Devil's Lake, n. A lake just south of Baraboo, Wisconsin, surrounded by 500 foot (150 m) quartzite bluffs.

The lake runs approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) north-south with a sandy beach on each end, spans .6 mile (1 km) east-west with cliffs and talus on each side, and reaches 45 feet (14 m) in depth. Though the lake level rises and falls several feet each year, the official elevation is 963 feet (294 m) above sea level. A benchmark on the west bluff sits at 1467 feet (447 m). The chilly lake and surrounding areas make up Devil's Lake State Park.

The name itself has several possible sources:

  1. mistranslation of Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) name “Da-wa-kah-char-gra” meaning “Spirit Lake”
  2. attraction of tourist and commercial attention
  3. common naming convention of 19th century for steep terrain

The rocks provide perfect locations for rock climbing; current guides list over 1600 routes. The scenery draws numerous tourists for fun on land or water and inspires photographers, painters, and poets. Devil's Lake exemplifies the stunning beauty of the Midwest's Driftless Area.


On land:

On/in/under water:

Points of Interest

Hiking Trails

Devil's Lake Geology

About 1.7 billion years ago, a sandy beach and Precambrian era sea floor slowly transformed into quartzite. A continental plate covered the beaches under 5 miles of earth and baked the sand into Baraboo quartzite. The rock resurfaced as the Baraboo range and weathered down for the next billion years. The range once again became sea floor in the Cambrian era, about 600 million years ago. Though no record remains to provide details, during the next several hundred million years mighty rivers cut through the rock to form the current river valley. 13,000 years ago, a Pleistocene glacier crept along from the east just to the border of the Devil's Lake valley. During the retreat, moraine dropped from the glacier blocked both the northern and southern river paths. This terminal moraine transformed the river valley into a lake valley.

Devil's Lake Flora

Protected from the glaciers, the Devil's Lake area provided refuge during the ice age for much of the current regional flora. Over 900 species of plant grow in the park, ranging in type from forest on top of the bluffs to cactus on the dry southern exposures to meadow, prairie, and, of course, wetlands.

Devil's Lake Fauna

Such variety of plants attracts similar variety of animals, especially birds. About 110 species of birds nest in the park. Common birds include the turkey vulture, pileated woodpeckers and whippoorwills; less common birds range from bald eagles to the extremely rare peregrine falcon. Since the lake is neither in Australia nor Madagascar, squirrels run loose. Other mammals include raccoons, woodchuck, white-tailed deer and foxes. The timber rattlesnake is the only poisonous snake of the ten found locally; however, it is rarely seen. Though never before seen in the park, I must also warn adventurers to watch out for the hoop snake; it has a deadly bite. The list could continue for quite awhile listing frogs, turtles, salamanders, and more. For fishers, I do include a list of lake fish: northern pike, walleye, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, perch and a variety of panfish. The last, but definitely not least, of the local critters are all the humans enjoying this marvelous lake.


    • by Baraboo Interactive Services
    • contributors: Paul Herr and Bill S.
  • Climber's Guide to Devil's Lake (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995)
    • by Sven Olof Swartling
    • contributor: Patricia K. Armstrong

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