. Some of these sites are plowed and feature electricity, pit toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. It may sound scary for many to be out camping in the snow and cold, but it sure provides a lot of fun and excitement.

Disability-Accessed Campsites

Of course, we can expect Wisconsin to cater to people who can move around easily and those who can’t. Campsites 16 and 55 in the Cox Hollow campground and 241 and 355 in the Twin Valley campground are fully equipped with facilities to accommodate.

Governor Dodge State Park Camping Map

The services are specially created to create a lifetime experience, such as specialized toilets, electricity, and paved driveways. The information desk has all the information you need to access these campsites.

Governor Dodge State Park Activities

There is so much fun to be had here – just look at all of the amazing activities you can partake in!

Governor Dodge Water Sports

In the summer there is fun to be had scuba diving, fishing, swimming, kayaking, boating, and canoeing, and so much more!

Governor Dodge State Park Fishing

The park features two artificial lakes which offer great fishing experiences. A lot of the species you can enjoy include panfish, walleye, bass, and muskie.

Just make sure you have your fishing license and you are good to go year-round. You can usually get one at most local bait shops. In addition, you might need to consult the fishing authorities to know the regulations for fish sizes and bag limits. Cox Hollow also features a fishing deck.

Governor Dodge State Park Swimming

The park features two lakes, and with clean water and a clean environment, you can be assured of an amazing experience. The beach is swimmer-friendly and creates a lifetime experience like no other.

Even during the period when it gets jam-packed, you can be sure the beach areas are still accommodating. There are bathhouses close to the beaches, and they are open from 6 am until 11 pm each day. However, there are no lifeguards on duty, so you have to swim with caution at all times.

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!

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Governor Dodge State Park Boating

I once heard that a boat is a hole in the water where you throw your money. That being said, we have 2 kayaks, LOL!

I am not really sure if that is true, but if owning a boat isn’t in your budget, there is no need to worry about how you will access the boats.

They do have them for rent, and you can get all the rental details at the information office.

Both lakes are equipped with boat ramps, but only electric motorboats are allowed on the lakes. Boat mooring goes from May through to October and is offered in specialized areas only. You can check with the Cox Hollow Beach concession stand about the boat rental options.

Hiking at Governor Dodge a State Park

Governor Dodge State Park has over 40 miles of trails which is all open to hiking, just not in winter as they are usually covered in heavy snow and can be dangerous for easy trekking.

Governor Dodge a State Park Trails

There is a nice variety of trails here for the hiker, biker, horseback rider, and winter sports enthusiast. Let’s look at them:

Lakeview trail

This trail begins at the Cox Hollow beach picnic area and runs over 1.25 miles. It involves some hilly regions, wooded areas, and a secluded valley. You also get a chance to get a breathtaking view of Cox Hollow Lake.

If you are a first-time skier, it is best to walk down the first grade and start your skiing experience across the bridge. It is also important to go by the light blue trail markers.

Lost Canyon trail

You can reach this 3-mile trail from the Stephens’ Falls area and has many steep grades. This trail has many wooded areas that will create a really scenic view of the Lost Canyon. The orange trail markers can carefully follow this trail.

Meadow Valley trail

This loop trail measures around 5 miles with its trailhead at the Co Hollow beach picnic area. Going along this trail will allow you to experience some of the most restored areas of the park, including its prairies, open meadows, lush green spaces, and wooded ridges.

You will encounter some steep grades along the way, but I believe these will help your journey be more exciting.

*Biking allowed on it

Mill Creek trail

Here’s another loop trail that will create that level of adventurous excitement you are looking for as it covers a total of 3.3 miles. It runs through wooded valleys and meadows and overlooks the Twin Valley Lake and the Cox Hollow Lake.

Even though most of the trail is level ground, you will encounter many steep grades along the way.

*Biking allowed on it

Outer Horse trail

The outer horse trail covers a total of 15.3-mile loop traverse that will take riders through some of the most intriguing beauties nature has to offer.

To access this trail, you enter via the Horse Day Use Parking Area close to the Hickory Ridge Group Camp. Riders have to be 16 years and older and should have a State Trail Pass for entry.

Pine Cliff trail

This trail is wood-base and covers an average of 2.5 miles of lush nature-infused space. It starts at the Enee Point picnic area and takes its close at the Lakeview Trail on Cox Hollow’s southeastern side.

There is also an additional 2-mile trail that helps to provide enough vegetation, historical, ecological, and wildlife knowledge. The trail has a few steps and grades and some rocky regions you will have to cross over, and it is best to follow the dark green trail markers to get the most of it.

Stephens’ Falls trail

A 10-foot-wide paved trail, 0.25-mile-long, leads to a beautiful overlook near Stephens waterfall. Accessible parking is available at the trailhead…but the real trail is 0.5-miles long and a bit of a challenge to walk.

Stone steps and uneven terrain will be encountered to gain access to the falls and the trail below. Follow the dark blue trail markers.

Uplands trail

The Uplands Trail is also a 2.5-mile journey that starts close to the park office. It features several rolling hills, wooded areas, agricultural fields, and so much more. The magenta trail markers will get you safely through the grounds of this trail.

* Horses allowed on it

Governor Dodge State Park Trail Map

Biking at Governor Dodge State Park

You can look forward to enjoying an 8-mile off-road bicycle trail journey on the park’s compound. However, before you can access the bike trail, you have to access a State Trail Pass from the relevant authorities.

The trails are generally open between May one to November 15 but may have additional information in between about operational times. The park has two trails to enjoy a ride…the Mill Creek trail and the Meadow Valley Trail.

Horseback Riding at Governor Dodge State Park

Governor Dodge State Park features 22 miles of bridle trails, and with every mile stretched, riders will get a chance to see the rich beauty and heritage of the historic park.

You may need to take your own horse along for the horseback riding activity as the park does not do rental in this department.

Before access to the bridle trails, they must have State Trail passes and are open from May 1 until November 15 and is only for riders over the age of 16.

The activity includes a few features, including…

Interior Horse Trail System

This trail system is separated into several sections that cover a total of 6.7 miles. The trails connect the horse day-use parking area to the Trails End Horse Campground.

The trails you can ride through include the Woodland Trail, a 1.5-mile stretch throughout the park, and the Old Orchard Pass, which is a 1.25-mile. The Woodland Trail is guided by the red trail markers, while the light green trail markers guide the Old Orchard Trail.

You can also go horseback riding along the Uplands Trail, a 2.5-mile journey that starts about 1/4 mile from the park office. Take a stroll through the hilly terrains of the trail and enjoy the beauty of the prairies, agricultural fields, and wooded regions.

After your journey, you can rest with your horse(s) at the designated campsite, which was fully designed for horse lovers and those camping with their horses. The designated horse campground is opened between May 1 to November 15.

Governor Dodge State Park Nature Center

Governor Dodge State Park Nature Center

Would you like to learn more about the animals, plants, geology, ecology, and natural history of Governor Dodge? If so, you are invited to take part in the park naturalist programs.

The naturalist leads guided hikes and presents evening nature programs at the park amphitheater. Please check the park office or bulletin boards for the naturalist schedule.

Governor Dodge State Park Fall Colors

Governor Dodge State Park is a beauty to behold during fall as it creates an astonishing aspect of the best that nature has to offer. The different array of colors is a part of what you need to see during your visit this season.

Governor Dodge State Park Rock Climbing

The park features some cool climbing areas on a small cliff band with solid sandstones to help you get the most from your experience. You get the chance to have your blood flowing as the rush of excitement trickle to take you over.

Governor Dodge State Park is known for its many rock formation and features, some of which you can climb and others that you should probably avoid.

The boulders you choose to climb should be those that can take the pressure as the other delicate ones could be dangerous not only for you but also for others who are using the park. Even though the park authorities are not particularly fond of climbers, they allow the practice but with caution.

Governor Dodge State Park Hunting

Governor Dodge State Park Hunting

Hunting is another fun activity that you can engage in at the park as it is allowed in the park’s open areas.

However, hunting is only permitted in a certain timeframe, and you should check with the relevant authorities on the various specifications. In addition, there are guidelines on the types of traps that can be used and the areas that are out of bound.

State of Wisconsin Hunting Information

Governor Dodge 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.

Cross Country Skiing at Governor Dodge State Park

There is nothing short of fun when you take on the cross-country skiing experience that Governor Dodge State Park offers. It covers a 12.5-mile length that you can enjoy with friends and family and enjoy some of the best attributes of nature. Many trails can be accessed from the Cox Hollow Beach trailhead and are also equipped with toilet facilities, picnic tables, water, and so much more. Some of the trails you can access for this activity include…

* Meadow Valley Trail covers 5 miles and starts at the Cox Hollow beach picnic area. You will pass through a lot of restored areas with nature showing the best it has to offer.

* Mill Creek Trail – Take a trail that will overlook the beauty of both the Cox and Twin Valley Lakes as well as provide you with an adventurous experience like no other.  

winter in peninsula state park

Snowshoeing at Governor Dodge State Park

You can enjoy the game of snowshoeing anywhere on the park’s compound, except on the cross-country ski trails. There are a few trails you can enjoy this amazing activity on, such as…

* Pine Cliff Trail – This trail is wood-base and covers an average of 2.5 miles of lush nature-infused space. It starts at the Enee Point picnic area and takes its close at the Lakeview Trail on Cox Hollow’s southeastern side.

There is also an additional 2-mile trail that helps to provide enough vegetation, historical, ecological, and wildlife knowledge. The trail has a few steps and grades and some rocky regions you will have to cross over, and it is best to follow the dark green trail markers to get the most of it.

* Uplands Trail – The Uplands Trail is also a 2.5-mile journey that starts close to the park office. It features several rolling hills, wooded areas, agricultural fields, and so much more. The magenta trail markers will get you safely through the grounds of this trail.

Ice Fishing at Governor Dodge State Park

Like many other parks in and around Wisconsin, you can be sure of an amazing ice fishing experience like no other. The park has icy conditions that allow experienced and first-time fishers to enjoy this fun activity.

Ice Climbing at Governor Dodge State Park

Just like rock climbing in the summer, there is also ice climbing which can be a little bit more tricky and blood-rushing. It involves many techniques so, to do it smoothly, one must understand the tricks associated with it. Get all the details so you can enjoy this adventurous activity.

Governor Dodge 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 Iowa County Humane Society at (608) 935-1381.

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:

  • Buildings
  • Picnic areas and picnic shelters
  • Beaches
  • Playgrounds
  • Marked Nature Trails
  • No Pets are allowed on the ski trails when they are snow-covered.

Of course, if your dog is a service animal, those rules do not apply.

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Directions to Governor Dodge State Park

Getting to Governor Dodge State Park is relatively easy as it is located around 3 miles north of Highway 18 in Dodgeville. Whether you are going by bike or foot, the park can be entered through the Military Ridge State Trail and is situated on the eastern side of County Highway Z.

Directions to Governor Dodge Sta

Restaurants Near Governor Dodge

Food is practically everything, and there is no way one can go without “filling their faces” with some good food. With your visit to Governor Dodge State Park, you have to enjoy some of the best local dishes from some amazing restaurants such as…

Hi Point Steak House

Just 8 miles away at 6900 County Road Hhh in Ridgeway, this classic Wisconsin Supper Club is a true dining experience. While it may look like nothing but a green pole barn when you pull up, give it a chance – large portions, friendly staff, and make a reservation before you go.

Bob’s Bitchin BBQ

Located at 167 N Iowa St. Dodgeville, Wisconsin, is an amazing restaurant ready and waiting to serve you some of the most mouth-watering delicacies that Wisconsin has to offer.

Hotels by Governor Dodge

If you choose not to camp out at the park but want to stay close by, you may want to stay at one of the best hotels or guesthouses in the area. There are quite a few but based on customer reviews and the services and amenities they offer, here are a few you may want to consider staying at…

Spring Valley Inn

This amazing lodge sits on 12 acres of wooded prairie and features 35 amazing guest rooms. It boasts the largest indoor pool in the area and is also equipped with a steam room, exercise room, whirlpool, and sauna. The overall environment creates a peaceful and relaxing haven for those looking for quality service and affordable dwellings.

They feature meeting and banquet halls that can host up to 180 people at a given time and is in close range to some other fun areas such as House on the Rock, Tower Hill State Park, and Governor Dodge State Park. It is located at 6279 County Highway C, Spring Green, WI.

Best Western Dodgeville Inn & Suites

Many people have chosen to make the Best Western Dodgeville Inn & Suites their favorite hotel for many reasons. The features and amenities are unique and not present anywhere else in many other hotels in and around the area.

The rooms at this amazing hotel feature some cool amenities such as a flat-screen TV, air conditioning, a refrigerator, free wifi, and a comfortable and luxurious bed. They also offer concierge services at the hotel and are close to some of the must-visit areas around town.

Take a trip to 1130 N Johns St, Dodgeville, WI, and get a taste of what luxury, comfort, and relaxation feel like.

Places To Stay Nearby

Nearby Things To See


Who said Wisconsin was not a fun place to be with some of the most intriguing and fun offerings of memories? Your visit to one of the state’s most amazing parks, the Governor Dodge State Park, is not complete unless you visit the Botham Vineyards & Winery when you are done with your hike.

They offer a wide variety of drinks you can choose from to close off your day of fun, whether vi bottle or glass.


Another interesting type of fun you may want to embark on is visiting one or two of the breweries around town. You can consider taking a trip to…

* New Glarus Brewing Company

Situated on 2400 State Hwy 69, New Glarus, WI, is the New Glarus Brewing Company, a company run on passion and love for brewing. You can expect to taste some of the most intriguing beers the region has to offer as they make everything from scratch and with all-natural ingredients.

* Jubeck New World Brewing

Here is another brewery that focuses on ensuring their beers are made from scratch, with natural ingredients, and time and dedication. They feature a 50-gallon brewing system and have seasonal brewing events you might not want to miss.

Take a tour and sip some beer as you go along. They are located at 115 W 11th St, Dubuque, IA.

The House on the Rock 

This is a FUN place and almost unbelievable. We wrote all about it on our travel site – learn more here.

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