John Muir Memorial Park and Observatory Hill, WI

A two mile section of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin makes a loop around a glacial lake where John Muir taught himself to swim by observing frogs.  The park is a memorial to the father of our national parks, preserving the land and native plant species of his boyhood home, a place he remembered fondly throughout his life.

Before heading out to the area, read Muir’s “The Story of My Boyhood and Youth”. It is a short book of eight chapters, telling of his adventures on the family farm and surrounding wilderness. Be your own tour guide as encounters with nature recall passages and descriptions from his book. The rustling of chipmunks and other critters along the forest path made me think of the resourceful squirrel Muir discovered in the home snacking on dried corn cobs. Two insects persistently buzzing just behind me were reminders of the bees he tracked to discover the location of their secret honey hive.

Treat yourself (as young Muir did on his only two vacation days each year) to a hike up nearby Observatory Hill. A narrow foot trail leads to the top where one can explore the rocky outcrop and wonder if this was the place that inspired John Muir’s future love for scrambling in the High Sierra.

Logistics: A 30 minute drive from popular destinations (Wisconsin Dells or Devil’s Lake State Park) make this a great side trip for the environmental nerd and/or history enthusiast.  If you need a snack after all that geeking out, stop at Nature Trail’s Bakery in Montello for pecan pie, cinnamon rolls, and doughnuts baked fresh on the farm.  Recommended for anyone with a few hours to ramble, this is a lovely adventure into Wisconsin’s countryside and the past of an ineffable individual.

John Muir Memorial Park

Observatory Hill State Natural Area

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