Within a couple of minutes of the grand hiking and climbing mecca of Wisconsin’s Devil’s Lake State Park is a small and beautiful canyon called Parfrey’s Glen. It is a small hike that may take you 30 minutes or less, but is well worth a visit if you are exploring the area. It gives a small engaging taste of canyon country in the midst of America’s geologically challenged Midwest. I can personally attest to the delight of experiencing this little slice of canyon land in the midst of dairyland. Summer or winter, it is a beautiful little route.
Devil’s Lake is one of the rare Midwestern climbing destinations. The quartzite rock formations offer plenty of routes as well as superb bluff hiking. The beautiful lake is 4 hours northwest of my hometown of Chicago, just north of Madison, Wisconsin. Parfrey’s Glen Natural Area is about 4 miles east from Devil’s Lake, along route DL, 2 miles east of Route 113. It is well signed on the North side of the road, but hard to see until you are right on top of it.
From the parking lot, head North along the trail through the woods, intersecting and following a small stream. The trail is 1.6 miles round trip.
Soon the unlikely canyon comes into view.
As you get closer, you will have to forego trails and bridges. Frequent destructive floods in the glen the last 30 years have caused the state to forego rebuilding the boardwalks, bridges and stairs that used to mar the canyon itself. A small sign at the start of the gorge announces the end of the trail - now if you want to visit the gorge, you will have to pick your way upstream. Enjoy the feel of this Wisconsin gem.
Within the small pocket of gorge you will see unusual conglomerate rock, sandstone embedded with pebbles and large chunks of quartzite.
The last section involves a little scrambling over the boulder strewn finale. More challenging than I thought it would be in winter!
Your last view once through the gorge will be the small glade and waterfall at the head of the canyon. It is an intimate and beautiful setting.
Like Devils Lake itself, the glen is extremely popular. I very much recommend going here on weekdays over weekends; Fall, Spring or Winter over Summer; or early in the morning.
Those desiring a more hardcore experience, take a section of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail from the Glen to the East Bluff of Devil’s Lake. It is possible to do most of it in a grand 13-14 mile loop on trail. It kicked my butt very nicely one winter.
Open 6AM to 8 PM daily.
In 2013 you can get a day pass for $7 if a Wisconsin resident, $10 if out of state. Annual pass stickers are $25 and $35 respectively.
No pets, food, or drink allowed on the trail.
No rock climbing the canyon walls.
Camping exists at the Devils Lake State Park (though hard to get in Summer). No camping here at the Glen, though picnics at the start of the trail are OK.