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Governor Dodge State Park / Submitted by Heather Burt

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Heather Burt authors a blog titled 'Hiking with Heather: Outdoor Adventures with Dog' and is Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com's newest blogger.

Visit Burt's full blog here.

The Driftless Area along the Highway 151 corridor between Madison and Dubuque contains some of the state's most beautiful landscape. Meandering creeks flow through the bottom of rolling hills flanked by rock outcroppings and ancient oaks, while moist summer heat radiates off prairie grasses, releasing their sweet fragrance into the breeze. Fields of crops throw their geometric patterns across hills and valleys while herds of cows congregate beneath the wide oaks in search of shade while grazing along the steep ravines. The quaint towns that pop up at intervals along this stretch of highway - Mount Horeb, Ridgeway, Dodgeville, Mineral Point, Platteville - all offer their own unique shops and markets reflecting quintessential "Americana" where time seems to slow down.

I had the pleasure of exploring Governor Dodge State Park near Dodgeville this past weekend and was completely blown away by the sheer size of this park! There are over 5,000 acres to explore as well as two lakes and miles of scenic hiking trails. Since I'm always on the lookout for "dog-friendly" places, I'm happy to report that this park gets my Pet Friendly Approval award. Upon arrival, the attendant at the ranger station was very helpful in pointing out the two dog beach/picnic areas on the park map they provided and a couple of the rangers even came over to the car window to pet Charlie and wish us a fun time at the park - a very nice welcome!

We began at the Enee Point picnic area where the trail head for the Pine Cliff Trail is located. This was a heavily wooded hike with steep grades and rocky terrain. Entering the trail was like walking into a jungle: waist-high ferns and plants, a crystal-clear creek flowing beneath a wooden bridge, and echoes of bird calls bouncing off the huge moss-covered rock wall rising out of the ground next to the trail. Surreal!

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We walked up a steep log staircase to a sandstone arch where water ran down in a tiny waterfall.

We took the additional 2-mile self-guided loop along the cliff above Cox Hollow Lake that offers terrific views of the lake - although a little hard to see through the thick summer foliage. As the trail winds down the hillside, eventually following along the shoreline of the lake, we encountered several logs and trees that had fallen across the trail and had to scramble over them. Most of them looked like they had been there for quite awhile, so perhaps this just adds an element of challenge to the trail! Charlie was able to take a quick swim break in Cox Hollow Lake before we back-tracked the trail to the parking lot at Enee Point.

The temperature was climbing steadily and humidity was causing a haze in the distance; I was glad we had gotten an early start. We took a break from hiking and went for a drive through the park to investigate the pet beach area and stop at the concession stand for lunch. Surprisingly, the concession stand was more like a tiny grocery store with a good selection of hot foods and drinks. There were hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, nachos, ice cream, candy, chips, soda, bread, milk, yogurt, ice, coffee, slushies and t-shirts/souvenirs. They also have boat rentals - canoe, kayak, pedal boats - and dogs are allowed on the rental boats!

Like I said, very dog-friendly.

After lunch, we walked down to the dog swim area where Charlie got to frolic with a bunch of other dogs. The water was clear and the sand was soft - what else could you ask for! The dog beach is adjacent to the regular beach and each area is well-marked with signs so you know where to go. In addition, there are picnic tables and a nice grassy area for pet parents to relax and enjoy the beach with their fur-kids. Dogs are allowed off-leash while in the water.

We continued our exploration with a drive through the campgrounds and I was astounded to find there were available campsites on this big 4th of July weekend! It's nice to know that even on a busy weekend, you would be able to find a spot. There are two separate campgrounds at this park with a total of 269 individual sites. And if you happen to be a horse enthusiast, you can bring your horse to enjoy the horse trail system and camp at your very own horse-designated camp area! There are also six backpack campsites.

The scenic drive continued to the pet beach at Twin Valley Lake where there were far less people than at the Cox Hollow Lake; apparently most people drive to the nearest lake rather than driving all the way to the back of the park. As the temperature continued to climb on this hot summer day, Charlie was happy to swim off-leash and explore the shoreline. This pet beach, like the first one, is located adjacent to the regular swim/picnic area - just follow the signs indicating the dog areas.

We had time to check out one more trail for the day, and since it was getting so hot, I decided that Stephens Falls hiking trail would be the most appropriate. The steep staircase with rock steps leads you down to the water where you can feel the temperature drop as you get closer to the falls. The sound is mesmerizing!

Charlie was pulling very hard on her leash to get down to the falls as fast as possible! Not only was the water drawing her in, but there were kids playing in the falls and Charlie loves kids!

There is so much to see and do at this park that it's impossible to accomplish all in one day. The variety of terrain and thousands of acres will provide endless exploration! Governor Dodge State Park is truly unique and a must-see if you are passing through this part of our beautiful state.

Have you been to Governor Dodge State Park? If so, what was your favorite trail and why?

Heather Burt documents the ongoing journey with her dog as they play, hike and road-trip around Wisconsin in her blog www.HikingWithHeather.blogspot.com. Burt hopes to bring awareness to our state's bountiful natural beauty while encouraging people to enjoy nature.

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