Date Hiked: 7/25/21
Weather: 81F, Not a cloud in the sky
Trail Type: Out and Back
Trail Length: 1.9 Miles Total
Min and Max Elevations: 739ft/1024ft
Number of Benches: 5, all loaded into the front half of the trail
Terrain: From paved to gravel to packed dirt to slick boulders
Stairs: One very short set of rock stairs
Views/Payoff: Extremely photogenic, lots of fun, great ending
Price: State Park Sticker/Daily Receipt required. Daily Admission in state $8, Out of state, $11
Mood Before Hiking: Ready to go!
Mood After Hiking: Out of breath and thirsty, but jazzed
This was my second hike out to Palfrey’s Glen, and so long as you’re able to navigate gentle inclines and rocky terrain, this hike is so worth the effort, even if you do not finish to the waterfall. Being in the gorge is amazingly beautiful. I went to this originally because I thought fairies could live here, and if they exist, they are surely at Palfrey’s Glen! Your hike is next to or in a creek, majority shaded with trees and, further in, the gorge itself. You’ll be surrounded by giant mossy stone walls and magical views! The latter half of this trail is difficult to finish, but even if you stop before you get to the creek bed, this hike is worth it! Absolutely NEEDED for this hike is waterproof boots or, if you are confident in wearing hiking sandals, sandals. Your feet WILL get wet. Extremely useful are also trek poles to help with stability in the creek bed. See below for a detailed trail review.
The Trail Review
Arriving at Palfrey’s Glen, there was absolutely no parking to be found. When I went before, I had a similar experience. Expect this trail to be busy if you’re going on a nice day! It is in a state park, so having a state park sticker or cash handy to pay for a day pass is required. This particular entrance is not staffed, so bring exact change or you may end up overpaying. Near the parking lot are two benches and two picnic tables, not included in my bench count on my quick details above. There is also restrooms, but in my experience most restrooms are still closed for Covid so I didn’t bother checking it.
The trail starts off easy with pavement through a mostly shady start to the woods. There is an off shoot trail from the pavement marked Ice Age Trail; do not follow that one. Continue down the paved one. You’ll hit gravel fairly soon, and also the only truly not shaded part of this hike. I love this hike in particular because even on a hot day, it’s not too bad with the shade, and when you’re in the latter half surrounded by rocks it’s even cooler. That said, I still sweated my ass off. Keep in mind also that as you’re hiking out, there is a steady, gentle incline all the way out. It’s not really noticeable to look at, but your heart rate and breathing will definitely track it! Right at the end of the gravel is a quick shady area with a bench and the creek easily accessible.
THe Packed Dirt Segment
The gravel will end in the woods proper, turning to packed dirt. If you are unable to handle packed dirt with tree roots and medium sized rocks to navigate across, this hike will not be worth it for you. During the packed dirt segment, there are two small wooden bridges across the creek, and then a creek crossing with no bridge, only rocks that are mostly out of the water. ALL of the rock crossings mentioned for Palfrey’s Glen are stable and was able to easily hold 325lbs of weight without fear of the rock moving or slipping. That said, the rocks ARE slippery, so keep that in mind. My hiking poles have saved me more than once from falling from a slick rock. The last of the benches are also during the packed dirt segment. I would like to point out that these benches are slightly narrower than an average bench, so it’s more like a perch for us fat folk. It is still a good place to pause and put down your pack and have some water. Up ahead are also plenty of large rocks and logs to rest on too if needed. You’ll know you’re coming to the end of the packed dirt trail when you find the rock stairs. This is a short set of stairs of average width and height. Even if you do not intend on going into the creek bed, climbing the stairs might still be worth it to you, as there is a wide area afterwards where you can sit and enjoy the creek.
The Creek Bed Segment
The last part of the trail is not maintained and is no longer a trail but literally following the creek bed. It is easiest to zig zag across the creek, and you’ll find natural outcroppings of rocks and logs to walk across. There are also flatter parts where the water isn’t too deep that you can walk through if you like, or do as some people did and just full on wade across/up the creek. The good part about this section of the trail, is that even skinny folks are slow moving as they take their time navigating the slippery rocks. Take all the time you need and do not feel rushed! (Although real talk, ALWAYS take all the time you need and fuck anyone who complains about it, damnit.) A con, of course, is the possibility of slipping and falling in front of friends/strangers. This part of the hike is by far the most magical. Be sure to take your time and enjoy it. (cont)
The hardest part of this entire hike is at the very end, and actually what inspired me to start writing this blog. There are a set of large boulders to get up and over(left), and two main paths in which to do it. You’ll see some people take a narrow path to the left. I’m just going to tell you now, if your body shape is like mine (325lbs, 5ft 4inches) you cannot take that left path even if it might look easier.
I’ll recommend the center path, and I found that this is the only place I put away the poles in order to use my hands to grab onto the rocks there. If you can lift your foot that high, there is a set of two stair-like rocks and then a gap to a higher rock. Try taking the stairs. If you find you can’t do that, getting in between the gap of the rock and stairs, sitting down on the top step, and then rotating your body until your feet are on the lower stair might work for you too. Then it’s just a matter of standing and not falling. I’m not joking that when I came to this issue the first time I went to this hike, it took me almost a half an hour to figure out how to get my body up and over.
But LOOK AT ME!
LOOK INTO MY EEEYYYYYES
You can DO THIS. (Although if you cant, no shame, and this is still a fantastic hike up to this point. You’re literally only missing the waterfall at this point) Once you’re up theres one last little bit that might catch you off guard, and that’s getting around a rock that’s in the path. I found that I could use my hands against one boulder and kind of side step my feet around the boulder in the way with my belly pointed down at the rock. And then you’ve done it! You’re at the waterfall, with plenty of rocks and logs to sit on and enjoy the view. If you want to get wet, theres a few deeper areas of the creek as well. When I first made this climb, I felt invincible. Many people, I noticed, put their hands up into the air in triumph, myself included. On the second climb-through, I felt just as good. It didn’t take me as long to get up there, and it’s still as incredible a feeling to say ‘yeah, I climbed that’.
There isn’t much to say on the hike back from the waterfall. It’s MUCH easier and you’ll finish it faster because it’s a subtle down-hill walk. As for the tricky gap to get up, going back down you should also take the middle road. I sat down on the higher rock and braced myself backwards with my hands and then reached my feet to the top step and ended up kind of on the top stair as a saddle to maneuver away from it.
: All in all, this hike is still my favorite I’ve done in Wisconsin thus far. The grade walking up isn’t too bad if you take plenty of breaks, although I was still needing a lot of breaks going out. The forest is wonderful and the creek is great to listen to. Going back feels like an absolutle breeze. The creek bed hike itself is fun, and not too challenging until the last part with the boulders. I’m rooting for you!
Here’s where some personal preferences come in for me. I probably would not hike this trail with skinny or fit friends/family members. The incline up to the waterfall is indeed gentle, but it still took a toll. The boulders at the end definitely had me grateful I was hiking on my own. Watching other people of average size climb up those things and how much easier they had it was a little annoying for me. I kept thinking about how my friends are super encouraging, but sometimes, I’d rather they just leave me on my own to figure out how I can, quite literally, maneuver my body in a way that works for me. Love your body and be confident in it, but also do some self reflection on how you might feel when you’re working out how best to move it, and what that might feel like with other people who don’t understand this struggle watching or trying to help. This trail is definitely going to touch on that. If you feel comfortable only hiking up to a certain point with others, this hike is so worth that too. Enjoy it and have fun; the payoff with the views and the feeling of accomplishment is going to leave me with a thirst to come back again and again.