About 75 years ago, folks got together and decided to put a manmade lake out in the middle of nowhere in southwestern Wisconsin.
Thus, Yellowstone Lake and related state park were born.
Yellowstone Lake State Park lies about halfway between Madison, Wisconsin, and Dubuque, Iowa. It’s also roughly equidistant from Platteville, Wisconsin, and Monroe, Wisconsin.
It’s not particularly close to any of those cities.
Getting there may or may not require you to travel on an Interstate freeway, a US highway, or a Wisconsin state highway. It will necessitate driving on at least two county roads, unless you live right next door.
I’m not really complaining about the location itself. It’s just that it’s a little difficult to get into and out of.
Assuming you arrive via the north entrance, you’ll see the park sign pictured above.
Wildlife in Yellowstone Lake State Park
On our first trip to Yellowstone Lake (and we’ll likely return for reasons I’ll explain later), we were almost immediately greeted by a white-tailed doe as we drove along Lake Road. She stood at the side of the road for a short time – not long enough for me to snap her picture.
By the way, you don’t need an admission sticker on your vehicle if you just want to use Lake Road to get from one end of the park to the other, instead of taking the scenic route(?) around the park. I wonder if many locals use the road this way.
According to the DNR site, you can see over 170 species of birds at Yellowstone Lake. In the relatively short time we were there, I think we saw about 5 of them.
We parked in the lot by the main office, where you were apparently supposed to check in. We didn’t bother.
The official park map (see below) lists 9 trails. We only took time for the Wildlife Loop Trail that circles the marshy Waterfowl Area at the northwest end of the park.
The sky was cloudy all day, and sometimes a few sprinkles fell. Since this was our second park of the day (Belmont Mound being the first), we didn’t feel up to doing much more than this one trail.
The lake itself is too long to get the whole thing in one picture. Here it is from the Wildlife Loop.
We saw and heard several geese along the trail. This one was sitting quietly in the water.
Later on, we saw these (below) geese – the noisy ones – out in the middle of the Waterfowl Area.
There were a few other common birds, like sparrows and red-winged blackbirds, along the way. And then there was also a pair of Baltimore orioles. Here’s the best shot I could get of one of them.
In our experience, it’s hard not to encounter a tree that has fallen over a trail in a state park. Some are easier than others to navigate. We went over this big birch.
There’s one other notable wildlife feature in Yellowstone Lake State Park – the bat houses. There are 31 of them, but we didn’t get to see any of them on this trip.
Now, you may not care for bats. Personally, I can take them or leave them, but the important thing here is that they virtually eliminate all the mosquitoes in the park! If I were a camper, which I’m not, I’m pretty sure I would love having these bats around all summer.
Activities Available at Yellowstone Lake State Park
Since we didn’t spend much time at the park on our first trip, we’ll probably make another visit some time to hike more of the trails – of which there are many. Besides the Wildlife Loop, there are these trails.
- Oak Ridge
- Prairie Loop
- Blue Ridge
- Oak Grove
- Windy Ridge
- Savanna Loop
There is some overlap, but if you count each trail separately, you can walk about 12 miles.
Besides the obvious hiking that we like to do, there are numerous other activities waiting for you at Yellowstone Lake State Park.
Yellowstone Lake is purposely stocked with fish for you to catch. We did see a couple of fishermen attempting their best. We also heard (if the one fisherman is to be believed) a fair amount of catfish jumping out of the water trying to catch insects. We never did actually see one jump, so there were no opportunities to photograph any.
As I hinted at above, you can camp in the park. You can also hunt (and fish) in season and, of course, with the proper licenses.
You can travel on the lake itself by boat, canoe, or kayak. It’s also suitable for swimming. When there’s too much ice on the lake, you can switch to snowmobiling or cross-country skiing on the trails.
Normally in the summer, there are nature programs you can attend. Sorry, but I don’t currently have any more information on these. I assume they vary from time to time and perhaps from year to year.
The Creation of Yellowstone Lake
As I mentioned earlier, Yellowstone Lake was manmade. I won’t go into the details of that process, but I do want to mention the dam that keeps the water in place, so to speak.
The Yellowstone River, which generally flows into the lake from the northwest, and the dam lets it out at the southeast end.
When driving from north to south along Lake Road, there is (currently) no sign that tells you to turn right just past the Yellowstone Lake Dairy Restaurant (closed for the time being). If you’re not looking at a map and miss that turn, you’ll drive right out of the park (as we did the first time).
Shortly before you get to the restaurant, there is a high point with a wayside marker, of sorts, that commemorates the dedication of the park.
You get a pretty good look at the southern end of the lake from this point too. I bet it looks rather awesome in the fall.
If you plan to visit Yellowstone Lake State Park, I think you should consider spending all day there, at least. We’re not campers, but if we were, I could see staying there for several days, considering all the interesting activities available.
Blanchardville, Wisconsin (9 miles)
Nearest Emergency Facility
Platteville, Wisconsin (30 miles)
6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, year-round
Vehicle admission sticker required