Much of Wisconsin is covered in thick beautiful forest, with areas of rolling hills, ancient weathered mountain ranges and monadnocks in various locations. A monadnock is an isolated ridge or hill and is all that remains of an ancient mountain. Though many of these Wisconsin monadnocks are now covered with trees, some still have significant rock formations at or near the summits. Several Wisconsin monadnocks that are on public lands have hiking trails, with a few even having an observation tower or deck – something essential for a view above the thick forest.
Castle Mound, located in Jackson County at the south edge of the town of Black River Falls, is one of the better Wisconsin monadnocks for hiking and scrambling. The summit is the centerpiece of the Castle Mound Recreation Area of the Black River State Forest and owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. In 1952 the area was designated a state natural area. According to Lists of John, the summit has 240 feet of prominence.
Cambrian sandstone makes up the core of Castle Mound, with cliffs up to 30 feet high. The north-facing slope of the ridge is well covered with oaks, pines, aspen, maples and birch trees, while the drier southern-facing slope is characterized with oaks and jack pines. Numerous sandstone boulders are found throughout the forest. Many bird species are found here and deer are found in abundance. A nature trail and an overlook trail allow for full access of the summit and area around it. An overlook platform is located near the center of Castle Mound at the highpoint. The Giant’s Castle rock formation is located at the east end of the ridge and is perhaps the most visible rock feature of the mound. Some contend that this is the true highpoint of the ridge. Another interesting feature of the east end is Goat’s Cave, and is near the Giant’s Castle.
Castle Mound is on the southern edge of the town of Black River Falls. Most hikers access the trails from the Castle Mound Campground, which is located along Highway 12 on the western edge of Castle Mound.
The Castle Mound Nature Trail and the Overlook Trail are the usual routes for exploring the monadnock. Some hikers also use the overlook spur trail from the Perry Creek Mountain Bike Trail along the southern edge of Castle Mound. The map on this page shows the available routes. The overlook trail is about .5 mile long, while the nature trail loop is about 1.5 miles.
Mountain Project lists 59 bouldering options for Castle Mound. Most of these are located in the central area near the summit observation lookout. However, there are some near each end of the ridge, particularly those near to the Giant’s Castle rock formation on the east end. To view the Mountain Project sites on Castle Mound, click on the link below:
Like their policy for most of the State Natural Areas, the Wisconsin DNR’s position is that it does not allow “roped climbing” at Castle Mound. Rock climbers visiting Castle Mound recognize the wall directly below Giant’s Castle would be a great challenge, along with several other walls on the central area of the ridge top. However, until the Wisconsin DNR changes their policy, scrambling and bouldering are the only acceptable options.
The Giant’s Castle area may well be the most popular part of the ridge for scrambling. That area has no official trails to the ridge top, but access is possible through numerous little “trails” running up the slopes from the official nature loop trail below. The views from the top of the Giant’s Castle rock formation are as good as any you will find on this ridge. That, coupled with the fact that Giant’s Castle is the only rock formation easily visible from the surrounding area, explains why it is a popular challenge for locals.
The Black River State Forest has regulations governing hiking at Castle Mound, as well as using the campground.
Those regulations can be accessed at this link:
A state park pass or daily permit is required to park at the campground parking lot.
Hiking is permissible year around, but caution is urged during deer rifle hunting season, which runs from about Thanksgiving to New Year day. If you must hike then, please wear plenty of bright orange. For weather concerns, check out this link:
The Black River State Forest has three campgrounds in the area.
For up-to-date information on these campgrounds, click on the link below:
Cabins are also available in the area: Click on the links below for details:
Castle Mound is located in the Black River Falls Quad on USGS Maps.