Rookie mistakes at Devil’s Lake

No matter how much you plan,  most camping outings are rife with gaffes, oversights and lapses in judgment. Our four-day trip to Devil’s Lake State Park had all that.

But the great thing about camping is that you kind of expect the bumps and it’s never really enough to put a damper on the whole thing – even if the whole thing is literally quite damp. In all my planning, I never even thought to check the weather forecast. When we arrived at DLSP on Thursday, we were greeted by 50- to 60-mile-an-hour winds. 

A fallen tree knocked out all the power in the park, but it wasn’t a big deal for us since we were in a non-electric site. We set up the tent in a small clearing at the back of our site on the Lower Ice Age loop. It went up easy, and has some room to spare after putting in the two queen-sized air mattresses, a pack-and-play and our suitcases. It rained quite a bit – which is how we found out the tent leak. Over the next few days, we learned several other things, among them:

1) Don’t leave your cooler out at night.We covered the basics for keeping critters out of our site: picked up any food scraps that had fallen from the table, Clorox-wiped the tablecloth to get rid of any lingering food smells, threw away all the garbage in the big dumpsters each night before going to bed. But, the first night we broke a cardinal rule of critter prevention: We left the cooler out. There was a case of water on top of it, but that did nothing to prevent the beastly brawl that began at about 11 p.m. I had no idea what could possibly be making that ferocious growling just outside the tent. Turns out, that is the sound of two raccoons fighting over a sleeve of a dozen frozen hamburger patties. After one raccoon took off with the burgers, the other consoled itself with a six-pack of Hershey’s chocolate bars and some string cheese.

2) Don’t try to take a stroller on a medium- or difficult-level hiking trail.When we asked about stroller-friendly trails, the DLSP staff said none of the trails were that great for strollers. We mistook the “not great for strollers” warning for a “it’s not easy but a go ahead and try” tip. If you are like me and need a clear a directive with no room for interpretation, let me be very clear: You absolutely cannot take a stroller on most of the hiking trails at DLSP.  Seriously, does this look appropriate for a stroller?

Devil’s Walkway (my term): not stroller-friendly

Later when I checked the DLSP website, it mentioned a total of 2.5 miles of trails that are wheelchair accessible but we didn’t know about them at the time. About 1/8thof the way up the “difficult” Hanging Rock Trail, we ditched the stroller and Jerimy started carrying Charlie. About 2/8ths of the way up, I insisted on taking Charlie back down. The trails can get kind of treacherous – narrow, steep, and if the least bit wet, very slippery. Between a toddler and his very adventurous Nana, it was too much to worry about. I gave Jerimy and my mom my camera so I did end up getting some nice shots of the dangling rock, Devil’s Doorway and panoramic views of the park.

3) Don’t forget your own raingear. Two-year-old Charlie was set with rubber boots, rain jacket and slicky suit for inclement weather. I didn’t even have an umbrella or a water-repellant jacket. Oh, and I forgot the screen tent, so we didn’t have a cover for the picnic table, so Friday we all got into the tent for the night at 7 p.m. to get out of the rain. Luckily, all these situations could be remedied. The park has two small stores, one of which was in our camping section and a 5-minute walk from our site. All the essentials are for sale here, including ponchos. The Baraboo Wal-Mart Super Store is a mere 10-minute drive from the park and they had a great sale going on EZ ups ($50!).

4) Don’t drive into the fire pit. We all woke up soggy and cabin-feverish on Saturday, so decided to drive into Baraboo for breakfast and to find a laundromat for our dirty/wet clothes. We were getting ready to head out when my mom went to turn her car around and drove right up over the fire ring and into the fire pit. In case this ever happens to you, here’s how you get out: jack up the car and build your campfire wood up under the wheel and then just back right out. This should only take about an hour.

How to get a Prius out of the fire pit

Still a great trip
There was so much more good than bad, though, over the weekend. Devil’s Lake State Park is beautiful and there is a lot to do there to keep campers occupied over the course of their stay.

It’s a nice drive from Milwaukee – figure about 2 hours to get to the park and another 45 minutes to wind your way into it on S. Lake Road from Hwy. 113. For a straighter, faster path, take 90/94 to Hwy 33.

The good:

1) Our site It was deep and wooded, set back off the road and not right on top of the neighboring sites. The trees helped shield us from the winds and rain.

Site #336 on the Lower Ice Age loop, looking out toward the road


I liked most of the sites in the Lower Oak Leaf loop; I did not like the Northern Lights section; there were very few trees and no privacy – or protection from the elements. The Northern Lights and Quartzite sections are the closest to the lake and within walking distance.

2) Our timing It was a good idea to go on Thursday, before the crowds arrived. As of noon on Thursday, there were still more than 20 non-reservable sites available in the park. That is good to know since I may never have my act together far enough in advance to reserve a spot in the future. The whole place – park and town of Baraboo included – seemed like a resort town that hadn’t opened for the season. Some of the bathrooms were locked and the garbage cans weren’t out yet. For us, that was just fine; we got a chance to check out the park before it got too crowded. On Thursday, there were less than a dozen people at the beach. On Sunday, there were so many people, the five northern shore parking lots were full and visitors were being directed to the south shore.

The beach on Thursday


The beach on Sunday

3) Proximity to Baraboo The town is just 5 minutes from the park, so easy to run into for anything. We ate breakfast there one day at Fat Man’s Food and Spirits (138 3rd St.), a limited-menu place with super-friendly service and had a big, juicy burger at Monk’s Bar & Grill, a lively sports bar on the square.

4) Circus World Museum Located on the banks of the Baraboo River, the Circus World Museum opened in 1959 on the site of the Ringling Brothers Circus winter home. The museum is spread out over several buildings, where adults can get caught up on the history of the numerous circus families, acts and accoutrements. The younger ones will get a kick out of the small-scale circus acts that perform in the Hippodrome, where the Kids World Interactive Circus gives them a chance to act out their own circus performance.

Antique circus posters

Circus wagons

Eggregious circus museum apostrophe error

Have you been to Circus World Museum? What did you think of it?

This entry was posted in Camping, Circus World Museum, Devil's Lake State Park, Gear, Outdoors, State Park, Travel, Uncategorized, Weather and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Rookie mistakes at Devil’s Lake

  1. Skip says:

    Sounds like quite an adventure! I love the “Whitecaps on Devils Lake” video, and Charlie enjoying the puddle. We took our kids and nieces to the Baraboo Circus Museum a few years ago; it is perfect for ages 3-12 (for the entertainment/fun), and for ages 30+ (for the historical perspective).

  2. mjeanh says:

    Loved your article, had me laughing! Yes, camping is always an adventure no matter what. Been doing it since my parents started me on it as a baby. I often go to DLSP just for the hiking itself from Mil for a day trip. Love the hiking there. Although I do have to admit that I make sure to check the weather first! LOL.

  3. Dan says:

    You know you’re camping when you’re jacking up a car out of the fire pit. Great article/site!

  4. Amanda says:

    We learned the cooler lesson the hard way at Devil’s Lake, too. Those little guys got a treat! Glad the fun times outweighed the challenges…

  5. Jill says:

    Beautiful pictures. Loved the great practical advice-especially how to get the car out of the firepit. It reminded me of those handbooks of “what to do if you get locked in the trunk of the car…”. Perhaps you could teach us how to survive more WI specific predicaments:)

  6. Edwardo Enmon says:

    Fire pits are very nice addition to anyones home. I always decorate my fire pits with some specialized wallpaper for a much better look. *:`’.

    Warm regards
    http://www.prettygoddess.com

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