Governor Dodge, in the Western Coulee and Ridges landscape of Wisconsin, is one of the state's largest parks, with 5,270 scenic acres of steep hills, bluffs, and deep valleys plus two lakes and a waterfall.
The History of Governor Dodge State Park
The First People
Shortly after the glaciers retreated to their icy, Canadian home, humans moved into the area that is now Governor Dodge State Park. Just as the park’s scenic hills and valleys provide you refuge from over-crowded cities, they once provided shelter from snow and cold to the area’s first human inhabitants.
More than 8,000 years ago, men and women made winter camps at the base of rock overhangs enjoying the protection of the sandstone walls. As the weather warmed, they moved into more open areas of what is now Wisconsin and Illinois to hunt bison and other game.
Archaeological digs within the park verify the existence of human habitation; stretching all the way from those first "campers" to the Fox, Sauk, and Ho Chunk Indians, to present day campers.
The lack of glaciation played a role in determining the first wave of white people to hit the area. Large seams of lead ore lay near the earth’s surface throughout the region south of the Wisconsin River. Miners from Europe began arriving in the 1820’s. One of the first finds was at Jenkins Branch, which lay in Cox Hollow, just south of the present park boundary. More about lead mining [exit DNR].
As more and more miners arrived, conflicts broke out between the Europeans and the Ho Chunks who had originally worked the mines. General Henry Dodge, one of the original white settlers, was instrumental in establishing peace in the area. Dodge was later appointed the first territorial governor of Wisconsin.
The next wave of settlers came to farm the land. The ridges in the driftless area once supported vast, sweeping prairies. Those treeless areas were more easily plowed than surrounding woodlands, and contained rich, black soil—prime land for agriculture.
Hardworking family farmers like the Stephens, Griffiths, and Pengellys filtered into the park area in the mid and late 1800s. Throughout the years, their farmsteads were handed down from one generation to the next, or sold to newly arriving immigrants.
The State Park
In 1948, Iowa County presented one of these farmsteads—the Henry Larson estate—to the State of Wisconsin. These first 160 acres provided the nucleus for what was to become Governor Dodge State Park. Ten years later an earthen dam was constructed across Mill Creek and Cox Hollow Lake was created. The new park was well on its way to becoming one of Wisconsin’s finest recreation areas.
As years passed, the state purchased neighboring farms to add to this sprawling giant. Governor Dodge now contains 5,270 acres.
A second earthen dam was built in 1966, forming Twin Valley Lake. Beaches, campgrounds, bathhouses, trails, shelters, and other facilities have been constructed throughout the years to add to your park enjoyment.
Gone now are the buffalo hunters and their spears. Gone are the lead miners and their picks. Gone are the farmers and their plows. But the land that they changed remains.Traces of these men and women remain in the stone arrowheads, crumbling rock foundations, and rusted barbed wire that are still found throughout the park—traces that every year become harder to find as the land struggles to restore itself to the wild, natural area it once was.
Governor Dodge has 269 campsites that each accommodate a family or six people. Electrical hookups are available at 80 sites. A vehicle admission sticker is required for each vehicle. All campers must register at the park office before occupying their sites.
Governor Dodge maintains nearly 40 miles of trails. Many of them are open to cross-country skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling. All are open to hiking, except hiking is not allowed on ski trails when they are snow covered.
The park also is adjacent to the 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail, which goes to Madison and connecting trails to beyond
Governor Dodge has over 12 miles of ski trails. All trails can be reached from the Cox Hollow Beach trailhead. Water, picnic tables, and flush toilet facilities are also available at the trailhead.
Lakeview, Mill Creek, and Meadow Valley (in order from easiest to most difficult) are groomed for skiing when conditions permit.
Snowshoeing is allowed anywhere in the park except on cross-country ski trails. Try the group camp area or Twin Valley picnic area.
The park provides 10 miles of challenging off-road bicycle trails. Trail passes are required to use the bike trails. Trails are open May 1 to November 15 unless posted otherwise.
Meadow Valley and Mill Creek trails are designated off-road biking trails. Bikers, hikers, and horse riders share parts of these trails and must exercise caution when encountering each other. The Mill Creek Trail also provides biking and hiking access to the 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail.
Meadow Valley Trail (hikers, bikers and skiers)
This 5-mile loop trail encompasses the interior of the park. Trailheads are at the Cox Hollow beach picnic area and the Meadow Valley Trailhead which is about 0.4 miles west of Twin Valley Campground. This trail is rated difficult due to its length and steeper grades. You will pass through a wide variety of restored prairies and lush forests. Follow the brown trail markers. Sections of this trail are shared by horse riders.
Mill Creek Hike-Bike-Ski Trail (hikers, bikers and skiers)
This 3.3-mile loop trail begins at the Cox Hollow beach picnic area. The trail winds through meadows and wooded valleys. Enjoy the spectacular views of both Cox Hollow and Twin Valley Lakes. You will encounter several steep grades but the majority of the trail is quite level. This trail also provides biking and hiking access to the Military Ridge State Trail. Follow the purple trail markers.
Lakeview Trail (hikers and skiers only)
This 1.25-mile loop trail begins at the Cox Hollow beach picnic area. The trail is wooded, offers a few hills, a secluded valley and a nice view of Cox Hollow Lake. Less experienced skiers may wish to walk down the first grade and start skiing on the opposite side of the first bridge. Follow the light blue trail markers.
Uplands Trail (hikers, snowshoers, and horse riders)
This is a 2.5-mile loop trail that begins about 0.25 mile northeast of the park office. Venture through rolling hills as you pass through prairies, woods and near an agricultural field. This trail is a wonderful opportunity to snowshoe, hike or use the park with your pet in the winter. Follow the magenta trail markers.
Stephens' Falls Hiking Trail (hikers only)
This is a 0.5-mile picturesque trail that takes hikers past Stephens’ Falls, rock outcroppings, and lush ferns as you walk beside a refreshing stream. There is a scenic overlook along a paved trail above the falls. Stone steps and uneven terrain will be encountered to gain access to the falls and the trail below. Follow the dark blue trail markers.
Lost Canyon Trail (hikers only)
This is a 3-mile loop trail that can be reached from the Stephens’ Falls area. The trail has several steep grades. You will encounter mostly wooded areas and will journey into the scenic Lost Canyon which is fed by Stephens’ Falls. Follow the orange trail markers.
Gold Mine Trail (hikers only)
This 0.5-mile trail segment connects the Meadow Valley and the Lost Canyon trails. It meanders through forest and prairie and is relatively flat through its course. Follow the yellow trail markers. A section of this trail is shared by horses.
Cave Trail (hikers only)
This is a 1-mile extension of the Meadow Valley Trail. Take in eye-catching sights of Twin Valley Lake as you walk along a hilly trail that takes you near a large cave known by the locals as Thomas’ Cave. Follow the grey trail markers. Trail is open to hikers only.
Pine Cliff Nature Trail (hikers only)
This is a wooded 2.5-mile trail which begins at Enee Point picnic area and ends at Lakeview Trail on the southeast side of Cox Hollow Lake. An additional 2 mile self-guided loop interprets area history, wildlife, vegetation and ecology. On this trail, you will encounter several steps, steep grades and rocky surfaces. Hikers will enjoy the scenic views above Cox Hollow Lake and the hike along the lake shore. Follow the dark green trail markers.
Outer Horse Trail (horse riders, snowmobilers and hikers)
This is a 15.3-mile loop trail that winds its way through some of the most scenic and remote areas of the park. The access point is the Horse Day Use Parking Area near Hickory Ridge Group Camp. At the southeast corner of the park, there is a snowmobile access trail that connects with the 39-mile Military Ridge State Trail. Trail passes are required for horse riders age 16 and older.
Interior Horse Trail System (horse riders and hikers)
This system includes several trail segments totaling 6.7 miles. It connects the horse campground and horse day use parking area. Trail passes are required for horse riders age 16 and older.These trail segments allow horse riders the option of making several shorter loops from the campground or day use areas by using part of the Meadow Valley Trail or one of these:
Woodland Trail is a 1.5-mile trail segment on the northeast part of the Interior Trail System. This area of rolling hills takes riders in and out of wooded areas while passing by views of Twin Valley Lake. Follow the red trail markers.
Old Orchard Pass is a 1.25-mile trail section that connects the Interior Trail System to the Outer Horse Trail. Take advantage of beautiful scenes of Twin Valley Lake and gain access to the horse day use parking area. Follow the light green trail markers.
Governor Dodge State Park abounds with wildlife from the tiniest shrews up to the big white-tailed deer. Deer, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, red and grey fox, beaver, woodchucks, and muskrats are common park inhabitants. More than 150 species of birds have been observed. Red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures soar over the park's steep hills and valleys. In the woods, the rat-a-tat of the elusive pileated woodpecker can be heard for great distances as it searches for grubs in hollow trees.
The open fields and woods edges are great places to observe wildlife, especially in early mornings and late afternoon. As darkness overtakes the park, the howl of a lone coyote or the eerie calls of several barred owls hooting back and forth may break the night silence. While you're visiting the park, take time to observe and enjoy the diverse wildlife populations in action. The park wildlife perform daily and there's no charge for this enlightening entertainment.
The tremendous variations in topography, exposures to sunlight, and soil types provide a diverse array of habitats that support many hundreds of interesting plant species.
The forests are basically oak-hickory in type, with many dozens of other tree species and shrubs mixed in. The sandstone areas support beautiful white pines, some red pines, and a few Jack pines. You can see all three kinds of pines in Pine Cliff State Natural Area, on the southeast side of Cox Hollow Lake. The spring wildflowers of the forests include bloodroot, hepatica, and Dutchman's breeches. The damp, shaded rich soil slopes produce almost solid communities of ferns, including giant interrupted ferns.
The open areas, for the most part, were farmed recently, but they will gradually revert back to more natural plant communities. Many open areas still support remnant prairies which, from spring through fall, exhibit many colorful wildflowers including goldenrods, sunflowers, asters, milkweeds, boneset, iron weeds, and mountain mint.
Many rare plants have been found in the park's isolated areas. Remember, wildflower picking is prohibited. Leave the flowers for others to enjoy in their natural setting.
Take US Highway 18 to Dodgeville, which is about 48 miles west of Madison, Wisconsin. Then go north on State Highway 23. The park entrance is on your right about 3 miles north of Highway 18. You also can take the scenic Highway 23 south from Spring Green or north from Mineral Point to reach the park.
By foot or bicycle, you can get to Governor Dodge by way of the Military Ridge State Trail. There's a surfaced access trail from the Military Ridge to the park just east of County Highway Z.
Governor Dodge State Park , 4175 Highway 23 N., Dodgeville, Wisconsin 53533More Info