Only 30 minutes north of Milwaukee and a short bike ride east of Grafton, Wisconsin, set atop a 100 foot bluff, exists a paradise of photo opportunities and plein air painting.
Lion’s den Gorge county park holds 1.5 miles of gravel and boarded hiking trails running throughout the park. Parts of the trails are handicap accessible and some run along the edge of the bluff while others meander through old growth forest and wetlands.
Like the rest of the Lake Michigan shoreline, these bluffs are susceptible to erosion. The sandy soil and rising lake waters are making it a danger to walk too close to the edge. There are sections that are closed to us humans and climbing down the bluffs is not only dangerous but will contribute heavily to the erosion. That being said, there are some fabulous views of the lake and distant shorelines as long as you keep your distance from the crumbling edge.
Like most parks I’ve written about, there are plenty of benches to sit and calm your mind. The views of the great lake before you will bring about thoughts of the vastness of the world. Bring a journal to write, draw or make notes for ideas that will easily flow into your mind.
Spend some of your time in Lions Den park watching for the abundant bird species flying through the woods and along the shore line. A bright red cardinal found me and flew along with through a good part of my trek! The west side of the park boarders a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service waterfowl production area. Take a short jog in to see some local waterfowl in their natural habitat and to take in the rolling green hills.
Getting back on the gravel trails, head north, zigzagging across the park if you are wanting a longer hike. On the northern most side of the park there is built a 100 plus stairway down to the waters edge. It is a long, scenic, fascinating climb down through the ravine.
The closer you get to the bottom the more you will realize how the park got its name. When you step off the last of the wooden structures you will be awarded a close up view of the power of the great Lake Michigan. The beach is decidedly smaller than it was the last time I was at this park. That was more than 10 years ago and much can happen in 10 years.
However, on a calm day you will be able to walk out a little on to the beach to the north and out in to the water. This will give you a great look at the height of the bluffs that you just climbed down. Turn to look into the gorge and you can feel how it would be an excellent place to hide if you were a king or queen of cats.
I have not walked all the way in to the gorge. With all of the erosion issues I’m not certain that it is a good idea both because it may be frowned upon and because the possibility of falling trees is very high. I did venture in enough to give you a good glimpse of the size and depth of the cut out section of land. My thoughts were that it was like walking into another very private world where one must feel the privilege of being allowed to visit.
It is at this point that you realize how far it is back to the top of the bluff. Be sure to pack a protein bar.