Recreation activities at Devil’s Lake State Park don’t stop when temperatures fall and snow coats the trails; instead, offerings shift.
Park Superintendent Steve Schmelzer encourages people to visit Devil’s Lake during the winter season.
“It’s a great time, which is obviously not as busy as during the summertime,” Schmelzer said. “You can have some — some really nice winter weather and get out in nature when … there’s not as many people around. It’s nice.”
Winter activities include hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice fishing and — for the hardy — camping. Some visitors also like to dog sled, build igloos and geocache, according to the Department of Natural Resources website.
Schmelzer said there have been people at the park every day so far this season, with most choosing to hike.
Ice fishing on the lake is “quite popular,” he said. Anglers can catch trout, which park employees stock, or northern pike, which reproduce naturally there. The lake hasn’t yet frozen over, but visitors can expect it to freeze for about three months each winter, according to the DNR website.
While bluff trails around the lake aren’t maintained for winter use, they are open.
“It’s kind of at your own risk,” Schmelzer said of hiking on the bluffs. “We don’t usually recommend people go on those when there’s snow and ice on them, because they can be slippery.”
Other trails, such as the Steinke Basin Loop off of Sauk County Highway DL and the Ice Age Trail off of Highway 113, are open for snowshoeing, fat-tire biking, hiking or skiing. Schmelzer said those aren’t groomed but do get packed down when there’s enough snow. Skiers and snowshoers can go anywhere in the park.
Snowshoeing needs at least 6-8 inches of snow, Schmelzer said, so there’s still not enough on the ground. But once there is, Friends of Devil’s Lake State Park volunteers will offer free snowshoes for visitors to check out from the Nature Center north of the lake. He strongly encouraged people to call ahead of their visit to ensure the center will be open and snowshoes available, because hours vary in December, though workers try to keep it open on weekends.
The park doesn’t offer any other equipment, so Schmelzer recommends visitors bring the appropriate gear or clothing for winter activities, as well as a cellphone. Park admission stickers can be bought from the park office, which is open every day, usually from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or an electronic kiosk. Stickers for 2019 went on sale Monday, he said.
The Quartzite Campground is open all winter and has plowed sites, so campers can set up a tent or RV. Schmelzer said there are campers almost every weekend.
The park is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.