Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area

Parfrey’s Glen is Wisconsin’s first State Natural Area, designated as such in 1952.

The Department of Natural Resources describes it as “a spectacular gorge deeply incised into the sandstone conglomerate of the south flank of the Baraboo Hills … The walls of the glen - a Scottish word for a narrow, rocky ravine - are sandstone with embedded pebbles and boulders of quartzite. The moss-covered walls are moist from seepage, cool and shaded.”

The Devil’s Lake State Park Area Visitor Guide says this,

“At its uppermost part, the glen reaches a depth of nearly 100 feet and embraces a mountain-type stream flowing through its floor. The Glen’s walls are sandstone embedded with pebbles and boulders of quartzite. This quartzite is conglomerate, sometimes called a “plum pudding” stone. The sandstone layers represent ancient sandy beach. Because the glen is home to a variety of threatened plants and insects, visitors must stay on the trail from the lower parking area to the top of the glen and retrace their steps back. The path is about 0.8 miles long.”

Flooding has been a major disruptor to Parfrey’s Glen. The waterfall is hard to get to, and I did not try. Because of flood damage to the natural area. there are some stringent visiting rules. Visitors must stay on designated trails, stay out of closed areas, do not hike beyond the waterfall, no pets, no climbing, rappelling or off-trail exploration. Visitors are not to pick plants or collect any objects.

You need to wear waterproof shoes with good traction. The overall trail follows the Parfrey’s Glen Creek. If you choose to go to the waterfall, you would leave the designated trail and follow the creek.

Authorities have closed the glen many times. The floods have destroyed bridges and trails , and they have not been rebuilt. Visitors can take a well marked trail for just less than a mile. Much of the viewing area from there has been destroyed. If they wish to go on to see the small waterfall, they must do so on their own, navigating a stream and rough stone. One hiker has described it as “a short rocky, bouldery trail … the rock formation is superb.” It’s rustic!

Another visitor said, “It was a nice easy trail walk up and back down. The cliffs and waterfall were nice. The trail begins paved, then gravel, then roots and rocky then through the stream stepping in rocks then climbing boulders.”

All that said, walking through Parfrey’s Glen, even if you do not go on to the waterfall, is a walk through unbridled nature at its best. I’ll show you what attracted my attention.

This is one part of the designated trail. The trail begins paved, then gravel, then roots and rocky then through the stream stepping on rocks. The designated trail then stops. They’re all kinds of signs warning about what’s ahead, but you can go beyond to the small waterfall if you wish.

Parfrey’s Glen Creek

Believe it or not, I tried to walk across on the rocks here, holding my billion dollar camera in one hand, balancing with the other. Yes, I got a hot foot!