Complete Guide to Nelson Dewey State Park

Complete Guide to Nelson Dewey State Park

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Nelson Dewey State Park is a 756-acre property in Cassville. The park is named as a dedication to Wisconsin’s first governor, Nelson Dewey. The park was once part of Dewey’s extensive 2,000-acre property before it was bought by the State and designated a State Natural Area.

Complete Guide to Nelson Dewey State Park

There is a lot of things to see and do inside this park. The interesting geographical outlay of the land offers breathtaking views, beautiful walking trails, and abundant wildlife that ensures you have a memorable visit.

You will come across an extensive prairie, bluff, and stiff hills as well as a vast landscape coated with tall oak trees. This article offers you a comprehensive guide on how to fully enjoy what Nelsen Dewey State Park has to offer whenever you visit.

History of Nelson Dewey State Park

In 1836, Nelson Dewey came to Cassville from Connecticut. Over the next few years, he would establish himself as a lawyer of repute. He was also very keenly interested in land and real estate, something that pushed him to join politics. He was elected as the Registrar of Deeds in Grant County.

Soon later, he became Wisconsin’s first governor at 35 years old. After serving for two terms as governor, Nelsen stepped from the political limelight and settled into a life of a large-scale farmer. He had over 2000 acres (in Stonefield estate) and vast interests in rearing farm animals and poultry. He also established an orchard, a vineyard, and a horse-breeding unit on the estate. 

A series of misfortunes and financial disasters that rocked the whole nation following the nationwide financial crisis would render Nelson’s estate insolvent after some time. He died in 1889.

His large estate was passed onto several buyers over time. The Wisconsin Conservative Commission pooled funds from various sources to purchase 756 acres in 1936. This is where the current State Park stands today. After several renovations, the park was opened to the public in 1940 and declared a protected natural area. 

Nelson Dewey State Park

Burial Mounds

Before the early settlers moved around prospecting to lead, silver, and gold, most of the land in Wisconsin was originally occupied by the Native Americans.

The proof of their existence in Cassville is shown by the presence of burial mounds that resemble mounds found in other parks across Wisconsin State (Such as Copper culture state mounds or the Aztalan mounds).

It shows how these natives organized themselves in small villages, gathered food from the park, and fished in the Mississippi River.

Artifacts recovered from some of the mounds in the park show that these people inhabited the area about 7,000 years ago. What happened to them and their current location is undetermined.

There are 3 groups of burial mounds and 2 village sites on Nelson Dewey State Park. These mounds are protected by both Wisconsin’s law and federal law. 

The three kinds of mounds you can find here are;

  • Conical (Dome-shaped) mounds
  • Linear mounds
  • Mounds that exhibit a combination of conical and linear characteristics

Many of these mounds were damaged over time by human action and soil erosion. 

Although no one completely understands the significance of these mounds, archaeologists believe that the mounds were used for several functions and reasons. They were burial grounds, evidenced by recovered remnants of dead bodies.

They could also have been used as markers to mark hunting territories. Others believe that they were significant ceremonial centers that were built to commemorate a certain clan or ancestor. Others believe that they held an important religious meaning.

Whatever the case, these mounds were important to the inhabitants, owing to the significant amount of effort that went into building them. The mounds are designated as ancient burial sites and protected by both Wisconsin and federal laws. At the park, you will find clear markings directing you to where these mounds are and instructions on how to treat these ancient phenomena. 

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Nature and Bluffs in Nelson Dewey State Park

Nature inside Nelson Dewey State Park is very diverse. Like most parks in Wisconsin, Nelson Park also underwent the same geographical formation process that has shaped it into the unique park it is today. The region was once mountainous.

It underwent a series of warping (down and up) and silt deposits when the sea flooded over time to form bluffs and other interesting landscapes (like the prairie). The piling of silt and other mineral deposits led to the creation of the limestone and sandstone rocks that form the base of this park today.

Later, water would cut through these rocks over time as it drained away, leading to the formation of the deep scenic valleys we see today. 

The bluffs on the park overlook the Mississippi River, offering visitors the perfect opportunity to enjoy breathtaking views of the river and beyond when hiking inside this park. 

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Things to do in Nelson Dewey State Park

There are many outdoor activities you can do inside this park. Here are some of the popular things to do inside Nelson Dewey State Park.

Nelson Dewey State Park Camping

Camping is a popular activity in Nelson Dewey State Park, especially during the summer season. Campgrounds are closed during the winter season. 

family campsite at Nelson Dewey State Park

These are family campgrounds, group campgrounds, and individual (wild) campgrounds. You may reserve any campground you want online. If you do not want to reserve a campsite, you can get one on a walk-in basis. Walk-in campsites are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Individuals can choose to reserve a campsite wherever they desire, including doing regulated wild camping. There are no amenities for wild campers. Since camping is seasonal here, reservations can only be done from May to 10th October. After this day, you can walk in to request a campsite without the need to reserve one online.

Before you book a camping site, check out Wisconsin’s camping rules to understand how you are expected to behave when camping in Dewey State park or any other park within the State. You can purchase food supplies and other services (such as laundry) in Cassville town, about 2 miles from the park. Firewood is available for sale from the park’s office. 

Group CampgroundNumber of sites: 120

There are 3 group campgrounds. Each campsite can accommodate 40 people. Each site has a large picnic table, a fire ring, vault toilets, shower cubicles, a picnic shelter, and electricity.

Family campgroundNumber of sites: 45

Only 18 out of the 45 campsites are electric. There are flush toilets and shower cubicles on this campground. Most of the sites are located in secluded areas, with large oak trees offering a natural canopy over your campsite. People who love fishing should book into one of the four sites that overlook the Mississippi River.

These sites are located on a bluff, offering you unparalleled views of the River a few hundred meters away. You also have access to clean drinking water as well as a dump station.

Nelson Dewey State Park Fishing

No fishing occurs inside the park. Anglers can try their luck on the Mississippi River that runs adjacent to the park.

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Nelson Dewey State Park Hiking

There are about 2.3 miles of hiking trails inside the park. These trails will take you through different natural environments and terrain. All the hiking trails here are self-guided and moderate enough for any level of hiker to explore. 

  • Mound point trail

Length: 0.6 miles

This trail will take you to the Native American mounds. You will also come across benches that are strategically positioned along the trail to serve as wildlife and bird observation spots. You will see great views of the Mississippi River as you walk along this trail as well.

  • Woodbine Nature trail

Length: 0.3 miles

This trail takes you through the wooded areas of the park. It also opens to the prairie.

  • Prairie trail

Length: 0.2 miles

People who love the grasslands can follow this trail. It also offers you great views of the river.

  • Oakwood Trail

Length: 0.4 miles

This trail also takes you through another wooded section of the park. It is slightly steeper than the Woodbine trail.

  • Cedar Trail

Length: 0.2 miles

This trail takes you to the bluffs and offers you fantastic views of the Mississippi River.

trail map at Nelson Dewey State Park

Picnic Areas and Shelters in the Park

There are three picnic areas set aside to cater to all the campers inside the park. These are Mound Point, Cedar Point, and Dewey Heights shelters. Amenities on these picnic areas include picnic tables, fire grills, and fire rings.

There are two reservable shelters in the park. There is a shelter on Dewey Heights and Prairie shelter. Both shelters are handicap accessible and the Dewey heights shelter is an enclosed shelter that also contains electricity and two fireplaces. The prairie shelter is an open shelter and does not contain electricity. There are grill tables, picnic tables, and restrooms for both shelters.

Birds and Wildlife inside Nelson Dewey State Park

The park is in one of the migratory birds’ flyway and as such, you can expect to see many birds perched on trees here, as they head further down the nation.

If you are an avid bird watcher, be on the lookout for several bird species including red-shouldered hawks, Kentucky warblers, Bell’s vireo, Louisiana waterthrush, and Acadian flycatcher. Some of the migratory birds you may see here include golden eagles, raptors, and land birds.

Nelson Dewey Prairie

This grassland is owned by DNR and was declared a State Natural Area in 1952. It is 27 acres in size and it is part of a larger prairie that used to exist in Wisconsin about 200 years ago. 

The topography of the land is relatively flat with a combination of different types of grass. Some of the grass varieties you can find here include the side-oats, June grass, Indian grass, needle grass, butterfly weed, golden Alexanders, false bonesets, betony, hairy grama, and asters.

Nelson Dewey State Park Waterfowl Hunting

Hunting is allowed in the park but you have to follow the directive of Wisconsin’s State Park hunting and trapping policy. There are specific hunting times of the year. Consult to learn about the hunting licenses you should have. 

Trapping is not allowed in certain areas (such as hiking trails or near campgrounds). Consult the park’s office to know whether certain traps are prohibited. They will also offer guidelines on where to avoid laying the traps for your security and that of others inside the park.

State of Wisconsin Hunting Information

winter in peninsula state park

Nelson Dewey State Park in Winter

Camping activities are not allowed during the winter season. Roads and pathways inside the park are not maintained during this time and hence your safety would not be guaranteed.

People are allowed to visit for hiking or other winters sports activities except camping. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skiing, and winter hiking are favorite sports during the winter season. Snowmobiling is not allowed in the park.

Nelson Dewey 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 the Madison County Humane Society at (608)-723-6366. 

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 
  • Playgrounds 
  • 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 Nelson Dewey State Park

If you are looking to explore the area beyond the park, here are some of the attractions you should not miss;

Stonefield Historic Site

More Details: https://stonefield.wisconsinhistory.org

This is the place that will take you down the history line of Wisconsin. Stonefield was the estate of the first governor of Wisconsin, Nelson Dewey. You will learn about the agricultural machines that worked on these grounds from as far as the 1800s.

You will also visit the restored governor’s house and take a stroll through a rural Stonefield’s village (re-created) to learn about how people lived in the past. The farmstead here contains one of the largest collections of farming tools and objects used in the past in Wisconsin’s State. 

Wisconsin’s Great River Road

More Details: https://www.wigrr.com/

The great river road travels over 250 miles along the Mississippi River, connecting over 33 towns and villages. You can explore a bit of this road as it passes near Nelson Dewey Park. No road offers more breathtaking views of the Mississippi river than this road. Ask for more information at the park’s office.

Golf Near Nelson Dewey State Park

If you are a golf lover, there are excellent golfing courts within driving distance of the park. Most of these courts do not require you to buy a club membership fee to enjoy the game. Some of the best golf courses near Nelson Dewey State Park include: 

golfing at Nelson Dewey
  • Guttenberg Golf and Country Club

Distance from the park: 7.4 miles

  • Dubuque Golf and Country club

Distance from the park: 24.8 miles

  • Prairie Du Chien Country club

Distance from the park: 18.8 miles

  • Timberline Golf Course

Distance from the park: 25.5 miles

  • -Dyersville Golf and Country club

Distance from the park: 17.6 miles

  • Derby Grange Golf

Distance from the park: 20.2 miles

Restaurants Near Nelson Dewey State Park

If you are looking for local cuisine, or probably just want to check out the restaurant scene near the park, here are some of the best restaurants near Nelson Dewey State Park you should explore.

Solid Ground Cassville Cafe

More information: https://www.facebook.com/Solid-Ground-Cassville-Cafe

Distance from Nelson Dewey State Park:  1.8 miles, Location: 102 W Amelia St, Cassville, WI 53806-9510, Style: Local

Picket Fence Cafe & Catering

More information: https://www.picketfencecafecatering.com/

Distance from Nelson Dewey State Park:  5.2 miles, Location: 531 S River Park Dr, Guttenberg, IA 52052-9349, Style: Local

Breitbach’s Family Dining

More information: https://www.breitbachscountrydining.com/

Distance from Nelson Dewey State Park:  9.9 miles, Location: Balltown Road, Sherrill, IA 52001, Style: Relaxed family diner

Anker Inn Smokehouse

More information: https://www.ankerinn.com/

Distance from Nelson Dewey State Park:  3.4 miles, Location: 11008 State Road 133, Cassville, WI 53806-9606, Style: American BBQ

Joe’s Pizza

More information: https://www.facebook.com/JoesGuttenberg/

Distance from Nelson Dewey State Park:  9.9 miles, Location: 608 S River Park Dr, Guttenberg, IA 52052-9339, Style: Pizza house/Fast Food

Rausch’s Cafe

More information: https://www.facebook.com/Rauschs/

Distance from Nelson Dewey State Park:  5.7 miles, Location: 123 N Highway 52, Guttenberg, IA 52052-9466, Style: Local

The Friends of Nelson Dewey Park

The Friends of Nelson Dewey Park

The park is maintained with the help and donations of the Friends of Stonefield historical park and Nelson Dewey Park. They offer financial and voluntary services to ensure you have the best moment when you visit this park. If you want to donate something and be part of this program, consult the park’s office for more information. 

Directions to Nelson Dewey State Park

The park is located 2 miles Northwest of Cassville. You will find clear markings to direct you to the park once you leave Cassville town.

Places To Stay Nearby

Fees and Opening dates

Your vehicle admission ticket will be required before being allowed entry into the park. If you want to reserve a site online, you can do so and follow the regulations offered by the state of Wisconsin. The park is open year-round. During the winter season, camping is restricted but visitors can still come to take a refreshing walk in the park.

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