The only sound is a quiet drip-drip-drip as water droplets fall off the edge of my paddle, each one plopping into the glassy sheen, then rippling outward in concentric circles in the otherwise still waters of Mirror Lake. No need to guess how it got its name.
I’ve been spending a few days in the Wisconsin Dells, seeking out the places of natural beauty that first brought visitors here more than a century ago. Today, you might read a story (like this one) on the Internet or in a magazine, and decide to see for yourself. Back then, it was the photographs of entrepreneurial xxxxxx that brought visitors to the region to see the weirdly carved rock formations and dramatic cliffs carved by ancient Ice Age flooding.
The irony is that while the Wisconsin Dells remain a popular tourist attraction today, the majority of visitors come for the family-oriented of resorts that feature everything from indoor ropes courses to water parks to (in one case) caged baby tigers in the lobby. Given how many people I saw at the family resorts, versus how many I saw at places like Mirror Lake, I’d venture to say that most people never even get a glimpse of the lovely natural sites that created the tourism industry here — which is all the better for those who venture just a few miles away from the main drag. There are astonishing pockets of peace and natural beauty, located just a few minutes from the hub-bub and almost right off the interstate. Mirror Lake is one of them.
In Your Bucket Because….
- It’s one of the prettiest, most peaceful lakes you’ll find anywhere.
- Low key, low stress, easy equipment rentals and lots to do make this an ideal family destination.
- Good for: Nature and water lovers, photographers, bird-watchers. and families.
50-foot high sandstone bluffs protect the lake from the wind, helping to create its mirrorlike sheen. I continue paddling, then stop and silently drift toward the reeds, where waterfowl are going about their daily business. I see ducks and geese and a couple of herons.
I make my way back to the docks, then think twice, and pass them toward some sandstone bluffs where I can beach my kayak and jump in for a quick swim. The bluffs — made of sandstone that was deposited here 500 million years ago, then carved to cliffs during the ice age — rise above me. A section of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail winds through the park: If I started walking east, I could follow it all the way to Green Bay; if I headed west, I could walk to Minnesota. But the water feels perfect, and the sun is turning that afternoon golden, bringing out the yellows in the bluffs and the oranges of the kayaks against the blue-green waters, and I decide to simple…stay…. still.
- Mirror Lake’s 137 acres offer fishing; swimming; canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up-paddleboarding (rentals available); and a boat landing; the other 2000+ acres offer camp sites; picnic areas, and biking, hiking, snow-shoeing and cross-country ski trails.
- Facilities for visitors with disabilities include an accessible camper cabin, fishing pier, and picnic shelter, along with some accessible paths.
- The park, located just off Interstate 90-94, is open year-round from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- Seth Peterson Cottage, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, is located within the park, and is available for rental.
- The lake is a “no-wake” zone. You won’t be bounced around by overly-enthusiastic speedboats here!
- Plan to end your day with dinner at Ishnala restaurant, which overlooks the lake. One of the classic Wisconsin “supper clubs,” Ishnala has a romantic ambiance, beautiful lake views, a varied menu (with an emphasis on steaks),” and one of the most beautiful natural settings you’ll ever see. How natural? There are pine trees growing right in the middle of the dining room!