North Freedom, Wisconsin

Hike Wisconsin's Natural Bridge State Park

3.5 Miles Total - 566 ft gain - Loop Trail

Originally added by Justine Marshall

The Natural Bridge State Park features Wisconsin’s largest natural arch and one of the earliest inhabited sites in the state. Finding a gorgeous hiking trail to such a historic gem is a rare and special thing indeed.

Located in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region, Natural Bridge State Park includes 530-acres of oak and hardwood trees, small prairie remnants with grasses and cacti, ferns, and the rare goldenrod and purple cliffbrake. Wildlife in the park includes turkey vultures, pileated woodpeckers, and bald eagles.

 Two easy hiking paths,. Indian Moccasin Trail and Whitetail Trail, together make up the 3.5 miles of the park's trail system. 

The arch and rock shelter are short distance up the Indian Moccasin Nature Trail, which then loops further through the wooded hills. The longer Whitetail Hiking Trail leads across the highway to the less-used southern half of the park. Trailrunners and cross country skiers may continue on across County Highway C for an additional 3 mile loop.

The park’s main features is a massive 35 foot by 25 foot natural arch formed by wind and water erosional processes that chipped away at a massive block of sandstone, forming a natural bridge suspended between two layered sandstone formations.

Underneath the arch, the Raddatz Rock shelter, about 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep, has been carved out. Archaeologists discovered charred wood and animal remains that date back to 12,000 B.C.

The large parking area on County Highway C marks the trailhead. From the parking area north of Highway C, take the 1.5 mile long Indian Moccasin Trail loop to the bridge. Follow the nature trail north through the woods. At the top of a short climb, you'll reach a fork near a small, open prairie. Take the trail to the right back into the woods. As the trail cuts back to the east, the bridge comes into view. A notable feature of the trail is that it has message boards highlighting medicinal plants used by the area’s first inhabitants. A short distance after the bridge, a short, steep trail spur to the east leads to a lookout point with great views of the surrounding Baraboo Hills.

Back on the main trail, follow the trail to the west back to the parking lot, or continue hiking south toward Highway C for a longer hike. Cross the highway and trek through an open cornfield toward the woods, where the 2-mile Whitetail Hiking Trail makes a slow climb up a ridge. A cutoff bisects the trail about halfway, if you're looking for a shorter hike. Continue along the main trail as it reaches the top of the ridge and then circles back down to the highway. Watch and listen for woodpeckers, bald eagles and whitetail deer.

Back across the highway the trail splits past an old stone smokehouse, built in 1900 by the Raddatz family, who owned and farmed the land before the state took over. The fork to the left travels past a small prairie that boasts Indian grass, little bluestem and gamma grasses in the summer. To the right, the trail crawls back through the woods to the parking lot.

The hiking trails average grade is 8% with a max 26% grade.

This trail is pretty quiet, and I only met two other hikers the weekend I went there. I went during the Fall to see the beautiful changing leaves on the surrounding hills, but I want to return during winter to see what the arch looks like without being surrounded by lush vegetation. 

The trail is day use only, no camping allowed. Dogs are allowed, as long as they remain leased. The park is open 6AM-11PM, year-round. Amenities include a picnic area and restrooms. The southern portion of the park is open for hunting during autumn months. 

While Natural Bridge State Park isn't that far away from SR 12, it feels far away because the roads are windy and the landscape is rural. If you have time, take a detour after your Park visit to explore almost 9 miles of designated Rustic Roads just northeast of the Park. Ruff Road, Orchard Drive, and Slotty Road are gravel roads that explore the hilly terrain near Natural Bridge; Schara Road traverses a high ridge littered with huge, old trees and fantastic views. 

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Tags

Fitness
Chillin
Photography
Running
Skiing
Hiking
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Groups
Picnic Area
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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