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Donald County Park:  A Must Visit

9:34 am  |  Topics: Places


Story and photos by Christel Maass

This past April, my husband chose to visit Donald County Park, located just southwest of Madison in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, for his birthday—and were we ever glad he did.

At close to 800 acres, this Dane County park is so big—and beautiful—it’s impossible to take it all in in a single visit.  We were in the area in early October and had to go back.

This view greets visitors near the park's main trailhead.
This view greets visitors near the park’s main trailhead.

Named after the family that rooted here and wished to preserve their land, this property has a diverse landscape of rock outcroppings, wooded hills, rolling prairies, a pond, clear-running streams, and the largest springs I’ve ever seen in Wisconsin.  No doubt—and evidence proves—Native Americans once gathered here. 

The largest spring along the Springs Trail, laced with watercress, an aggressive non-native aquatic perennial.
The largest spring along the Springs Trail, laced with watercress, an aggressive non-native aquatic perennial.

Donald Park is a place where you can hike, ride your horse, or find a bench on a knoll under stately oaks and hickories for a quiet respite.  You can also trout fish here, and if you’re planning ahead for winter, cross-country ski and snowshoe.

For some, it was a beautiful October day for a trail ride.
For some, it was a beautiful October day for a trail ride.

With over ten miles of trails and endless vistas, one can easily spend all day.  We pretty much did that on both visits.

If you’re looking for a special place you haven’t explored before, add this one to your bucket list.  It’s a must.  I hope these photos convince you to pack your gear, snacks, water, and treat yourself to a day of gorgeous scenery you won’t soon forget.  

A trail up a rocky bluff leads to a lovely view of Mount Vernon.
A trail up a rocky bluff leads to a lovely view of Mount Vernon.

There are many gorgeous oaks on this property. 

I fell in love with this oak on our first visit.
I fell in love with this oak on our first visit.
An April view of a distant farm through the oak's limbs.
An April view of a distant farm through the oak’s limbs.

Fall brought colors, textures, and rustic sounds in the rolling landscape.

Leaves of a red oak turning.
Leaves of a red oak turning.
That stately oak in early October.
That stately oak in early October.
Seedheads reach for the sky.
Seedheads reach for the sky.
An upland trail traverses prairie
An upland trail traverses prairie.
Asters sparkle amid fading goldenrod.
Asters sparkle amid fading goldenrod.
Spent flowers and sandpapery leaves rustle in the breeze.
Spent flowers and sandpapery leaves rustle in the breeze.
A view from a lowland trail extends beyond the park.
A view from a lowland trail extends beyond the park.
Milkweed seeds wait for the wind to disperse them.
Milkweed seeds wait for the wind to disperse them.
A knoll with mature oaks and hickories offers a great place to rest and reflect.
A knoll with mature oaks and hickories offers a great place to rest and reflect.

I’ll be back—for there’s an oak awaiting my return.

For directions and more information:

Dane County Parks: https://parks-lwrd.countyofdane.com/park/Donald

Friends of Donald Park:  https://donaldpark.org/welcome/

Christel Maass, a newly minted Master Naturalist, loves exploring Wisconsin’s many special places with her husband, Terry Rindt.