Copper Falls State Park sign

Copper Falls State Park

Copper Falls State Park is much closer to Ashland than I thought. Of course, that’s only relevant if you live or are staying in Ashland…which we were. It’s roughly half an hour south of Ashland, just north of Mellen.

I was expecting a much rougher hike than the one we experienced. Just look at this wonderful overpass and railings!

Bridge and rails

You’ll find those chunky railings along much of the Doughboy Trail, which is the path to take if you’re going to Copper Falls.

Doughboy Trail sign

The Doughboy (or Doughboy’s) Trail traces a sort of “T” around the confluence of the Bad River and Tyler Forks River. That’s the Tyler Forks coming in from the right in the picture below.

Bad and Tyler Forks confluence

Having not done my homework on these rivers ahead of time, I was at first confused by Copper Falls and Brownstone Falls.

Assuming you hike “clockwise” along the Doughboy, as most visitors do and as it seems you’re expected to, you first get to see Copper Falls from the west bank (cliff, really) of the Bad River. The water is falling and streaming in the same direction as you’re walking.

Copper Falls from the west bank

Shortly thereafter, you see Brownstone Falls falling in the opposite direction.

Brownstone Falls

The problem (or my problem, at least) is that you can’t see that confluence (see above) from the west bank. It looks like the river is suddenly flowing into itself.

Now, once I realized what’s really going on here, I saw how silly that first thought was, but I was really flummoxed for a bit. (I’m sure most people aren’t.)

Just past that confluence is a rock outcropping called Devil’s Gate, seen here “edgewise” from the south.

Devil's Gate from the south

As you’re later crossing the river, you get a glimpse of the Gate from the side. It does look a little menacing.

Devil's Gate from the west

Before you get there though, you can rest at this large, covered bench, which has a little historical significance.

Covered bench
Covered bench plaque

I have to say I was somewhat disappointed that there was another one of these further along the trail on the north side of the river. It just seems there should only be one of these to keep it special.

You can walk down to the river itself near this bridge that takes you across it.

Bridge from below

Here’s that same bridge from the south end.

Bridge from south

After hiking along the north side of the river(s) – which includes a long flight of steps with no bench at the top…ahem – you get to another bridge that takes you back across the Tyler Forks. From there you can see the Tyler Forks Cascades. The Cascades are featured in a jigsaw puzzle we bought at the shop in the park.

Tyler Fork Cascades
Jigsaw of Tyler Forks Cascades

As you make the “return” trip along the Doughboy, you’re also walking simultaneously along a portion of the North Country Trail. Ooh, aah!

Before you get back to that shop (open at 10:00) near the parking lot, you get a closer and better view of Copper Falls from the east bank.

Copper Falls from the east bank

Near the start of the Doughboy Trail, there’s a fork (apparently called the CCC 692 Trail) that takes you to the observation tower. I climbed the 143 steps up the path…

Stairs to observation tower

…followed the inclined trail which included a few more steps…

Path to observation tower

…found the tower at the end of the path and climbed its 78 stairs to the top…

Copper Falls observation tower

…to see this.

View from observation tower

If you did the math, you should have gotten a total over 200.

That may be the Ashland area in the distance. Views in all other directions were even more leafy. (And it was hot up there.)

As is true of many “scenic views” in Wisconsin state parks, the view must have been much better 30 years ago before all the trees got in the way.

So the tower climb wasn’t really worth the effort, but the hike along and over and around the rivers was. If I were ever in the area again, I’d revisit Copper Falls to hike one of the other trails. Red Granite and Vahtera look especially interesting.


Nearest City

Mellen, Wisconsin (4 miles)

Nearest Emergency Facility

Ashland, Wisconsin (25 miles)


6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, year-round


Vehicle admission sticker required

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *