As the weather worsens, there are usually fewer people hiking on the weekends. We are past peak color, but area trails are still crowded.
I headed out mid-day during the weekend in search of the trail less traveled. Curious, I drove by Gibraltar Rock and found the parking lot full beyond capacity and all the way out to the road in the undesignated spots. The lesser known trailheads in the Lodi area were similarly busy.
I headed to the next town west: Prairie du Sac. The Great Sauk trail leading out of town, featured busy bicycle traffic in both directions. Nope! I started driving north of town, intending to head out to the retired Badger Munitions Plant, where some new recreational land has been established. However, I missed my turn and found myself on Hwy 78, driving towards the south end of Devil's Lake State Park, where two million people visit each year.
I turned up Hwy 113, not really expecting to see much in solitary hiking opportunities. I noticed a truck parked in a small parking lot on the east side of the road. An older, yellowed sign said "Merrimac Preserve." I had low expectations, thinking that the trail would probably be good for a short hike.
As it turned out, this was one of my best hiking finds in recent memory. The trail was in great shape, having recently been mowed. Bridges and boardwalks, built in 1996, provided relief from the wetlands and crossing streams. The Merrimac Preserve transitioned into the Riverland Conservancy.
We hiked the orange and blue trails, passing through woodlands and wetlands. One of the streams was deep enough for Callie to swim in. To the north, views extended to the Baraboo Range.
Callie and I hiked for over two hours (five miles or so) and never saw another person. Devil's Lake State Park, with all of its crowded trails, was in plain sight. I've passed this small parking lot over a hundred times without knowing the preserve was there. This time, my meandering paid off.