Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area

July 5, 2016


Parfrey's Glen is Wisconsin's first State Natural Area. It is within Devil's Lake State Park in Sauk County, although I entered from CH DL which heads westward off Hwy 78 near Caledonia. The DNR describes it as "a spectacular gorge deeply incised into the sandstone conglomerate of the south flank of the Baraboo Hills. The exposed Cambrian strata provide excellent opportunities for geological interpretation. The walls of the glen - a Scottish word for a narrow, rocky ravine - are sandstone with embedded pebbles and boulders of quartzite. The moss-covered walls are moist from seepage, cool and shaded. As a result, they support a flora more typical of northern Wisconsin."

My recommendation is to take Hwy 78 N out of Merrimac, watch for CH DL on the left, and turn left onto it. Cross over Bluff Road, you'll see an old gas station and red barn on your right, the gas station resembling a museum of some sort, and then just a bit beyond that, on your right, is the parking lot for Parfrey's Glen. Pay attention — it would be easy to drive by.


There is a trail that leads north into the natural area. That's the good news. The bad news is nasty floods of 2008 and 2010 destroyed the boardwalk and bridges that once provided access to scenic cliffs and waterfalls in the heart of the Glen. They have not been repaired, which is sad, but understandable given budget constraints and the potential for further floods. You will see it is tight quarters in there to take on such a job. As a result, I had to stop where the trail stopped as the only way in from there is to walk along in a rocky creek bed and then ford a shallow stream in one place. I already got a "hot foot" at one small crossing and walked about a 0.5 miles on the trail, I did not know how much father I would have to go, and I just was not up to it, being 71 and all and not in fighting shape. Nonetheless, what I saw was terrific and I enjoyed it.

If it's wilderness, quiet, and abundance of foliage, and lots of green green, you've come to the right place. I'll show you what I saw on the half-mile trail segment I followed.


That is Parfrey's Glen Creek. Now this does not look like anything very overwhelming. But it is a fast stream that drains the narrow gorge and regularly overflows its banks. It has caused turbulent floods in the past and moved enormous boulders, uprooted trees, and destroyed several paths into the Glen.


The creek originates within the Glen. The yellow arrows point to the flow of the creek. It goes southward below CH DL for a while. My guess is I made it about halfway up the stream on the trail.


I spotted this gem early on, and have no idea what it is. There were many of them along the trail.


And another. I can only assume it will open at the top into some sort of flower. Please let me know if you can identify what it is.



I will tell you it is 1:37 pm on a sunny day in the Glen and it gets dark! Not pitch black, of course, but dark. And it gets cooler than when you are in the parking lot. That is how dense the foliage is.

Now, this was a "man-up" moment for me. There was a group of ladies behind me, and I had to cross the stream and of course not get my feet wet! If you have footwear good for hiking that will not be bothered by the water, I recommend that.


Okay sports fans, here's where I had to show my mettle. Look's easy, eh? Easy for you say. The trick is to be able to sustain good balance as you step across the rocks, most of them rounded and smooth, some wet, a lot of them small. Remember the ladies are behind me. So across I went and I almost made it. I was extra cautious because I was carrying my camera and did not want to fall and immerse my camera in the shallow water. The net result was — yes, I decided it safe to step one foot into the water, maintain my balance and jump to the other side. So I got a "hot foot!" I was embarrassed, but none of the ladies was laughing. One had rubber shoes on so she said she was simply going to walk across. The others didn't care whether they got "hot feet" or not, so we all laughed together!


These next several shots were taken where the trail ends. On one of them you can envision what the road ahead might look like if you proceed.


You get to see some of the cliffs gouged out by that little creek!


I am now approaching the end of the trail, just around the corner!


I shot this from the end of the trail looking upstream.


I zoomed in a bit after taking the previous shot to give you a glimpse of that the road ahead looks like.


So this is as far as I went. I wish I were younger! I think had I started in the early morning and been with someone, I would have made the trek.

There is a nice
You Tube presentation taken in 2007 before the big floods. You will see the boardwalk and go right to the falls. There is anther You Tube presentation done in 2011 that shows the damage done by the floods and explains the issues.