Most people don't think about going to the Wisconsin Dells in November but for us it was a serene and relaxing weekend spent away from the city. This outdoorsman even found some great hikes in the area!
Classic view of the Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
I've had some epic birthday celebrations. As an outdoorsy guy, I always try and kick off a new year with something adventurous. A November outdoorsy birthday celebration isn't exactly an easy thing to pull off but in the past I've climbed Mt Whitney, hiked the Grand Canyon, the Great Basin and the White Mountains in New Hampshire. This year I did something completely different and headed out to the Midwest for a splendid weekend spent in a rather posh condo rental in the Wisconsin Dells. I was chuckling to myself thinking that this was the first birthday in a long time where I wasn't on some mountain facing the elements. I frequently travel to Chicago and the Midwest to see my longtime girlfriend so the trip wasn't entirely random but it certainly contrasts with my batch of birthday celebrations. The Wisconsin Dells, located about 60 miles north of Madison are as much of a vacation household name in Chicago as Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are in New England. Its a big spring break destination for many college students in Chicagoland and Wisconsin. In the summer, its known as the Waterpark Capital of the World and is a destination for young families. As far as what it is known for in November... well I'm not sure. Even our mutual Midwestern friends were a little confused as to why we would want to travel to the Dells in November.
View from our condo on Lake Delton, Wisconsin
As it turns out, I actually had one of my best birthdays. Wisconsin Dells in November was almost entirely empty but in a serene way. While I haven't ever been in the peak season, we found the whole trip to be a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of our lives. November rentals were as inexpensive as they came and we were able to enjoy what would normally be a very pricey condo on the cheap. It almost felt like our own little cabin in the woods and there was nobody to bother us as we enjoyed our weekend. Even frigid November temperatures couldn't keep me from going on a few hikes and checking out the sights in the area. I was pleasantly surprised at all that was available for the more adventurous types.
Its almost like Wisconsin's own Grand Canyon
Nature walk just outside of town
The first day was spent doing some of the more well known activities of the Dells. We hit up the Tanger Outlets, downtown Wisconsin Dells and the Riverwalk. The Wisconsin River cut steep gorges and narrow canyons through this area which contrasts with the often-held view that the Midwest is as flat as a pancake. We hiked around some of the trails in the upper Dells including the famous Witches Gulch. The Dells of the Wisconsin River State Natural Area also had some short nature walks that were even better with a light dusting of snow. I've done Hibachi around my birthday the last three years and wasn't about to break that tradition; dinner was at Nauroto Hibachi which was a great time. What a great first day! We saw a lot of the area and even got some hikes in. For a place known more for waterslides and spring breakers, there was a healthy amount of outdoor adventures to be had. I hope I can bring my kayak back here someday!
The rugged Baraboo Range contrasts the often-held view that the Midwest is entirely flat
Hiking around Devil's Lake, Wisconsin
The second day we turned south and saw the Baraboo Range and Devil's Lake. As a climber, I'm familiar with Devil's Lake and its notoriety as a national climbing destination. Although we didn't do any climbing in November, it was refreshing to know that there was top-notch outdoor climbing options just 3 hours out of Chicago. We took an extremely cold walk around the lake when the windchill was somewhere in the range of 10 below zero. I am sure my ever-so-patient girlfriend was utterly delighted to be hiking in these frigid conditions while I rattled off useless factoids about the glaciation and geological history of Devil's Lake and the Driftless Area. My family says I am the future Clark Griswold from the movie Vacation... We then drove all around the Baraboo Range and caught some classic 50-mile views from some of the higher altitudes. The range scarcely breaks 1,500ft of elevation but it rises straight from the plains which makes for dramatic sights. Again, this was all great news for an outdoorsman like me. Although we didn't hike there, Natural Bridge State Park is supposed to be another good visit in the area.
Wisconsin Lake
On our final day, we cruised all around the Driftless area as we meandered our way back to Chicago. The Driftless Area is an extensive region of southwestern Wisconsin which is marked by having steep hills and narrow canyons which people often do not associate with the Midwest. Hiking and paddling opportunities abound including the 92-mile flat water paddle along the lower Wisconsin River which I will surely do someday. For those less inclined to the outdoors, the area is also where most of Wisconsin's infamous dairy and cheese comes from. The highlight of the day was,  no doubt, Blue Mounds State Park. Rising head and shoulders above all other hills and monadnocks in this part of the state, Blue Mounds has one of the best views in the entire Midwest. Two easily accessible fire towers allowed us to see for some 70 miles in every direction. It was almost like standing at the top of a Chicago skyscraper.
Blue Mounds State Park, Wisconsin
View from one of the fire towers in Blue Mounds State Park
It had been a lovely trip. All the hiking and running around probably even balanced out all the calories we ate at a few restaurants in town. Devil's Lake was my favorite sight from the whole trip with the Blue Mounds being a close second. I can't wait to come back some day with a kayak! Read. Plan. Get Out There!