Complete Guide to Mirror Lake State Park

Complete Guide to Mirror Lake State Park

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There is a beautiful lake called Mirror Lake three miles south of Wisconsin Dells. The lake got the name from the glassy texture which offers a stunning reflection of the surrounding landscape.

Complete Guide to Mirror Lake State Park

Encompassing this lake is a 2,000-acre park that contains all kinds of natural features, vegetation, and wildlife. Dense pine forests, natural vegetation, sandstone bluffs, sandy prairies, and marshlands are present in this park, making it a great habitat for wildlife and a great outdoor destination for nature lovers.

If you ever find yourself in Wisconsin Dells, take a moment to visit this park for all kinds of leisure activities including camping, bird watching, hiking, boating, swimming, fishing, and snow-shoeing. Read on to get a complete guide on how to enjoy the various activities and sceneries you expect to find within the domains of Mirror Lake State Park

The Formation of Mirror Lake State Park

The park was officially opened to the public in 1966, covering a total space of 2,179 acres. This included Mirror Lake, from where the park derived its name. The Wisconsin Dells area was formed from glaciation and deposits of Cambrian sandstone thousands of years ago.

Dell Creek, a tributary of the Wisconsin River was blocked by these deposits and forced to divert its route towards the north. Damming on Dells Creek began in 1860. The dam was meant to provide power to a sawmill. The ownership of the land where the creek is situated was passed down to different families over time.

Eventually, the Mirror Lake Pine Oak Forest Natural area and the Fern Dell Gorge were designated as part of the Wisconsin State Natural areas program in 2003.

Mirror Lake

The lake serves as a reservoir covering 137 acres. It was created from the damming of Dell Creek. There are cliffs and bluffs on many sections of the Lake. This is one of the best white water rafting lakes in Wisconsin.

The tall pine and Oak trees in the park shield the lake from drifting winds. This makes it a calm lake with a glassy-smooth surface. This surface gave the lake its name. The water in the lake is clean and deep, ideal for scuba diving as we shall see in a later section in this article. 

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Mirror Lake State Park Frank Lloyd wright/Seth Peterson Cottage

Frank Lloyd Wright was a renowned architect who is credited with designing and building amazing architectural structures worldwide. The Seth Peterson Cottage in Mirror Lake State Park was the only structure he designed and made available for rent. The cottage was designed as a courtesy to his long-time friend, Seth Peterson. Frank Lloyd died before the cottage was completed. 

Wisconsin DNR purchases the cottage in 1966 and added it as part of the Mirror Lake State Park attraction. Over the years, the cottage has been restored by Friends of Mirror Lake State Park and made available to the public.

Nature Inside Mirror Lake State Park

The wide diversity of nature inside this park makes it a wonderful destination for outdoor lovers. Shrubs, trees, wildflowers, pine Oak forest, bluffs, and prairies exist in perfect harmony with each other.

There are vast open spaces that used to be farmlands before the park became a protected reserve and these are great places to hike and engage in all sorts of outdoor activities, including mountain biking and snowshoeing. 

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Mirror Lake State Park Camping

There are 151 campsites inside the park. These sites are divided into three separate campgrounds. Most of the campsites are wooded, with large pine and oak trees providing shades all year round. 

Family campgrounds in Mirror Lake State Park

There are three family campgrounds inside this park.

Sandstone ridge campground

The Sandstone Ridge campground is located close to the parking area. It also offers you easy access to the boat landing area and the fishing pier. Hikers can start exploring the park from the Lakeview Trail adjacent to this campground. 

There are 68 sites inside this campground. You can reserve a campsite from May until the end of October. There are several walk-in campsites as well, with self-registration at the station near the park’s entrance. Every campsite is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

The campground is heavily wooded. Tall and beautiful pine trees offer sufficient space on the ground while providing a canopy in the sky. There are mixtures of both electrical and non-electrical campsites, with at least one of them reserved for people with disabilities. 

During the offseason, most camping sites here will be closed. Shower buildings and toilets will also be inaccessible during this period. The only campsites open during the offseason are campsites 58-65 and amenities are limited.

If you want to come camping here during the winter, call in advance to reserve a campsite and get information about the amenities available so that you can plan accordingly. 

Amenities available for all the campsites include flush toilets, vault toilets, water, pit toilets, showers, a common picnic area with tables and chairs, and a common playground area. All the campsites are easily accessible using medium-sized RVs. There is a dump station here as well but it is seasonal and available dependent on the weather. 

sandstone ridge campground at Mirror Lake State park

Bluewater Bay Campground

This campground is located close to the park’s visitor center, the parking lot, and the amphitheater. There are 63 campsites in this campground. All the campsites here are non-electric and they are offered between May and October on a first-come, first-served basis.

All the campsites here are non-electrical but there are toilet and shower facilities on the location. Picnic areas have tables and chairs and are commonly shared among all campers. 

Cliffwood Campground

There are 35 sites inside this campground. 29 of these have been hooked to electricity, with campsite number 132 reserved for people with disabilities. Most of the campsites here are wooded and secluded.

Some sites are double sites (You will have a personal space but you will share a common driveway). This is a great arrangement for families that want to camp together but still retain some form of privacy. The double campsites are reserved together and have to be reserved in advance. 

Amenities in the Cliffwood Campground include flush and pit toilets, and accessibility to clean drinking water. Hikers can join the Echo rock trail that cuts through the campground to explore the Mirror lake Gorge.

Cliffwood Cabin

The ‘Cabin in the Woods’ in the Cliffwood campground section can accommodate up to six people at a time. The cabin was built by the Telephone Pioneers of America and gifted to the Natural resources department in 1991.

It is only rented out on a reservation basis for only four nights per year. This year, the cabin is available from May 15th to October 15th. The cabin has been modified to accommodate people with disabilities.

The cabin is designed for people who are unable to use the outdoor campsites and it is one of the 10 cabins available in Wisconsin’s State Park System.

Amenities inside the cabin: Kitchen with countertops that are easily accessible, burner stoves, refrigerator, microwave, a bedroom with two single beds, full-size sofa set, wheel-in shower, and wheel-in toilet facilities. Heating and air conditioning are also available in the cabin.

Outside, there is a small picnic area that has a fire-ring, a grill, and a picnic table. An observation deck that overlooks the lake is erected next to the picnic area.

Group Camping Inside Mirror Lake State Park

These sites are spacious and shaded by tall pine trees. They are reservable from April to the end of October. There are seven sites here, each with a capacity to hold up to 20 people. Vehicles are not allowed within the campgrounds.

Amenities here include vault toilets, showers, and drinking water. These are tent-only, walk-in campsites. Carts have been provided to assist you to haul your gear from the parking lot to your reserved campsite. 

Mirror lake state park map

Firewood policy inside Mirror Lake State Park

You cannot bring firewood from other places into the park. The park’s office sells firewood to campers daily from 9 am to 3 pm. This is an initiative of the Friends of Mirror Lake State Park.

Kindly adhere to the rules and advice on fires you will receive from the park’s office so that you can keep your family safe while still protecting the park’s ecosystem. Wisconsin department of natural resources offers blanket advice on how to treat firewood and fires while visiting any state park within the state.

Mirror Lake State Park Activities

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

Mirror Lake State Park Watersports

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

Mirror Lake State Park Fishing  

Fishing in Mirror Lake State park happens on the lake and Dell Creek. In Mirror Lake, you can find a variety of fish including northern pikes, panfish, walleyes, bluegill, trout, and large-mouth bass. The reefy bays on the lake are excellent fishing grounds.

Fishing on Dell Creek is regulated because no spawning happens here, limiting the number of fish available for fishing every year. You will need to adhere to fishing regulations while enjoying the sport inside the park. For instance, you will need an inland Trout stamp to fish in this river. You can get free fishing equipment from the park’s office.

Mirror Lake State Park Beach 

You can swim on the beach at Mirror Lake, close to the boat landing. There are no lifeguards on duty. The beach is not expansive, but it is clean and the sand is soft and smooth.

The water level near the shores is not too deep, making it an ideal location for both kids and adults to have their fun. The swimming area is about 200 feet. There is a beach volleyball court and a playground close to the boat landing area. Bathroom facilities are also available here, but no showers. There are no lifeguards as well, so you need to keep an eye on your kids. 

The playground area next to the beach has slides and see-saws for your kids to enjoy. Both the beach and the playground area were temporarily closed because of the pandemic.

Things are slowly going back to the way they used to be but do not expect to have access to all amenities because there are only a few staff members in the park currently.

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Mirror Lake State Park Kayaking

The calm waters in Mirror Lake make it ideal for paddling and kayaking for all levels of water sports lovers. There are no rapids here or fast-moving water.

This may be a bit dull for adrenaline seekers but it is the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon enjoying the landscape without being too much involved in the kayaking process. The stunning pine landscape surrounding the lake is very picturesque. Sandstone bluff, flanked by tall pine trees seem to be peeping from at every corner, encouraging you to keep paddling down the lake. 

You will find two boat landings on the lake. There is one landing inside the park and another one near Timm’s Mill in the north, close to Dell Creek reservoir. Because of the calm waters, the lake attracts all kinds of kayaking lovers, including adaptive kayaking.

Adaptive kayaking is where people with disabilities kayak normally using specially designed/adapted kayaks. You may need to call in advance to find out if they are still offering the adaptive kayaking facilities. 

From the boat’s landing on the state park, head west, past the sandstone canyon and into a swampy region further northwest where many migratory birds love to take a break before moving on with their journey. Bird lovers will want to spend more time with their binoculars here observing geese, swans, and herons playing in the water excitedly.

Further on you will join Dell Creek. From there, how further you go upstream depends on your will. When you get tired, you can always turn around, drift in the current, and head back to the boat landing area.

Mirror Lake State Park Kayak and Rental 

Kayak rentals are available at the boat launch area in Mirror Lake State Park. They hire out single kayaks, double kayaks, rowboats, canoes, paddleboards, and pontoon boats.

They also offer guided kayaking tours on Mirror Lake. If you do not want to kayak, you can join a guided tour in one of the pontoon boats. Boat rental facilities are provided within the park as well. The pontoon boats accommodate a maximum of 8 people, traveling in luxury. They are also pet-friendly. Kayak rentals start at $15.

The best time to enjoy a kayaking adventure on Mirror Lake State Park is in Late Spring and early summer. The water levels will be higher after the spring rains. Duckweed that floats on the water during this season is cleared by the park’s management. The weed is harmless but it is good to know someone puts an effort into making sure you have the best kayaking experience when you visit.

Mirror Lake State Park Hiking 

Hiking is another prolific activity within Mirror Lake State Park. There are over 20 miles of hiking trails crisscrossing the park. Almost every trail takes you close to the shores of Mirror Lake, offering you scenic views of the calm waters. The hiking trails inside the park are self-guided, so take precautions when exploring them. There are about 14 hiking trails inside this park.

Echo Rock

Echo rock trail

Length: 0.6 miles

Beginning at the Cliffwood campground, this is a paved hiking trail that takes you through diverse natural landscapes. You will get stunning views of the lake and the gorge before connecting with the Ishnala trail in the north. The trail also takes you to the boat landing parking lot. There are many sections along this trail that offer you scenic overlook from the cliffs behind Mirror Lake.

Hastings trail

Length: 2 miles

The 2-mile loop in the southern section of the park is wide enough for biking and cross-country skiing. This is one of the trails open throughout the year in the park. You can access this trail from either the pioneer trail or at the parking lot at the end of the Fern Dell trail. 

Fern Dell Trail

Length: 3 Miles

This is the longest trail in the park. The 3-mile loop is also ideal for cross-country skiing and biking. Enthusiasts who want an extended adventure can connect to the Hastings trail from this loop. 

Ishnala trail

Length: 2.2 miles

The loop connects to the Hastings trail in the south and the Echo rock trail in the north. You will come close to the Ishnala Supper Club, an elite dining setting located in the middle of Mirror Lake State Park. This terrain is leveled and the loop is heavily trafficked during the summer season.

Kilbourn trail

Length: 0.8 miles

From the beach, the trail cuts through both Bluewater Bay family and group campgrounds and extends a little further past the amphitheater close to the picnic shelter.

Lakeview trail

Length: 0.2 miles

This is a short trail that connects the boat landing with the group campground in the south. There is an observation deck near the boat landing. You can stand here and enjoy watching the calm waters of the lake and take beautiful photos. 

There are signs erected north of the beach and a parking area to direct you onto this trail. The trail is a bit uneven and not great for people in wheelchairs. 

Newport trail

Length: 1 mile

The trail starts at the beach and ends at the park’s office. You will be walking right next to the lake on this trail.

Northwest trail

Length: 2.3 miles

This is the most difficult trail in the park. The ground is uneven with steep terrain and numerous sandstone outcroppings on the way. It is not ideal for biking but it is a great loop for experienced hikers seeking a more challenging adventure. You will learn a lot about the park’s formation on this route. 

Ringling pass

Length: 0.3 miles

People who find the Northwest trail too rough can cut back onto the Ringling pass to make their trip easier and shorter.

Turtle trail loop

Length: 2.4 miles

The wide paths on this trail make it a great trail for biking and cross-country skiing. You can access this trail from the Fern Dell connection or the parking lot near the Wild Rice trail. You are guaranteed of coming across turtles during your hiking expedition. 

Wild Rice Trail

Length: 0.6 miles

From the parking lot on Mirror Lake Road, this trail connects to the Turtlesville trail and extends south to the lake.

Wildwood Pass

Length: 0.6 miles

People who find the Northwest trail long can cut back onto this trail for a shorter and easier expedition.

Pets are allowed on these trails but they have to be on a leash at all times. 

walkway at Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake State Park Picnic Areas and Shelters 

Three picnic areas serve the three family campgrounds. Each picnic area is open and has tables, chairs, water, and charcoal grills. There is a picnic shelter near the shower building and close to the Bluewater Bay campground.

This shelter is reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. The shelter can hold a maximum of 16 people. There is electricity and grills inside the shelter. Its strategic location near the boat landing makes it ideal for social events and parties. 

Each picnic area has a shared playground area. The picnic area near Bluewater Bay offers access to the beach where volleyball courts have been erected. The park provides volleyball nets but you have to carry your own volleyball. 

Wildlife and Bird Watching in Mirror Lake State Park

Wildlife is abundant inside Mirror Lake State Park. There are all sorts of animals, large and small. When camping inside the park, you will occasionally come across raccoons, squirrels, cottontail rabbits, minks, chipmunks, bats, and muskrats.

Raccoons and squirrels are notorious for stealing food and other supplies from wild campers, so be on the lookout. The larger animals you may come across include red foxes, eastern moles, deer, coyotes, and beavers. If you will be inside the park during the winter season, be on the lookout for bears. Bears are rare here but there have been numerous sightings before. It would be prudent to stay safe. 

Amphibians and Insects Inside the Park

You will come across different types of amphibians, especially if you will be hiking along the Shore of Mirror Lake or on the marshlands. The common one is the large American Toad. Others include the gray tree frog, the green frog, painted turtle, common water snake, and eastern hognose snake.

Both the water snake and the eastern hognose snakes are not venomous, but I doubt you will relish a bite from them. Avoid them if possible. 

People who love to study insects and arachnids will find them in abundance here. These include the Tan Jumping Spider, the Leiobunum aldrichi, the American nursery web spider, and the black cherry leaf gall mite. Butterflies in the park include the Azalea Sphinx, Virginia Creeper Sphinx, Nessus sphinx, Abbott’s Sphinx, snowberry clearwing, laurel sphinx, modest sphinx, small-eyed sphinx, pink striped oak worm moth, eastern tiger swallowtail, and the rosy maple moth.

These are the common butterflies you will find with ease inside the park. If your mission is to document butterflies, there are more than 20 other butterfly species and hundreds of different insects you can find within the wilderness of the park. 

Bird Watching Inside the Park

Bird watchers will have a great time here, thanks to the numerous migratory and non-migratory bird species that stay inside the park.

Some of the bird species observed inside the park include the green and great blue herons, the Turkey vulture, the sandhill crane (on the sandstone bluffs), hairy woodpecker, eastern whip-poor-will, black-capped chickadee, Baltimore Oriole, Mallards, Eastern Bluebird, winter Wren, Eastern Towhee, American goldfinch, and Blue Jays.

mirror lake

Wildflowers in Mirror Lake State Park

There are hundreds of different species and types of wildflowers wherever you go within the park. Some of the flower species here include the broad-leaved goldenrod, calico aster, cut-leaf coneflower, prairie rosinweed, crooked stem aster, white snakeroot, sweet everlasting, and black-eyed Susan.

You will also find geraniums, Indian tobacco, poison ivy, boxelder, nightshades, mullein, foxgloves, bergamots, and motherworts. 

Mirror Lake Pine Forest

The forest is owned by the DNR and became a state of Wisconsin’s natural area in 2003. The forest is dominated by tall white pine and oak trees alder thickets and shrubs. There are sandstone bluffs and vernal ponds scattered inside this forest as well.

The uplands west of Mirror Lake are dominated by red, black, and white oaks while the sandstone cliffs support red pines. Hazelnut and huckleberries dominate the shrubs in the park. The ground layer in almost every place you visit inside the park is covered with wild sarsaparillas, jack-in-the-pulpit, and nightshades.

The swampy areas contain alders, marsh marigold, blue marsh violet, American saxifrage, and skunk cabbages.

Outside, there is a small picnic area that has a fire-ring, a grill, and a picnic table. An observation deck that overlooks the lake is erected next to the picnic area.

Mirror Lake State Park Biking and Cross-Country Skiing

Biking and cross-country skiing happen on the wider lanes of the numerous trails inside the park. Biking is a popular activity during the summer season. There are no official paved road-bike trails inside the park.

In the winter season, outdoor activities within the park become hushed because of poor weather. However, cross-country skiing is still a popular activity during this time. You should check with the park’s office about the trails to explore before you do so, for safety purposes. 

There are over 17 miles to explore here and most of them are open for exploration depending on the weather conditions.  

Click on this link to see the map of biking and cross-country skiing trails available during the winter season in Mirror Lake State Park. If you are over the age of 16, you will need a State Trail Pass to enjoy cross country skiing on all the groomed ski trails in the park.

winter in peninsula state park

Winter activities in Mirror Lake State Park

During the winter season, hiking, snowshoeing, fat-tire bikes, and pets are prohibited on the cross-country ski trails. Only the Echo rock, Sandstone, Lakeview, and Wild rice trail are open for hiking and snowshoeing during this season. The other hiking trails are reserved for cross-country skiing.

Besides cross-country skiing, snowshoeing is also another activity undertaken during the winter season. Snowshoeing occurs on the trails that have not been groomed for skiing. 

Click here to see the map of winter trails inside Mirror Lake State Park.

Ice fishing occurs at the northwestern corner of the lake.

ice fishing at Mirror Lake State Park

Mirror Lake Hunting and Trapping

Hunting is allowed, but only in open areas and within the timeframe of the Wisconsin State Parks hunting and trapping calendar. You should adhere to Wisconsin State Parks Hunting and rapping rules and regulations.

In Mirror Lake State Park, you can hunt even migratory birds in the open areas during the migrating seasons. Typically, this period begins from November 1st to 14th November. The other hunting and trapping season is between 1st September to 14th September.

State of Wisconsin Hunting Information

Click on the links below to access hunting and trapping maps in Mirror Lake State park:

Mirror 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 on stray animals. 

ID tags are a good idea if your dog isn’t microchipped. If you do lose your pet you can contact either the Sauk County Humane Society at (608) 356-2520, Columbia County Humane Society (608) 742-3666, or Adams County Humane Society (608) 339-6700. 

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, chipmunks, squirrels, gray wolves, skunks, fishers, elk, and porcupines can be found there. 

Pets are not allowed in the following places: 

  • Buildings 
  • Picnic areas and picnic shelters 
  • Main Beach
  • 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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Attractions Near Mirror Lake State Park

  • The International Crane Foundation 
  • Circus World Museum in Baraboo 
  • Riverview Park 
  • Waterworld
  • Storybook Gardens
  • Ho-Chunk Casino
  • Family Land and Tidal Wave Park
  • Wax World of the Stars

Mirror Lake State Park Supper Club

If you love taking drinks and having great food in a place with stunning views, the Ishnala Supper club (right inside Mirror Lake State Park) would be a great place to visit.

You will be overlooking the glassy lake as you sip your drink or eat an exotic dish. The supper club began in 1953 and was built right by the shores of Mirror Lake. You may have to hike a bit to get here but the terrain is not very challenging.

The facility is accessible with a wheelchair as well. The club grounds were used as the backdrop for scenes in the movie Public Enemies featuring Johnny Depp. 

Food served here is a selection of native dishes, seafood (prawns, salmon, shrimp, scallops, and lobsters), and exotic dishes. The club has the best naturally aged meats within the region, according to numerous customer reviews.

The cocktails in this club are served by experienced bartenders. No reservation is necessary when visiting the supper club at Mirror Lake State Park.

Mirror Lake State Park Golf

Campers who also love golfing will have a great time in the park because there are numerous golf courses to explore nearby. Some of the notable golf courses near Mirror Lake State Park include:

  • Pirates Cove Adventure Golf – 4.6 miles away
  • Spring Brook Resort – 2.8 miles away
  • Wild Rock Golf – 2.7 miles away
  • Fairfield Hills Golf Course and Range – 4.1 miles away
  • Christmas Mountain Golf Estates – 3.7 miles away
  • The Villas at Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort – 2.5 miles away

Mirror Lake State Park Hours

The park is open from 6 am to 11 pm daily. Ensure you have paid your vehicle admission sticker before you drive into the park. You need a Wisconsin State Park vehicle admission sticker to park in any of the parking spaces inside the park. You have to buy this sticker online before you proceed to the park.

Mirror Lake State Park Directions

Mirror Lake State Park is located at E10320 Fern Dell Road, Baraboo. Click on this pdf file to see comprehensive directions on how to get to Mirror Lake State Park from different highways and interstate roads. 

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