Governor Dodge State Park was the first place we took our camper. I would recommend it as a first adventure and spot to return to. The park is easy to find your way through with well mark roads and sites. No dead ends to have to back down with the trailer. The roads are wide enough to accommodate a novice backing into the large level sites. Once there you don’t have to leave to have fun. There is hiking, swimming, fishing, and much more in this beautiful park.
The Park is a great place to go camping. There are many things to explore and enjoy in the park and nearby. The Park is a beautiful 5,300 acres nestled in the heart of the Wisconsin Driftless area. It has 2 lakes, hiking trails, Horse Back Riding, mountain biking, and waterfalls.
There is a unique geographical area of the Midwest known as the Driftless Region. This region includes the southwest corner of Wisconsin, parts of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. This area is called the Driftless Region because during the last Ice age the glaciers did not leave any drift or sediment as it receded north, because there is no drift the landscape is covered in beautiful rock out crops and sand stone bluffs.
As you are traveling into this area and get off the highway the roads follow the land and makes for some wonderful views as the roads rise and fall along these beautiful bluffs. If you’re like me, I always have my camera on hand to capture these amazing landscapes.
The park is in Iowa county Wisconsin and is located about 50 miles west of Madison, Wi. The park is about 3 hours from Milwaukee and 4 hours from Chicago.
The park is a favorite of many people and for many of us a short drive. Sites book fast and many weekends fill up as soon as they are open for booking. Booking can be done on Reserve America up to 12 months in advance. Don’t worry about crowds even if the park is full the is still room for everyone. https://www.reserveamerica.com/camping/governor-dodge/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=WI&parkId=60015
For 2018 standard electric sites are $30.00 per night and non-electric sites are $20.00. In addition to the camping fees a state park vehicle admission sticker will be required to enter the park. Daily and annual stickers are available the park or the DNA website. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/admission.html For the 2018 season daily passes for Wisconsin residents is $8 and non-residents are $11. If you staying for more few days the an annual pass will save you, those are $28 for residents and $38 for non-residents. These fees go towards supporting all of the state parks and if you get a season pass you at any other Wisconsin state parks. Supporting our state park system is always a good thing.
The park has two manmade lakes. Twin Valley Lake is to the north and is the larger of the two at a 130 acres and Cox Hollow to South is 80 acres. Each lake has a beach, boat ramp and places to fish from shore. On our trips we have seen many people enjoying the lakes while paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, and swimming. The lakes are well taken care of for both people and the natural wild life to enjoy.
The beaches have been set up for hours of family fun, there is plenty of good sand for making those monumental sandcastles. Entering the lake the water has a gentle slope but does get deeper without warning, prefect for both younger kids and those that are more comfortable in the water. The shallowest areas are marked with ropes and buoys.
Both beaches have lots of picnic tables but some are a distance from the water. There is plenty of grassy areas to setup if you don’t get a table, and huge oak trees to give you some relief from the sun. It is a considerable walk from the parking lot to the beach and picnic area especially if you have a cooler, chairs, towels and beach toys. If you have a wagon bring it will come in handy. The Cox Hollow beach has small general store at the parking lot that sells ice, snacks, bait and other items that campers may need. This is also where boats can be rented.
Nearby the beaches are a sperate areas for the four-legged campers to cool off and people are welcome to join the pets in the water. Dogs are permitted to be off leash while in the water. The dog beach at cox hollow was bigger and was also much busier than the one at the Twin Valley beach. Please remember that dogs are only permitted in these designated beaches and that you are not allowed to leave your pet alone at the campsite. So, if you are bringing along your furry family member you will be restricted to only using those beaches. It is good to remember that since other dogs will be using the area at the same time you need to have a well socialized pet, a puppy disagreement could ruin your camping weekend.
Both Twin Valley and Cox Hollow have excellent fishing from both shore and while cruising around in a boat.
Cox Hollow has max depth of 28 feet and a has a strong weed line. The water color is very clear. The species found in this lake are panfish, walleye and largemouth bass.
The larger, Twin Valley Lake has max depth of 32 feet and a darker water color. The weed line is not as thick as the one in Cox Hollow. The fish species found in Twin Valley lake include Musky, Largemouth bass, Panfish, Trout and walleye. While there we fished form shore with the kids and I had some luck catching panfish near both boat ramps and down the Shore from the beach at Twin Valley lake.
The boat ramps are nice with a good drop offs and have piers to assist you getting your boat in the water. There is also plenty of room to beach a canoe or kayak. Each ramp has ample parking. Boats are limited paddle power or electric motors. If you don’t have your own boat, canoes and row boats are available for rent. While there we saw several families enjoying a day on the water together with paddle boards, and many blow up kayaks. There a couple of spots in lake other than the beaches you can pull up to a get out.
Hiking/Biking and Horseback Riding
No matter how you like to travel through nature, Governor Dodge has you covered. There are about 20 miles of hiking trails spilt into 11 trails. Ranging from a half mile for the Stephen falls trail and Gold mine trial to a 5-mile Meadow Valley trail. The trails pass through lush green woods and prairie. Some trails have views of the lakes and as well as interpretive trails sections that share the history of the area and even a cave. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/govdodge/pdfs/govdparkmap.pdf
There is also about 10 miles of off road bike trials and a 15-mile horse trail the winds around the entire park and several shorter interior trails.
The Water Fall
To view Stephen Falls from above it is a short easy walk that also includes a spring house from the 1850s built by the Stephens family. The spring house is a great place to cool off on a hot summer day. Which is what we did on our trip. It was in the upper 90s and unfortunately when we booked our trip we couldn’t get a site with electric, so no air conditioning for us, however we did make a pretty ingenious swamp cooler. You can thank my wife and Pintrest for that! Maybe a post of another day.
To get down to the falls is a bit trickier, it is an awkward stair case the can be slippery to get up and down, however you can enter the falls off another trail that is easier to use it is just a longer walk. There is a trail leading up to the falls called Lost Canyon Trail, and follows the stream it is a nice walk, but be cautious because it could be uneven and slippery just not as steep as the stairs.
The falls are 20 feet tall and trickle down in a small pool in a lush moss-covered canyon. You are able the get into water and go under the falls. My wife loves all things covered in moss, so we have plenty of pictures of huge rock bluffs, fallen down old trees, and anything the moss would grow on. Once you get down by the falls the temperature drops about 20 degrees, also nice when its almost 100 degrees out there. Our children loved playing under falls, exploring the trail, crossing the stream by hopping on rocks and logs and climbing up and down the rocks. They were pretty tucked out after a day of exploring the falls, parenting win!
The park has 269 campsites split into 2 sections, Twin valley and Cox Hollow. There are 80 sites with electrical hooks ups. The park also has group sites, backpacking sites and horse sites. The sites include a fire ring and picnic table. The sites are level and have room to park a good-sized trailer with room for an extra car and tent if needed. The sites are gravel pads and many are set back from the road. The sites we stayed had a good brush barrier between us and our neighbors providing some privacy. We didn’t have any issues getting our 26 foot by 8 foot wide camper into the sites and saw several bigger campers while staying there. When you are reserving your site you are able to pick the dimensions you need for your sized camper. The roads throughout the park are paved.
The mosquitoes were not bad while we were there. We stayed both in the middle of June and the end of August and did not find the bugs to be bad at all. We situated ourselves close to the bathrooms as well, using the public rest rooms helps the stretch our water out a little further and sometimes it’s nice the take a little longer shower. The showers and bathrooms were nice and clean, there was plenty of space for you to bath and get ready for your day.
The quite hours are strictly enforced and we did not have any issues with noise from the neighboring sites.
The water fill-up and dump stations are conveniently located and easy to get in and out of even with a large trailer. Some sites do have size limitations so read the description on Reserve America before booking your site.
Don’t Feed The Racoons
One night while sitting by the fire we had a family of racoons walk up to us and get within 4 feet of the fire, literally with their hands out. The four of them came back a couple of times before moving on to the next site. I’m not sure if the they used to being feed or just finding treats carelessly left out. Either way these were not afraid of people, however be vigilant with your young children and pets.
Things Near By
House on the rock http://thehouseontherock.com/
Is a wonderfully unique experience. It was originally built in the 1940s by Alex Jordan on a high rock out cropping as a weekend retreat. He was a collector with a unique vision and created a place that has rooms filed with animatronic musicals, and giant whale statue and room that is held up by nothing and extends way out over the tree tops, there are windows to look out all around you.
Cave of the mounds. https://www.caveofthemounds.com/
Cave of the mounds has been open for guided tours since 1939. The tours are good for people of all ages and take about an hour. The path is lighted and winds through multiple rooms with stalactites and stalagmites.
Overall Governor Dodge is one of our families go to parks when we are looking for a weekend of fun in the outdoors, that we know we will enjoy. Our style of camping is to be in a more wooded private space versus a paved parking lot of RV’s. If you enjoy the outdoors, hiking, fishing, swimming, and waterfalls this is the perfect park to come and enjoy a weekend or a week. The park also organized many family events such as ghost stories, plays, movies and other fun family fare. The park rangers are very nice, extremely knowledgeable and are there to help you enjoy your stay. We also look for parks that encourage you to bring your furry family as well instead of considering them a nuisance.
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