Sunday, March 29, 2015

PARK REVIEW: Yellowstone Lake State Park

This is a park review from memory, based on two separate trips in 2008 and 2009. Due to the fact a number of friends were (and many are still) living in Madison WI, I was looking for a park down in their neck of the woods. After a previous foray to Blue Mound State Park, closer to Madison I wanted to find something a little more distant from the city and definitely less raccoon infested. I'll talk more about Blue Mound, and the other park in the same hwy 12/18 corridor, Governor Dodge, in future reviews. I was drawn to Yellowstone in part due to it's name. Though it lacks the grandeur of the more well known Yellowstone, the name definitely stuck out and caught my eye.

Far smaller than the similarly named national park, Yellowstone Lake State Park encompasses a small lake with rentable motorized and non-motorized boats and recreational equipment. It appears to be a manmade or atleast man-regulated body of water, draining into the Yellowstone river. The camping area is located high upon a hill dotted with trees. It offers the same standard car camping experience you will find at most any Wisconsin State Park, room enough for a car or two, a couple of tents or screen shelters, a metal fire ring for your campfire, modern bathroom facilities and a playground for the kids. Due to it's hilltop perch, you do have to deal with some sloping sites, some less gentle than others, but with a little scouting and good placement, you can avoid the most severe slopes. Though the trees fight you for some access to the sky, it is a good place to get a look at the night sky, due to its remote location in the far southwest of Wisconsin, you are free from much of the light pollution you might run into elsewhere. I certainly saw some rather stunning skies. The boys from the next site over and I took some time away from our massive campfire the second night to observe the sky. After my eyes adjusted it was quite a stunning view between the trees.

If you're like me, and hate to buy firewood from a vendor, Yellowstone Lake is a good site for this segment of Wisconsin. It's more forested than some of the other campgrounds in the area like Governor Dodge and Blue Mound, allowing you the chance to scavenge for fallen dead wood to burn. You may have to scavenge away from your campsite though, the woods immediately around the camping area were pretty well picked over when I was there last. Firewood is also available from a local vendor, though on the first trip in 2008 we encountered some former scouts who had purchased their wood and it proved nigh impossible to ignite. After failing to get their own wood to burn, they came over to where Bob and I were encamped asking to trade firewood as we already had a blaze going. We invited them to just come and join us, make use of our already ignited fire. They said they'd give it another shot, but were soon back, sharing our fire. We attempted to burn the reluctant wood in our own blaze, but it was the most recalcitrant firewood I've ever seen, we had to heap good wood around it to FORCE it to burn. not coax, not induce, Force.

Despite two visits, I've never actually swam in the lake. Both trips were on rather mild weekends, the 2008 trip was warm enough that we COULD have swam, but it was busy enough that I wasn't inclined to. The 2009 trip was a rather chilly camping experience with a good deal of time spent in proximity to the fire. I had no desire to take a dip when 60F was about as warm as it managed to get.The lake didn't really look the cleanest either, kindof soupy, though not nearly so bad as something like Lake Winnebago in the summer.If I were to go in the lake, I'd probably prefer to boat than swim.

Yellowstone Lake does have some local trails which we spent a little time on in 2009 but the cold really did make us fairly sedentary, preferring the warmth of our fire. I'd love to go back and do more exploration down those trails though. In addition to the abundance of firewood the park provided, it also had another bonus in the form of blackberries and black raspberries. If you visit while those are in season, you will find a number of them growing right in and around many of the sites, as well as the road up to the sites. I remember bob filling his hat halfway with them, and having black raspberry pancakes for breakfast.

It's a good campground for basecamp-centric car camping. The lake is one of the few that I've camped by which allows motorized watercraft and the only one I can think of that rents them. Would I recommend the park? Very much so. It's my favorite park in that section of the state. Stands far above its neighbors in the corridor (the exits from 12/18 to reach Blue Mound, Yellowstone Lake and Governor Dodge are very proximate. Yellowstone is just one exit down from Blue Mound, save for the fact that you head north for Blue Mound and south for a greater distance to reach Yellowstone.)

The Lake itsself. You can see that it's not exactly crystal clear. Taken at the south-east shore:

As you can see, it's located in a part of WI that wasn't rolled flat by glaciers:

One of many Turkey Vultures we would see:

Manually Operated Water Fountain:

Cooking Barbequed Pork Loin:

Lakeside Ice Cream Store:

Photo Courtesy of Lindsey Biese:

Photo Courtesy of Tina Harpold. This was one of the outer ring of campsites at the back:

Photo Courtesy of Tina Harpold. Playing some Bocce Ball by the playground:

More Bocce, catching me mid-shot (Courtesy of Tina Harpold):

To learn more about Yellowstone Lake State Park, or book some time there, visit their WI DNR Webpage.

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