When exploring public lands, usually national parks are the most incredible, followed by national monuments, national forests, state parks, other state protected areas, and then county and municipal protected areas. Usually the quality of the coolness of outdoor adventures rank depending on the importance of the bureau protecting the given area. Wisconsin enjoys a vibrant system of state natural areas. I have never been disappointed visiting a state natural area in Wisconsin and Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area was no exception.
Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area near Devil’s Lake State Park
This should come as no surprise since Parfrey’s Glen is the first designated State Natural Area and the most popular. Its popularity is most likely derived from the area’s proximity to Devil’s Lake State Park. Devil’s Lake is one of the most popular state parks in the country. It ranks up there in one of the best places for outdoor adventure in the Midwest. If Devil’s Lake State Park was not cool enough, just 15 minutes outside its boundaries lies another cool outdoor spot. Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area is a perfect little adventure to add on to your Devil’s Lake State Park trip or perhaps on the way back or to a Wisconsin River canoe adventure.
On my way to Devil’s Lake State Park, I passed the parking area for Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area and was intrigued by the number of cars in the parking area. I decided to check it out on my way to Governor Dodge State Park. The parking area is located on Highway 113 about four miles east of Devil’s Lake State Park.
Hike to Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area
The hike to the glen is about a half mile. It is paved for the first part and then gives was to gravel about halfway down. The trail is easy up to the gorge area. The trail then abruptly ends. A sign marks the spot saying that designated trail ends. It is then necessary to scramble over rocks and follow the stream through a beautiful rocky gorge. The area reminded me of Watkins Glen State Park in New York, but on a smaller scale.
Do not turn around at the end of the trail
The half mile trail to Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area is scenic. It goes through a mixture of hardwood and pine forest with a beautiful stream flowing. The same stream that carved out this area in the local geography. The highlight though is the rocky small canyon with beautiful limestone cliffs on either side of the stream. Wisconsin has received a ton of rain this year, so the limestone cliffs were tinged with green from plants growing out of every crevice.
Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area topped off with a waterfall
If the gorge was not enough, after you climb up and down some natural stairs, you eventually get to a small waterfall with a pool. The waterfall is the end of the road. You are not allowed past the waterfall. I did see people coming from past the waterfall, so some people do not heed the sign. I followed the sign and turned around at the waterfall, so I cannot comment on what is past the waterfall. The gorge and the waterfall were enough for me.
Waterfall best observed in the spring or after storms
The waterfall was small but pleasing on the eye; however, I imagine in most summers, the volume of water is probably not as impressive. As I mentioned before, Wisconsin has received way above average rainfall this summer, so the waterfall was flowing at a good rate. I would guess this is unusual most Augusts unless visiting right after a storm. Once I visited a waterfall in Kentucky on the basis of a picture I saw on Instagram. I realized later the Instagram post was taken in spring, and I arrived in the fall. The waterfall consisted of a slow drip down a cliff.
I do not want to disappoint anyone who might read this post in subsequent years. If you come later in the year, the waterfall might not look like the picture above. It will still be worth the hike though due to the lovely gorge.
Crowded but not too bad
I hiked the glen trail on a Friday afternoon in August. The lot was full, and I had to park on the road. I ran into several groups on the way to the waterfall and the way back. Despite the crowds, I had the waterfall to myself for about ten minutes. If you visit on a summer Saturday or Sunday, you may not get that experience or you might have to wait. Do not come with your dog. Pets are not allowed on the trail.
Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area a perfect add on for other adventures
You will not want to spend a whole morning or afternoon at Parfrey’s Glen. An hour or two will suffice. Due to the short nature of the trail, it is a perfect add on for other adventures in the area like Devil’s Lake, Governor Dodge, anywhere in the Driftless Area, or the Wisconsin River. In order to hike Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area, you will need a Wisconsin State Park sticker or pay for the entrance fee for the day.
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