Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Complete Low-Down on Backpacking Buckhorn State Park

No filter needed. Backpacking site #23 at Buckhorn State Park, Wisconsin
In my quest to get as many people outside as possible to explore both the amazing state parks we have here in Wisconsin and the vast network of National Parks from coast to coast, I get asked a lot of questions! This happens on almost a daily basis, and the conversations are usually pretty helpful and loaded with excellent information and suggestions I look to offer, so I figured, why not start posting the Q&As in a blog format? I love helping people with this kind of stuff. Here's one from a friend and former coworker I received yesterday:

"Hey! My boyfriend and I are looking for a spot to do a quick camping trip this weekend, preferably somewhere where we can backpack to the site (even if it’s short) as we’re doing a trial run for going up to Pictured Rocks to backpack later in May. What were your thoughts on Buckhorn State Park? It looked cool from your photos and according to their website, they have some spots you can backpack to (it appears those are first come first serve though?).Any input would be hugely appreciated, or if you had any other suggestions! I know you’re writing a book on the state parks so I figured you’d be a good person to ask."

Awesome! I love Buckhorn, it's a wonderful park, the second biggest in the state, and very underrated. It's also the perfect place to get started backpacking.

Are you able to also see a map of the park? I would recommend sites 17-19. They're the farthest away, and they are right on Castle Rock lake. Backpacking sites #23 and #24 are also excellent and located kind of on their own little peninsula that juts out into the lake, rewarding you with stellar views of the sunset. This does mean though on sites like these, you are exposed, so if it's cold or windy...just keep that in mind. Some of the other backpacking sites have a wall of trees you can pitch tents in front of to block the breezes coming off the lake. For distance training? See the parking lot for "Access For Sites # 17-#19"? I would park there, hike the trail that takes you into the oak savanna, and turn left down the Partridge Loop (1.2 miles) for some extra miles. Then, when you get to an intersection off the service road, head left (east) towards the sites on the shore of the lake. That should be a good workout of about 4ish miles round-trip to get you trained for the longer UP backpacking you're set to do later on this month. Of course, you can tack-on other trails and prolongate your return hike back to the car. The Central Sands Nature Trail Loop (1.4 miles) is an awesome trail with interpretive signs and meanders past a bunch of tall black oaks.

"I’ve never done the whole “walk-up” reservation thing though. Have you ever had any issues with that?"

No not at all, the biggest thing, is that since Buckhorn is technically still in their off season (before the Memorial Day rush begins), you might have trouble if people get there and reserve the site before you do. Most parks in the off season, keep the majority of their campsites non-reservable, meaning, that it's a first-come-first-serve. If you want site #17, and someone got their and reserved it before you, you'll have to pick another site, but fear not, there are plenty this time of year open. You can still have a primitive camping experience, just modify the approach hike to the site to suit your distance wants training-wise. Worst case scenario, call the park office and ask what's available. When you arrive at Buckhorn, there's a big wooden board outside the ranger station that shows you what sites are open and which ones are occupied.

A thing to note about Buckhorn's backpacking sites, some are only a short walk from the car, while others are a few distant miles to hike to. The park provides carts, if you don't want to carry all your gear, firewood, kayak, etc. Make sure if desired, to ask a ranger for the combination for the lock on the cart.

Also, if you have access to a kayak, you have to get out on the water, and definitely hike the Barrens Nature Trail (1.5 miles), it's really fascinating and teaches you the importance of these crucially important oak and pine savannas.