Saturday, January 12, 2008

Snowshoeing Indian Lake

One of my favorite county parks is Indian Lake, located just off Highway 19 near the town of Marxville and just north and west of Madison. It's a short drive (or longer bike ride) to get there, and it's a decent sized space with a lovely little lake, forested slopes and plenty of trails. During warmer months, the hiking is great. Come winter and a decent amount of snowfall, like we had this December, and it's a fantastic place to cross country ski or snowshoe.

A couple of weeks ago, we chose the latter activity and, with some borrowed shoes, headed out for an afternoon of hiking through the beautiful, powdery snow.

The trails are relatively well-mapped, but be sure to bring your own color print-out of it, as the posted maps along the trails at the park tend to be washed out and hard to read. There are several difficulty levels available, as well as trails marked specifically for snowshoeing (in addition to skiing, usually). Tip for those of you not wanting to be jerks: don't walk/snowshoe in the middle of the groomed ski paths. Stick to the sides or blaze your own trails.

Heck, half the fun of snowshoeing is being able to wander off wherever you want to go, unfettered by the beaten path or thigh-high snow drifts. I'd never been snowshoeing before and discovered that it was great fun to be able to set off into the woods, high above the tangle of the forest floor and surrounded by the snow-silent woods. The other nice thing about Indian Lake is that, unlike the UW Arboretum, it's not usually packed with fellow travelers. We passed on average of one or two skiers (and no other snowshoers) every ten or fifteen minutes, all of whom were very friendly and polite. Everyone just seemed happy to be out and enjoying the great conditions.

The real jewel of Indian Lake in wintertime, however, is the warming house: a small, one-room log cabin built at the very end of the yellow loop (or very beginning, depending) and at the top of the park's modestly sized sledding hill. Inside the warming house are two long tables and a wood-fired stove that's kept roaring all day long. Without a doubt, one of the best feelings in the world is coming in from activity in the cold and sitting down in front of a warm fire with a thermos of hot chocolate (which we'd brilliantly thought to have brought along). The only things we didn't think to bring were sleds, which would have been a nice way to end our trek. A group of children were having a grand ol' time bombing down the hill on everything from the usual plastic discs or planks, to at least one traditional toboggan and a few inner tubes.

So I found that I really enjoyed snowshoeing, and am now on the hunt for a pair of my own. And I think that, as soon as the snow builds back up again (knock on wood), another trip out to Indian Lake is definitely in order.


Brad V said...

I've never been in winter, but the park is great in summer.

Check out Donald County Park in southern Dane County for some great winter hiking.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experience, especially the warming house! I have been to parks set up like this in the past, but could find no infomration on the park site to know if the warming house was truly warm. We'll be sledding there in the near future!

Emily said...

Anon, very happy it was useful for you! And have fun sledding. :)

Unknown said...

next time you venture out showshoeing , you should try Donald Park near Mt, Vernon. its one of the newer jewels in Dane counties park system. Donald park vetures varied terrain with multiple streams and bridges and some of the counties most beautiful scenery. roger

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the tip on Donald Park! We went to Indian Lake yesterday and Donald today. They both were great fun for snowshoeing and my first attempt cross-country skiing.

The Lost Albatross