5 Good Reasons to Visit Natural Bridge State Park
Natural Bridge State Park is a near neighbor to Devil's Lake, about 30 minutes west via SR 12 and Highway C, between Leland and Denzer. Established in 1973, Natural Bridge State Park is a 530-acre hardwood forest protecting a Midwestern geologic anomaly: a huge, sandstone bridge spared by the most recent glacial period. If you're staying in the area for more than then weekend, you might want to venture out to see the Park. Here's why:
1. See an impressive natural bridge.
The namesake natural bridge is a massive, sandstone monolith unmatched elsewhere in Wisconsin. Unlike more famous bridges in Natural Bridges National Monument or Bryce Canyon National Park, this bridge is more of a blend-in-with-the-scenery type of monument than a triumphant icon. But the bridge is still awe-inspring and tells a great story about the erosional influences it has experienced in its time. If you only do one thing at the Park, hike to see the natural bridge it's named after; you can get there and back to your car within 30 minutes.
2. Connect with the oldest known Wisconsinites.
People have been visiting Natural Bridge for a looooong time... it turns out this is the oldest-known site of human habitation in the upper Midwest. Artifacts found in the cave-like rock shelter below the arch (lower right) date to 10,000 - 12,000 years ago, when the Wisconsin Glacier was still melting at Devil's Lake. No artifacts, wall art, or other signs of these people remains today (anyone know if these are on display in a museum somewhere?) but it's fun to think about the activities of people working and living here that long ago.
3. Hike through a beautiful oak woodland.
Natural Bridge State Park is a mixture of oak woodland and old farm fields converted to open prairie. The terrain is rolling and hilly, but not difficult, and traverses between forest cover and open fields. Spring visitors are treated to ample wildflowers and good birding.
On the "bridge" side, a 1-mile self-guided nature trail explains how Native Americans used certain plants native to the Park. South of the highway, the 2-mile Whitetail Trail explores a north-facing hillside. I've never skied here in the winter, but I think the terrain would be great for adventurous skiers who don't mind breaking trail.
4. Get off the beaten track.
Every time I've visited Natural Bridge State Park, it has been empty. There are no facilities here, and the Park is fairly isolated... so if you're looking for a quiet place to enjoy the nature, take pictures, or hike naked, this seems like a good candidate. The park webpage says there are rangers here present on the weekend, but I've never seen one. To improve your chances of a quiet walk alone, avoid the bridge area by hiking the Whitetail Trail across Hwy C.
5. Enjoy the drive there.
While Natural Bridge State Park isn't that far away from SR 12, it feels far away because the roads are windy and the landscape is rural. If you have time, take a detour after your Park visit to explore almost 9 miles of designated Rustic Roads just northeast of the Park. Ruff Road, Orchard Drive, and Slotty Road are gravel roads that explore the hilly terrain near Natural Bridge; Schara Road traverses a high ridge littered with huge, old trees and fantastic views. See page 41 of the Wisconsin Rustic Roads guide for details.
If you have any good stories or tips on visiting Natural Bridge, please share below. Thanks!