What: Spend a day canoeing or kayaking Mirror Lake, near Wisconsin Dells.
You should go because: There's a reason it's called Mirror Lake — bluffs protect this relatively shallow lake from the wind, and the entire lake is a no-wake zone, providing a perfect surface for both novices and experienced paddlers.
Created from a dam placed along Dell Creek, Mirror Lake features three main lobes that extend through sandstone-cliff-lined canyons covered with moss and pine and oak trees. The temperature is noticeably cooler in the narrow canyon sections of the lake, making this a great destination in the warm summer months.
What you'll need: A canoe or kayak. You can launch your own from the boat launch in Mirror Lake State Park, or you can rent one from Mirror Lake Rentals, adjacent to the launch. You'll also want to bring a camera for capturing the vistas and wildlife.
When to go: Late spring and early summer, when water levels tend to be higher after spring thaws and rains, are the best times to explore all of the lake's lobes.
"This is a nice time of year when everything is still really clear," said Ruth Lindert, a visitor services associate at Mirror Lake State Park. Duckweed, a harmless green plant that floats on the water, can become more prolific as the weather gets warmer. But Lindert notes the lake's management group does a good job of clearing the duckweed throughout the summer, so "really anytime is great."
Park naturalists lead 1.5-hour kayak and canoe tours on the lake once a month, typically the second Saturday.
Route: Launch from the boat launch in Mirror Lake State Park and choose a direction. I like to head up the northern lobe toward the interstate, then circle back down to the beach and picnic area for lunch.
In the afternoon, head west toward the main part of the lake. The gorge narrows quite a bit in this area, and can be as shallow as 3 feet in some spots, so you'll have to pull your gaze from the towering cliffs every now and then to check your path. Wildlife to watch for include ducks, hawks, woodpeckers, grouse and the ocassional eagle.
Difficulty level: Easy. The smooth surface of the lake is great for families and beginners. The current picks up a bit if you head west into Dell Creek, but there are plenty of calmer places to explore east of that.
While you're there: Sip an old fashioned before dinner on the deck of the Ishnala supper club, located within the state park on the lake's eastern shore. The 60-year-old restaurant serves classic supper club favorites such as prime rib, and the views of Mirror Lake from the dining room are one-of-a-kind. The restaurant is open daily at 4 p.m.
Visit Mirror Lake the second Sunday of the month and finish your day with a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Seth Peterson cottage, open for tours from 1 to 3 p.m. The cottage is also available for rent year-round, and includes a small dock and canoe for exploring the lake.
How much it will set you back: A daily admission pass to the state park for vehicles with Wisconsin plates is $7, or $25 for a yearly pass (out-of-state vehicle admission stickers are $10/day or $35/annual). Canoe rentals are $14/hour, $30 for four hours. Kayaks rent for $12/hour, $25 for four hours.
Getting there: Mirror Lake State Park is at E10320 Fern Dell Road, Baraboo, about a two-hour drive from Milwaukee.
More info: (608) 254-2333, dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/mirrorlake.
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