Saturday, October 15, 2016

Perrot State Park, WI

Fall camping season is here! Yes! Yes! Yes! And this is a state park you HAVE to go to, right now. It's a fall wonderland and the trees are exploding in color.

So I’m on a quest, an everlasting quest to visit every single one of the state parks, forests, natural and recreation areas in Wisconsin. The best thing about the best state in the Midwest is just the diversity of lands you can explore. This year alone I’ve crossed-off a good amount of new parks and properties I’ve never been to before like Buckhorn State Park, Havenwoods State Forest, Mirror Lake State Park and now a gem on the western side of the state- Perrot State Park. And let me tell you, this place is just enchantingly cool. 

I first learned about this state park earlier on in the year when I was scrolling through my Instagram, probably right before bed haha, looking for travel inspiration for upcoming trips. Then boom, this photo popped up on TravelWisconsin's feed. I was impressed and immediately thought, "That's in Wisconsin?!". Needless to say our state's Department of Tourism is rocking the social media waves. I was hooked, captivated by that iPhone screen-sized image. I had to go check out Perrot. So I did.

Perrot State Park sits on the way far west side of the state, right along the Wisconsin/Minnesota border in the town of Trempeaelau. Established in 1918, this 1,270~ acre park is a perfect example showcasing the state's incredibly beautiful driftless area. High bluffs and deep valleys with rivers carving through them, the Mississippi and Trempeaelau Rivers converge right below the feet of 520ft Brady's Bluff and Trempealeau Mountain. In fact, the campground has a row of sites the face the water. Let me tell you, that morning view outside your tent is the best. 

I arrived at Perrot, late on Wednesday night and drove through the 102-site campground (38 are electric). My wagon's headlamps only illuminated maybe 30ft in front of my car so I just had to guess where a good site along the water would to set up tent for the next two nights. I found site 41, a non-electric site and made sure my Eureka Taron2 faced what I had hoped was the Trempealeau Bay. Eagerly anticipating  waking up and peaking outside my tent to see the result the following morning. Turns out I was in luck, and I sat there gazing out my vestibule's door out onto the quiet bay and distant tree-covered tall bluffs across the water. Pretty cool to see the state of Minnesota from my campsite. A mug of hot morning tea paired perfectly with the admiration of that view. I rode my bike to the park's office, registered and hit the trails.

As you're driving through the park- don't miss Horeshoe Falls, it's one of the few protected state natural areas inside Perrot. It's worth the short hike up to its base. Perrot has so many miles of good, challenging hiking trails that reward you with 500ft tall views from the rocky bluffs and mazes of paths through thick forests. Two trails you've got to get your hiking boots dirty on include the easy, 'Riverview Trail' which spans about a mile down the Upper Mississippi River Valley (do this as a warm-up from the campground) and then trek your way up 450ft 'Reed's Peak' and follow the ridge line to 'Perrot Ridge' which will place you at 507ft. The views looking west and south are phenomenal.

Since I now work in the outdoor recreation, I'm constantly finding ways to learn more and more about this new career field and what it encompasses. My undergraduate degree is a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from a Jesuit university in the bustling metropolis of Chicago. Clearly I'm not making use of my major but I'm 100% fine with that. Passion is more important. Do I want to go to graduate school? Yes, absolutely at some point to Master in a study that pertains more to my current professional life. But for right now, I'll continue reading as much as I can, watching documentaries, networking with other outdoor rec professionals and learning hands-on, on-the-job. I'm a huge fan, advocate and geek when it comes to State Nature Trails. They're such a fun way to learn more about your natural surroundings you're currently exploring. Perrot State Park has a wonderful interpretive trail, the 1/2 mile 'Black Walnut Nature Trail' has twenty stations that you match-up an informative pamphlet with. As you walk along (I did it in about 40 minutes), you'll both read about and see first-hand everything from the park's many types of trees, limestone rock formations, ground floor plants and some of the animals. Anyone that really knows me, knows that I love trees. No shame. I love them. And this 'Black Walnut Nature Trail' was like a dream for me. Hackberry (crazy bark!), Shagbark Hickory...and then a MASSIVE Black Walnut tree! I stopped dead in my tracks, looked up and smiled like a little kid. It stood probably at least 60ft tall, dark bark and was ten feet in circumference! Yes, I did give it a big hug. I mean, how could you not? Such a cool tree. Side note- did you know the Bur Oak is Wisconsin's most fire-resistant tree, can grow up to 100ft tall and has an extensive network of roots below ground? Learned that on Perrot's nature trail. 

Another trail worth checking out is the Bay Trail, located near the campground. Part of the trail opens up to a vivid overlook of Trempealeau Mountain and the marshy bay below it. The views seem to go on, and on and on far west spanning over this driftless wonderland. This part of the state may be one of my new favorite places. This terrain is just fascinating and super intriguing. I'm so, so, so glad I was able to cross-off Perrot  on my must-see state parks list...and I cannot wait to go back. Plus, I for sure need to bring a kayak next time and try out interpretative paddle trail.

It's parks like Perrot, that prove Wisconsin has probably the best state park system in the country.