6. Mirror Lake State Park

The warm weather and rain came. The snow that had been so nice for the visit to Governor Dodge State Park vanished. But, then there was another snow storm: 10 to 12 inches of snow in south central Wisconsin. Fairly good snowshoeing at Mirror Lake State Park, about an hour northwest of Madison, on February 16.

More snow would have been a bit better. The trails open for snowshoeing were fine. Using snowshoes did seem easier than just hiking on the trails, even though the trails were pretty firm. I met four snowshoers on the trails, which felt like a fairly busy day on the trails. I also met a couple of hikers who are also planning to visit all of the Wisconsin State Parks, but not in one year. They have never tried snowshoeing, largely because in this part of the state we rarely get more than a day or two each winter when you can use snowshoes.

This is an unusual winter. Even though the snow comes and goes, there have been quite a few days with enough snow on the trails to merit using the snowshoes. In the Madison area, we had 30 inches of snow in 30 days! Of course, there were warm days in that 30-day period, so the amount of snow on the ground when I got to Mirror Lake was basically what was deposited in the last storm — about 10 inches or so.

First snowshoe tracks
My very modest effort at trail breaking

Snowshoeing on trails, where someone else has broken the trail, is still pretty good exercise. If nothing else, you’ve got a bit more weight on your feet. But breaking trail is more work. So, I decided to wander off trail and do a little trail breaking. It was indeed more work than staying on the trails. But, there wasn’t enough snow to make it real hard.

I could have chosen more difficult terrain, like up or down some hills, but I just didn’t seem all that motivated. A couple hours of snowshoeing, whether it’s on trails or some fairly easy trail breaking, is about the right amount for me.

Mirror Lake seems to be a popular cross country skiing park. The parking lot at the office was overflowing. There are about 18 miles of trail groomed for skiing, compared to about three miles open to snowshoeing and hiking. Seems reasonable, given the number of skiers I saw. Mirror Lake is a mid-sized park at 2,192 acres. It’s fairly close to Wisconsin Dells, which might make it quite busy in the summer.

It’s just off the interstate, which makes it easy to get to. The trade off, though, is that there’s a bit of traffic noise in the background. Mirror Lake, like many Wisconsin State Parks, isn’t a wilderness park. It does provide nice recreational opportunities, easily accessible to lot of people.

The lake is, of course, the big draw in the summer, although the trail system looks pretty nice. The park has a large campground, and some sites were open for winter camping. There was one tent set up. I, however, was more than happy to get back in the car and drive home. Not so interested in camping in a tent in the snow!