52 Hike Challenge {Part 1}

I should be writing my State 22 marathon recap post, but alas that did not happen this past weekend. State #21-Nebraska was cancelled in June. While I could have ran the Maah Daah Hey Trail Marathon in North Dakota, I had my Theodore Roosevelt National Park camping reservations cancelled and just didn’t feel right taking the family that far given our current scenario. I also did not want to be running a trail race through the Badlands in summer heat without any support person to help me. Lucky for me, I do have a goal I set for myself in January that I have been working on.

While running will always hold a special place in my heart, hiking is a near second. Hiking has been something that I’ve always loved. My first (and only) real hiking memory as a kid was hiking at Devil’s Lake. In college my now husband and I hiked the trails in La Crosse near our campus and ventured out to other hiking places during the summer time. We got engaged on a rainy spring day hike on the West Bluff at Devil’s Lake. We announced our pregnancy with photos from Devil’s Lake, and both Pierce and Aria had their first hikes on those very bluffs before they were even born.

There is something about the near silent sound of my feet as they take each step on the Earth. The grounding smell of pine needles, the hope in the scent of leaves coming to life and the joyful surprise of the scent of wildflowers blooming nearby. Wildlife is never far away. The effort to climb to a beautiful view is always rewarded. The change in seasons is always more appreciated when it is experienced outdoors. While I experience many of these things on the run, there is also beauty in slowing down to enjoy nature. More time to contemplate, reflect and spend time thinking. Again, so fitting for the current time we find ourselves in.

As I’ve gotten older and life more stressful, I find hiking has become a bigger and bigger part of how I recharge, but still not something I did as much as I wanted. I realized hiking really should be part of my regular life, not just something reserved for when we have time or our next vacation. I wanted hiking to be something that was a part of our regular daily lives. I wanted my kids to grow up experiencing the many physical, mental and relational benefits linked to walking in nature. I also wanted my kids to love something involving the outdoors before they could love technology. It is my hope that once they experience nature it can always be a resource and recharge to return to whenever they need to as they get older.

It was with this in mind that I decided to make hiking a focus back in January. One of my goals for 2020 is to complete the 52 Hike Challenge. The goal is pretty simple-hike 52 hikes in a year, one for each week. How interesting that I made a goal I CAN still do this year! As the halfway point of the year passed at the end of June, I can say I’m only loving hiking more and more. While I always planned to include my family in this goal, I did expect more of the hikes to be individual. Given the circumstances of the year, the goal has evolved into a family goal of sorts. We all need that outside time. I have only grown to love my time on the trail even more.

Now there are the not so fun parts too like ticks, mosquitoes and kids who all the sudden cannot. walk. another. step. and must be carried on your back. But those same kids, who sometimes complain at the start, always end up loving their time on the trail and in the woods. It is here that their imaginations come alive and the entire landscape from rocks to plants to footprints to clouds in the sky provide a litany of questions for their curious minds along the way to say why? How come? When? Nature is the ultimate teacher. It’s where somedays we parents are bears and the kids are running from us (we need to teach them some better bear safety 🙂 while other days the eldest is a plethora of dinosaur types and the youngest is a cheetah both roaring through the woods.

In a time where many of us are looking to get outdoors more because there are fewer options with which to spend our time, I’m sharing my list of hikes I completed during the first half of the year. I only ask that you please follow social distancing guidelines and be good stewards of the outdoors. My family has made sure to practice good safety practices while visiting these locations. As always, leave no trace (pack in, pack out). Do not make stops along the way. Avoid touching of public places. Social distance on the trail. Avoid locations when they are busy or choose somewhere different to visit if the parking area is full. We have intentionally hiked a few of these spots when rain is in the forecast in hopes of fewer people and often go during the week to reduce the chance of crowds. Many of these times we ended up being the only ones at these sometimes busier locations. Get creative with bathroom use (we have our kids potty seat along). Get gas before you leave and where you normally would. Plan ahead. Being prepared leads to a better experience-snacks, water, insect repellant, sunscreen and appropriate attire.

I know many others are looking for places to get outdoors, so I’m sharing my list to help you decide where to go next. No matter your experience with hiking, with the right trails and clothes anyone can do this. Below is a list of the first 26 hikes I/we’ve done so far this year. All hikes are in Wisconsin unless otherwise noted.

#1-Miller Bluff, Hixon Forest, La Crosse

#2-Black River State Forest, Millston

#3-Great River Bluffs State Park, Minnesota

#4-Castle Mound Pine Forest State Natural Area, Black River Falls

#5-Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Brice Praire

#6-Miller Bluff, Hixon Forest, La Crosse

#7-Kickapoo Valley Reserve, La Farge

#8-Halfway Creek Trail, Holmen

#9-Perrot State Park, Trempealeau

#10-Great River Bluffs State Park, Minnesota

#11-Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Brice Praire

#12-Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge

#13-Merrick State Park, Fountain City

#14-Maiden Rock Bluff, Stockholm

#15-Little Bluff Mounds Trail, Trempealeau

#16-Husband’s Family Farm 🙂

#17-Battle Bluff Prairie State Natural Area

#18-Wazee Lake, Black River Falls

#19-Perry Creek Recreational Area, Black River Falls

#20-Wildcat Mountain State Park, Ontario

#21-Pier Natural Bridge Park, Rockport

Don’t forget to walk the top of this rock bridge.

#22-Wyalusing State Park

#23-Devil’s Lake State Park, Baraboo (East Bluff)

#24-Devil’s Lake State Park (East and West Bluffs Loop)

#25-Hixon Forest, La Crosse

#26-Beaver Creek Valley State Park, Caledonia, Minnesota

Bonus “Hike”: McGilvray “Seven Bridges” Road, Holmen

This is a beautiful walk or running route, but since it wasn’t really a hike, I did not count it in my 52 Hike Challenge. Also, I do NOT recommend this trail once mosquitoes are out and about. In early spring flooding will make some of this trail impassable.

What is a favorite hiking place (or two or three) you would recommend?

Happy Hiking!

Sarah

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