Monday, May 30, 2016

Buckhorn State Park, WI

When you and your best friend both have two-days off of work during the week, you take advantage of it. We're both outdoor adrenaline seekers so we had to make this 'microadventure' great. The destination? Buckhorn State Park located in Necedah, Wisconsin... and it's a state park you have to get to.

At a grand 8,190 acres, Buckhorn is the second largest state park in Wisconsin (trailing behind Devil's Lake). Of the 118 campsites, the majority are hike-in, backpacking sites which throws a little backcountry primitiveness at you. That's my desired type of camping, hence why I love Newport State Park up in Door County and the Menominee River State Recreation Area way up near the Northern Michigan border. My friend Mark and I hit the road in his 202,000 mile, Honda CRV from Milwaukee, at around 12:30pm and headed north west. It's only about 2 hours and 40 minutes away, making it a must-go destination you have to put on your list. Centered in between the Wisconsin and Yellow Rivers on Castle Rock Lake, Buckhorn State Park is an awesome place to go kayaking or canoeing. What's even better is that our campsite, along with more than twenty other backpacking sites are located right on the water. We stayed at site 9, which had a campfire ring, picnic table and bench. Oh, and a sandy beach to launch our kayaks, just steps away from where we set up tents. Camping was $18 a night with a two-night minimum stay. But you'll be definitely begging to stay more than two nights at Buckhorn after exploring this picturesque, quiet property.

After pitching both tents, we went and hiked the 1.5 mile Central Sands Nature Trail which takes you past ten interpretive signs telling the history of this land. If you're a tree lover like myself, this is like a walk through heaven. Pines, huge batches of smaller birch and a new favorite tree I saw for the very first time- the black oak. I was awestruck by these mysterious trees that with their wrinkly, thick dark black bark can grow up to 80ft tall. Just fascinating. One of my most repeated phrases of the trip was "This is such a beautiful park." It was so, so, so quiet and serene. Tons of pure, thriving forest, calm waters and spots to watch amazing sunsets. Speaking of which, with an hour or so of daylight left, we each grabbed a cold beer, got in our kayaks and paddled out onto the Yellow River to catch the sunset. Calm, glass-like waters and silence made for perfect scene to watch the sun fall. Sitting in a kayak staring at the vibrant colors bouncing off the river sipping a cold Leinenkugel's Grapefruit Shandy (gloriously epic, by the way)...this was pure bliss. "I can't believe there are people that spend their lives not doing this," Mark said. I just shook my head in pondering thought of how pristine this moment was. Moments like this are what I live for.

Paddling back to our campsite, which we were able to find via an LED lantern left on the shore, we got a roaring fire going from a bunch of downfall and leftover wood. Enchiladas, pasta and chili were for dinner as the sounds from Fleet Foxes, Jose Gonzalez and Iron & Wine played over Mark's Bluetooth speaker. Not a bad way to end the day. Temperatures that night crept down to the low 30s and some seven hours later we were both wide awake thanks to a chorus of crazy-loud birds. Nature's alarm clock, gotta love it. Filled with camping stove eggs and oatmeal paired with cheap gas station coffee, we loaded up the kayaks and headed for the Canoe Interpretive Trail, which starts at the eastern part of the peninsula on a small feeder channel that leads into Castle Rock Lake.

Making our way slowly down the channel past cat tails, jumping Carp, Sandhill Cranes croaking and even a golden eagle, we entered out into 12, 981 acre Castle Rock Lake. At it's deepest point of 35ft, this lake is home to Northern Pike, Sturgeon, Catfish, Small- and Largemouth bass, Panfish  and Musky. It's an easy lake to kayak on our canoe as you can choose to stick close to the shallow sandy shorelines or head out to the middle of the lake. Don't worry about open-water intimidation in a little kayak, the water isn't choppy enough. We spent about three hours kayaking north, along the park's boundaries, stopping once at a small tiny island to take a breather from the wind. If you look at the progress map from my Spot SOS beacon's satellite tracking, you can get an idea of our paddle. If you make your way in almost a circle back around the island, up and to the left to reconnect with the Canoe Launch B where the trail starts, you'll be stopped by thick cat tails. Don't be misguided by the map's clear passages! Getting stuck in the weeds wouldn't be the most fun. 70s and sun, a slight breeze and hours of enjoyable kayaking, Buckhorn State Park gets a huge thumbs up for any kayaker looking to explore. Don't have a kayak or canoe? The Friends of Buckhorn State Park rent them out and life jackets too.

On your way out, grab lunch at the Buckhorn Cafe. Their big buck burgers and homemade fries are very cheap, greasy and super delicious. Not to mention, any wanderlust fan will geek out at the wide selection of Utah and Colorado craft beer, log cabin-like feel and photos of National Parks.

Do it. Get out to Buckhorn State Park. Do it, do it, do it.