Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A quick guide and tips for backpacking at Wisconsin's Buckhorn State Park

Sunset views right on the water, that's what you get from many of Buckhorn State Park's walk-to and backpacking sites.

I love Buckhorn, it's a wonderful park in Necedah, the second biggest in the state, and very underrated. It's also the perfect place to get started backpacking thanks to dozens of short walk-to and more distant, remote backpacking sites.

What are the best sites?
A thing to note about Buckhorn's walk-to and distant backpack 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.

First click here to cue-up a map of the park.? I would recommend sites #17-19. They're the farthest away, and right on Castle Rock lake. Walk-to 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 and more backpacking sites? Park at the access point for sites #17-#19, hike the trail that takes you into the oak savanna, and turn left down the Partridge Loop (1.2 miles) for a few 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 backpacking endeavors. 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.

What's the deal with walk-up only reservations? 
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.

Also, if you have access to a kayak, you have to get 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.