Goodbye Madison, Hello Colorado

Big news: we’re moving to Colorado! K accepted a position at the University of Colorado starting in August.

On one hand I’m excited - hiking, backpacking, mountains right out the door. On the other - I love Madison, our friends and my job. It wasn’t an easy decision and it’ll be bittersweet (as moving always is) but we’ve made it, so what’s next?

I’ve always been interested in doing a longer thru hike but I never really had a plan for how that’d work. I can’t remember how I came across the book “Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams” by Chris Townsend but when I was laid up with a broken ankle last year I devoured it. It got me on a kick to try to make a thru hike of some sort a reality.

With the move we have a short window of time, about 5 weeks, to try to do something longer. We don't have the time to do the Pacific Northwest Trail as Chris Townsend did, but we do have the time to try the first part of the Great Divide Trail in Canada: it goes from the US border to Jasper.

What’s drawing us to this trail is that it’s in a similar region to the PNT (at least for the start) and the remoteness. I love not seeing people for days and having to use maps to navigate. The GDT all but promises these experiences. So here we go!

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Ice Age Trail - Devil's Lake Loop

I was feeling a little stir crazy and with an amazing weather day for November I decided to do my favorite section of the Ice Age Trail through the Baraboo Bluffs.

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There are a number of ways to make this a shorter loop within the park, but if you want to do the whole section of the IAT here’s how I did it.

You could walk the entire 15.5 miles starting (or ending) with a 2 mile road walk but what I chose to do was a bike shuttle. I parked at the Rozno’s Meadows Trailhead on HWY 113 and then biked the 2 miles to the Parfrey’s Glen Trailhead. It’s a mostly flat ride and the road is in good condition for the short bike (or walk if you choose).

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Once you get to Parfrey’s Glen there is good signage on what trail is the Sauk Point Trail (the Ice Age Trail) and what is the trail up the glen, a fun side trip or a trip for another day. This section of the trail is uphill and mostly wooded. Near the top the trail opens up with views of Lake Wisconsin to the south.

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Crossing 113 after 4.5 miles from Parfrey’s Glen you’ll now be in the main portion of Devil’s Lake State Park and there are many options to shorten or take different trails. To stay on the official IAT trail route bear right (NW) onto the Uplands Trail Loop. A little less than a mile later bear to the right again (N) onto the Johnson Moraine Loop.

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After 1.4 miles this trail enters a campground where it can be confusing to follow the trail itself. I always have issues figuring out if I’m supposed to be on a trail or a road here, but both lead to the same place and the trail becomes more clear near the amphitheater. From here it heads down to the north shore of the lake (and concessions!).

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Head through the picnic area and onto the West Bluff Trail. This trail will give you the best views of the lake as you head up and along the ridge. There are lots of great areas for stopping for views or enjoying some lunch. Head down the the bluff and down to the southwest shore of the lake. At the boat launch there are bathrooms.

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From here to the south shore the walk is along a sidewalk at lake level. The south shore has concessions and many picnic areas for stopping at. Not a bad idea to take a little break here as the trail steeply ascends the east bluff next. Once on top of the bluff you’ll walk along the ridge getting view of Devil’s Lake at first and then southeast towards Lake Wisconsin.

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The trail starts to descend back into the forest and finally into Rozno’s meadows for the last 1.5 miles back to the trailhead where you started.

If you go:

Ice Age Trail - Table Bluff Segment

We are lucky enough to have one of the National Scenic Trails running through Wisconsin. It’ll never be confused with some of its larger and more popular cousins, but its proximity to Madison gives us some good opportunities to get out on the trail.

A new section for me is the Table Bluff section of trail near Cross Plains, WI (and also where the headquarters of the IAT is located). Running 2.3 miles total it makes for a nice 4.6 mile out and back. Being in the driftless area of Wisconsin it’s more hilly than a few miles farther east and although it’s not very far from Madison itself it feels more secluded than you’d think.

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Starting from the south end you face a 200ft climb right to the top of an oak savanna. There is a nice picnic area at the top and views of the surrounding farmland. As you continue on the trail it weaves through forest, prairie and some farmland.

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The trail ends at Table Bluff Rd near Dreamfarm which specializes in local cheeses, eggs and veg (although they don’t have a farm stand). If you’re lucky enough you’ll see the goats and chickens galavanting in the fields.

At this point you can turn around and head back to the car along the same trail you came on.

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Floating on the Wisconsin River

Back at it with my uncle. This time a quick one night trip canoe camping on the Wisconsin River (gotta play with that new canoe!)

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We put in early afternoon at the public launch off of Highway A on Indian Trails Parkway, about 5 miles south of the Wisconsin Dells. Our take out point was about 10 miles downriver off of Levee Rd. About half of the distance twists and turns through the Pine Island State Wildlife Area.

Fairly low key trip, saw a few eagles, hawks, herons and only a few people. As always, great to get out of the city for a day. Plus, I got to test out my new Vargo woodstove. It’s fairly fiddly but I think with some practice it’ll be a cool little stove.

 
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Blue Mounds Bike Camping

One of the nice things about living in Madison is bike camping. Our house is 2 blocks off the Capital City Trail which leads out of town in multiple directions, many of which have bike-up camp sites starting 20-30 miles out of town. It’s especially nice when on Friday you see a good weather window and you can decide on the spot to head out for a night.


We chose to go west on the Military Ridge Trail and camp at Blue Mounds State Park, which is just over 30 miles from us. You could certainly choose to glamp it up on the way out (as we did) and stop at many places. We grabbed dinner at the Grumpy Troll Brewery and Pub, about 6 miles before the campground. Nothing like a good pizza and a couple beers after biking.

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On the way home we stopped at the Tuvalu Coffee House, a little more than halfway home, for coffee and some baked goods. Made it back in the afternoon with plenty of time to chill and enjoy the rest of the afternoon sun on the porch. My kind of weekend.

If you go:

Garage Sale Canoe

“When are you getting back? I bought a canoe at a garage sale and need your help getting it home.”

She really knows how to make my day/week, maybe even month. It’s old and fairly heavy but the price was right. On the way home we had to take it out for an inaugural sunset paddle along the Yahara. I love this city.

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Broken Ankle

On the last play of an indoor soccer game….

I made it 32 years without breaking a bone, looks like the streak is over. Fairly minor break (ankle avulsion) but I’m done cross country skiing for the season. :(

Bonus: I get to wear these cool pants for the foreseeable future.

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Gibraltar Rock

If you want a nice view without much work or you just need to get out of town Gibraltar Rock is a great trail, just 30 minutes north of Madison. It’s also part of the Ice Age Trail!

The trail through the natural area is about 2 miles total with the main attraction, the view from the top of the rock, being roughly in the middle. We started from the northern end of the trail and did an out and back to the car. This side is steeper and often icy in the winter since the trail is all on the north slope to the rock.

A mostly clear day yielded some nice views and we had the trail to ourselves.

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Devil's Lake Loop

Growing up in Baraboo I’ve been to Devil’s Lake a lot. It’s a gem of southern Wisconsin. One of my favorite hikes is scaling both east and west bluffs and doing a loop of the lake. It’s about 6 miles, depending on which trails you take, and covers some of the more popular trails in the park. For Wisconsin the elevation gain of ~1,000ft is cool too… if you’re into that kind of thing.

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We started at the south shore parking lot and headed up the Balanced Rock Trail. This one will get your heart pumping. At the top we headed down the East Bluff Trail and along the north shore beach area. Pro Tip: If the concession stand is open you can break the hike up with snacks (or beer!).

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From here we headed up the West Bluff Trail to the highest point of the hike and then down along the lake back to the south shore. There is also a concession stand here, but, Pro Tip #2: save the money and go get your cooler out of the car and enjoy a beer/picnic on the lake, you earned it.

If you go: