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Devil's Lake State Park and a Latin Foodie Spot in Madison

Am I in a lake region in Switzerland? Did I transport myself in less than 3 hours to Slovenia's lake region or Western Canada?

Nope. We're less than a 3 hour drive from the Chicago metro area for a weekend excursion to Devil's Lake, Wisconsin. Yet, we feel like we have traveled to some place much further away.

With a forecast calling for a sunny and beautiful early April Spring day, knowing the rest of the Spring weekends would be monopolized by soccer, we made an executive decision to get out of town for a night. After an early Saturday morning breakfast, we were on our way. Never letting an opportunity to see more than 1 thing in a day pass, we drove a bit over an hour and made a stop at Rock Cut State Park in Caledonia, IL. We jumped on the Pierce Lake Trail and walked for nearly 3.5 miles on this beautiful day. This is a walk (versus a hike) and we enjoyed the scenery and the view of the lake in addition to walking through wooded trails. We noticed a pair of cardinals fluttering and numerous other birds during our walk. Being outside in the sun and enjoying the wonderfully crisp 56 degree sunny weather had us feeling good and we were ready for more exploring.

We hopped back into the car and continued our journey to Wisconsin. Along the way, we enjoyed one of our favorite healthy hiking lunches which consisted of avocado on top of toasted Dave's Killer Bread. Along with a paleovalley beef stick and some Lesser Evil popcorn, we were content and ready for more hiking.

Devil's Lake State Park was our next destination. I'd heard about this place for years and was excited for our visit. While I had never visited this park, one of Wisconsin's most adored, I was familiar with the area. Dating back to the 1980's, I visited this area as a child with my family to ski at nearby Devil's Head Resort. My son and I have continued the tradition in the present with a couple of ski trips to the area over the last few years.

Located about an hour past Madison in Baraboo, an area known for its plentiful opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, I was expecting to be impressed but any expectations I had were surpassed. Devil's Lake is Wisconsin's most popular state park, drawing nearly 3 million annual visitors. The park is over 10,000 acres and is part of over 27,000 acres of public land in Sauk County.

We came for the hiking but the opportunities to explore this park also include canoeing, kayaking, fishing, rock climbing and wildlife and bird watching. You can also swim in the lake or relax on their beach.

Our chosen hike for the day was tackling the entire East and West Bluff Ice Age trail, a 3.2 mile hike known for its challenging yet stunning scenery. It turned out to be one of our favorite hikes in years, leaving a lasting impression. Over three and a half hours, we navigated rocky paths, soaking in breathtaking vistas (see pictures above) along the way. Sharing the photos with family and friends, their comments echoed our sentiments, remarking on the resemblance to landscapes abroad. It instantly transported me back to our adventures in Western Canada, exploring iconic lakes like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, as well as Waterton Lakes National Park. The vivid blue waters and rugged terrain of Devil's Lake truly stand out. The hike is no walk in the park, with rocky stretches dominating parts of the trail and two areas on the trail where you ascend 500 feet if you complete the entire hike.

In addition to the exercise and fresh air, we saw hawks gliding over the lake and took in some absolutely spectacular views. We even got to climb down a waterfall with some other hikers at one point. It was a bit of a challenge with some wet rocks but the water was more of a trickle than a fall, and the experience helped to make the hike that much more special. Along the way, we saw all the main sights including Elephant Cave and Elephant Rock.

We are all excited to return to Devil's Lake to complete this terrific hike again during another season. There are numerous other hikes in the park that have little or no elevation suitable to all and the walk around the lake is amazing with plenty of places to relax, picnic and grill while enjoying the scenery.

After hiking, we headed to dinner before spending a night in a nearby hotel. Dinner was at Tumbled Rock Brewery & Kitchen. Just minutes from the park, this is a terrific spot with a fantastic architectural design. With two separate structures, divided by a lush green patio that is perfect to enjoy a drink before or after dinner, this is a popular spot. The buildings are designed to almost look like jagged rocks and there are some fantastic photographs of Devil's Lake located throughout the restaurant that beg for your attention. Good food, good beer and a terrific dining environment. It's a winner.

We planned for more hiking the next day before heading home but Saturday's gorgeous Spring day wasn't repeated on Sunday. With rain that didn't stop and grey skies, being outdoors wasn't in the cards. It wasn't all a loss though as we had an amazing lunch in Madison before heading home.

When I looked up "Best Lunches" in Madison, La Taguara kept popping up on every list. This Venezuelan and Latin American restaurant is on those lists for a reason. We had an amazing lunch at the Washington Avenue location which included their version of ceviche (shrimp cocktail), arepas (corn pocket sandwiches stuffed with shredded pork, beef, black beans, avocado, sweet plantain, you name it) and a heck of a fully stuffed Cubano sandwich. Sides of freshly fried plantain chips to dip into the ceviche and unbelievably tasty guasacaca sauce rounded out this lunch which rendered dinner to be meaningless. On that guasacaca sauce, this combination of avocado, jalapeno, vinegar, shallot, garlic and a few other things is kind of like guacamole and kind of not. We couldn't stop eating it. We even splurged and went for a small portion of freshly made churros with dulce de leche (caramel) sauce for dipping.

We left very full and very satisfied ending a tasty and active weekend getaway to Wisconsin.



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