What to do in Governor Dodge State Park

Governor Dodge State Park encompasses 5,270 scenic acres of steep hills, bluffs, and deep valleys plus two lakes and a waterfall in an area of Wisconsin known as the "Driftless Area." Devoid of drift or the accumulated rock and soil left by retreating glaciers, this unique "island" is a magnificent park made up of 450 million year old sandstone bluffs, craggy forest ridges and steep valleys.

The lack of glaciation played a role in determining the first wave of white people to hit the area. Large seams of lead ore lay near the earth's surface throughout the region south of the Wisconsin River. Miners from Europe began arriving in the 1820s. As more and more miners arrived, conflicts broke out between the Europeans and the Ho Chunks who had originally worked the mines. General Henry Dodge, one of the original white settlers, was instrumental in establishing peace in the area. Dodge was later appointed the first territorial governor of Wisconsin. The next wave of settlers came to farm the treeless areas that contained rich, black agriculture soil. Throughout the years, area farmsteads were handed down from one generation to the next or sold to newly arriving immigrants. In 1948, Iowa County presented one of the farmsteads of the Henry Larson estate to the State of Wisconsin. These first 160 acres provided the nucleus for what was to become Governor Dodge State Park. Ten years later an earthen dam was constructed across Mill Creek and Cox Hollow Lake was created. As years passed, the state purchased neighboring farms to add to this sprawling giant. A second earthen dam was built in 1966 forming Twin Valley Lake. Beaches, campgrounds, bathhouses, trails, shelters, and other facilities have been constructed throughout the years.

Governor Dodge State Park teems with wildlife including white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, red and grey fox, beaver, woodchucks, raccoons, and muskrats. More than 150 species of birds have been observed . Red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures soar over the park's steep hills and valleys. In the woods, the rat-a-tat of the elusive pileated woodpecker can be heard for great distances as it searches for grubs in hollow trees.

The tremendous variations in topography, exposures to sunlight, and soil types provide a diverse array of habitats that support many hundreds of interesting plant species. The forests are basically oak-hickory in type, with many dozens of other tree species and shrubs mixed in. The sandstone areas support beautiful white pines, some red pines, and a few Jack pines. The spring wildflowers of the forests include bloodroot, hepatica, and Dutchman's breeches. The damp, shaded rich soil slopes produce almost solid communities of ferns, including giant interrupted ferns. Many open areas still support remnant prairies which, from spring through fall, exhibit many colorful wildflowers including goldenrods, sunflowers, asters, milkweeds, boneset, iron weeds, and mountain mint.

As Wisconsin's second largest state park (Devil's Lake is No. 1) there is something for everyone of every age and every ability. A good place to orient oneself is at the visitor center / office which is open from 8 Am to 8 PM daily, and Friday and Saturday 8 AM to 11 PM. (Maps and camping information are available next to the office drive-up window.)

Governor Dodge State Park offers 2 family campgrounds with 269 campsites of which 77 have electric hookup. Firewood is sold at both campgrounds (Twin Valley and Cox Hollow) during the busy summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Twenty campsites in Twin Valley are maintained for winter campers. Winter water is available at the park office and at Cox Hollow Beach. Hickory Ridge Group Campground features 8 sites each accommodating between 15 and 100 persons. Six large backpack walk-in sites are available near Hickory Ridge. This area features water and primitive toilets. Eleven horse campsites are open from May 1 to November 15. There is ample room for horse trailers. Sites feature tether poles (no ropes), water hydrants, picnic shelter and fire rings. There is even a small playground in the horse camp. Camping reservations are available online or by calling a toll-free reservation number. Contact information is listed below.

Nature study for both young and old abound at the park. The variety of activities including evening nature programs at the amphitheater, nature hikes, fossil hunts, wildflower searches, birding walks, beaver pond ecology and much more.

The park's two manmade lakes offer excellent fishing. Species include bass, walleye, muskie, and pan fish. Fishing licenses are required and may be purchased at local bait shops. Boats and canoes may be rented daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day at the Cox Hollow Beach concession stand. Rentals are also available during the spring and fall. There are launching ramps on both Cox Hollow and Twin Valley lakes. Electric motors only are permitted on both lakes. Boat mooring is permitted May 1 through October 31 at designated areas only. Ice fishing is enjoyed on both lakes; park does not monitor ice conditions or make recommendations as to the safety of the ice. Both lakes provide summer swimming beaches and bathhouses. The unguarded beaches are open 6 AM to 11 PM.

There are eight designated picnic areas with shelters available at Enee Point, the amphitheater, Twin Valley picnic area, and Cox Hollow and Twin Valley beaches. Shelter reservations are made through the park office. Please note that the carry-in / carry-out policy is in effect at the Twin Valley beach, all shelters, wayside picnic areas, and boat landings. No garbage or recycling bins are provided in these areas.

Two designated hiking trails begin at the Enee Point Picnic Shelter-the self-guided Pine Cliff Nature Trail and the 4.5-mile White Oak Hiking Trail. The park also maintains an additional 35 miles of trail for hikers, cross-country skiers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. In addition, the park offers 10 miles of challenging off-road bicycle trail and access to the 39-mile Military Ridge State Trail. Trail passes are required to use the bike and horse trails. Trails are open May 1 to November 15 unless posted otherwise.

In addition to ice fishing, winter activities include 18 miles of groomed and tracked ski trails over varying terrain offering challenges for all skiers; a large ice skating rink is maintained at Cox Hollow Lake (weather permitting); and sledding and tobogganing. Flush toilets, water, tables and grills are conveniently located for winter guests.

Located just outside the park is the Nature's Miracle Museum, which holds some of Wisconsin's most fascinating geologic specimens. Visitors are treated to sights from around the globe including more than 2,000 rocks, minerals, crystals, fossils and shells. Highlights of the museum include the rare selenite box crystals, the 90-pound single quartz crystal, and the 215 pound amethyst geode.

Recreation
An array of outdoor recreation waits the sporting enthusiast. Open all year, the park offers family camping, backpacking, group camping, horse camping, hiking, long distance hiking, mountain biking, off-road biking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, and nature study.

Location
Governor Dodge State Park is located three miles north of Dodgeville along Highway 23.

Climate
Southwest Wisconsin has four distinct seasons with warm summers and long winters. January's average temperature is above 16 degrees F (-9 degrees C). Average July temperature is 85 degrees F (29 degrees C). During summer, temperatures can climb to above 90 degrees F (32 degrees C). The area's average yearly precipitation ranges from 32-34". Annual snowfalls in the Southwest Region can range from 20 - 40". Dressing in layers is a good way to remain comfortable in Wisconsin.

Address
4175 Highway 23
Dodgeville, WI 53533

Phone: 608-935-2315

  • Governor Dodge State Park Travel Q&A

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