Within a few hours drive of Madison, WI, Chicago and Minneapolis, Devil’s Lake State Park offers an excellent rock climbing opportunities for new climbers and challenges skilled climbers alike. The unique Baraboo quartzite cliffs are a geologic anomaly for the midwest, which is typically composed of sandstone, limestone, and basalt formations. The rock is hard, glassy, and jagged – offering a unique climbing opportunity and skills challenge. Many of the climbing areas are above the forest below, offering unique views and exposure as well.
Devil’s Lake Rock Climbing
Rock Climbing at Devil’s Lake can be done safely with a few methods, each requiring a different set of safety skills. There are no permanently-placed bolts or anchors at Devil’s Lake, as it is a long-time traditional climbing area. Experienced climbers ascend the rock faces placing temporary, removable protection pieces specially designed to catch the impact of a falling climber and then some. Casual, and newer climbers should climb in top-rope fashion, where an anchor is built from features at the top of a cliff, and a rope runs from up above to catch the climber. Choose your climbs carefully, the ratings here are known to be “stiff” and closer to old-school ratings, a 5.7 may “feel” like a 5.10 for someone not used to navigating the frictionless rock. Always remember to adhere to leave-no-trace ethics and pack out your trash, be respectful of others wanting to climb your route, and friendly towards other hikers and tourists, this place can be crowded on weekends.
Devil’s Lake Classic Rock Climbs
East Bluff – East Ramparts
The East Bluff containts some of the highest concentrations of climbs within the park, making it a popular destination. The area is divided into several sub-areas, including the climbs on the western-most portion of East Bluff by the Rail Road tracks, Balanced Rock Wall, and DoorWay Major and Minor Mass. The Eastern part of East Bluff, “East Ramparts” contains the most concentrated climbing area in the East Bluff. You can access the climbs by Balanced Rock wall using the main visitor trail from the South shore parking lot. Doorway Mass can be accessed by a gully East of the Devil’s Doorway rock formation. The East Rampart area is best accessed using the Potholes and CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) trails further east from the main South shore parking.
Brinton’s Crack 5.6
Peter’s Project 5.7
Birch Tree Crack 5.8
Mouse Tracks / Mouse’s Misery 5.10a
Jolly Roger 5.8
Push-Mi, Pull-Yu 5.7
Double Overhang 5.4
Boy Scout 5.3
West Bluff – Cleo Ampitheater
The West Bluff of Devil’s Lake State Park offers excellent climbing opportunities – being situated further from the tourist attractions as well as the crowds that gather to climb at East Bluff, the disparate rock walls and less concentrated climbing offer solitude and peaceful climbing opportunities. The most well-trafficked are is the Cleo Amphitheater, including the freestanding tower, “Cleopatra’s Needle” which is a requisite for serious climbers at the lake. The Cleo Amphitheater also features easy beginner’s leads such as “Queen’s Throne” which takes protection well. Also nearby, the Weissner wall offers one of the most stellar climbs in West Bluff, a challenging but easy 5.7 that is one of the tallest climbs at Devil’s Lake. You can access the Cleo amphitheater by hiking just north of the rental cottages and scrambling up, or hiking the cliff-top trail and rappelling in when sighting the needle.
Cleo’s Needle East Face 5.4
Queen’s Throne 5.7
Weissner Face 5.7
Old Sandstone Area
Any Devil’s Lake climber should at least visit the Old Sandstone area once. It is gaining rapid popularity due to its unique sandstone rock features, an anomaly in the park. There are a few classic climbs there worth adding to the tick list for a new climber. Accessing the Old Sandstone area involves parking in the small lot first seen when entering Devil’s Lake from the south shore access road.
American Beauty Crack 5.8
Gargantua 5.10 B
Tarantula 5.10 B
Rock Climbing Anchors – A Comprehensive Guide by Craig Luebben
Traditional Lead Climbing – Taking the Sharp End of the Rope by Heidi Pesterfield
Devil’s Lake: A Climbing Guide by Jay Knower
Food, Lodging, and Drink
Pohlk’s Pub, Portage, WI
Late Night bar in nearby Portage, supplying some of the tastiest and freshest burgers in the area. Open Late and hosting unique local rock and indie bands.
Ferry X-Ing, Merrimac, WI
The bar by the Ferry, it’s always fun to take the ferry across the Wisconsin river in Merrimac if you’re heading south from Devil’s Lake. The food and atmosphere are a great reward after a day out at the lake.
Varsity Club, Merrimac, WI
The Varsity Club is the family restaurant in Merrimac, with ample space to accomodate a large group and an outdoor patio area.
Baraboo Bluff Winery, Baraboo, WI
Area winery offering unique wine varietals with several grapes grown and aged on-site. The newly built wine tasting room offers superb views of the Baraboo hills. Great for couples.
Driftless Glenn Distillery and Restaurant, Baraboo, WI
Local distillery producing unique vodka, rum, moonshine and even whiskey. Full service restaurant and bar in downtown Baraboo offering upscale dining and cocktails. Try the Manhattan with local bacon, because whiskey and bacon.
Pettenwell Bluff – Necedah, WI
Hillbilly Hollow, WI
Granddad’s Bluff – La Crosse, WI
Sugar Loaf – Winona, MN
Climbing with the Chicago Mountaineering Club
One can get in on the climbing action, meet new friends and possibly a mentor to show you the ropes in the complex world of trad climbing and anchor building during a Chicago Mountaineering Club outing. Outings occur at different locations near Chicago over the weekends. To join an outing you must contact the club and pay a camping fee to the club’s private campground situated at Devil’s Lake!