Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pass effigy mounds, pretty lake on Wis. trail

Lake Wissota at sunset. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR.
Map of Lake Trail, courtesy of Wisconsin DNR.

Swimming beach
awaits at end of hike

Day hikers can walk alongside ancient effigy mounds on a bluff overlooking a scenic blue lake at Lake Wissota State Park in Wisconsin.

The Lake Trail runs 1.4 miles (2.8-miles round trip) with connectors running to other pathways. In all, 18 miles of hiking trails cross-cross the park’s 1000-plus acres of forests and prairieland.

To reach the state park and trailhead, from Chippewa Falls head north on Wis. Hwy. 178. Turn right/east onto County Road S. Immediately after the Chippewa River bridge, go right/east on County Road O. The park entrance is about two miles on the right. Park at the northernmost lot on park road.

Man-made lake
At the lot’s southwest corner, head to an overlook of Lake Wissota. The Chippewa River and several other waterways that merge in the general area feed the lake, which was formed in 1917 when a hydroelectric dam flooded the valley floor. The dam was built by the Wisconsin-Minnesota Light and Power Company, and an engineer on the project named the lake by combining part of “Wisconsin” (Wis) and of “Minnesota” (sota). The dam still is in operation and is owned by Xcel Energy.

Today, the lake covers 6,024-acres and reaches a maximum depth of 72 feet. Walleyes and smallmouth bass dominate the lake, but fishermen also land largemouth bass, muskie, pike, panfish and even catfish.

From the overlook, follow the trail southeast as it parallels Lake Wissota. About 0.3 miles in, a connector leads back to the park road and the Red Pine Trail, so be careful to not make an accidental turn.

As the trail continues southward, it passes two long panther effigy mounds. These Native American ceremonial centers likely were used for centuries. The panther mound represents their builders’ beliefs about the cosmos and society being divided into two parts – the upper world (sky) and the lower realm (Earth/water). Look for the sign pointing out the mounds.

A little more than halfway to the trail’s endpoint, the family campground appears on the left/northeast. Basswood, maples, oaks, and white pines cover the campground. A stairway heads down the bluff from the campground and trail to the lakeshore below.

Local wildlife
The next trail intersection is the official Red Pine Trail, which heads left/north into an evergreen forest and tree plantation. Also called Norway pine, it’s a common tree in Wisconsin, and tends to grow in drier areas while being a favorite for tree plantations.

Within a few steps is another intersection with the connector heading left/west to the park road and the Jack Pine and the Fox trails.

Speaking of fox, common animals you’ll see in the park - and you’ll likely spot signs of some of them on the Lake Trail – include badger, beaver, fox, mink, otter, porcupine, weasel, and whitetail deer.

The Lake Trail ends at swimming beach with a beach house. A fishing pier is just beyond the beach.

After taking a swim to cool off, retrace your steps back up the trail to your parking lot.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.