Governor Dodge State Park
acres of steep hills, bluffs and deep valleys, plus two lakes
offering swimming, fishing and boating (electric motors only). Hike
through oak-hickory woods, ride horses over rolling hills, picnic
near sandstone bluffs. 4175 Hwy. 23, Dodgeville 53533. (608)
Directions: Take US Highway 18 to Dodgeville, which is about 48 miles west of Madison, Wisconsin. Then go north on State Highway 23. The park entrance is on your right about 3 miles north of Highway 18. You also can take the scenic Highway 23 south from Spring Green or north from Mineral Point to reach the park.
By foot or bicycle, you can get to Governor Dodge by way of the Military Ridge State Trail. There's a surfaced access trail from the Military Ridge to the park just east of County Highway Z.
Features: Governor Dodge, in southwestern Wisconsin, is one of the state's largest state parks, with 5,270 scenic acres of steep hills, bluffs, and deep valleys plus two lakes and a waterfall. Governor Dodge maintains nearly 40 miles of trails. All are open to hiking and many of them for cross-country skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling. The park also is adjacent to the 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail, which goes to Madison. The park has 269 campsites that each accommodate a family or six people. Electrical hookups are available at 80 sites.
Campground: (recommended sites in red) The park has two family campgrounds with 269 campsites, 77 with electrical hookups.
Cox Hollow Campground has 2 sections. Only the handicapped-accessible site has electricity. Sites in the 1-48 area are wooded and shady. Sites 1-15 and 45-48 are all along the access road and are not the best sites in this loop. Site 1 is the campground host. Sites 5 and 6 are short walk-in sites, medium-sized but partially visible from the road. The other sites from 1-15, 47 and 48 are all on the small side for this loop and shady. Sites 45 and 46 are larger sites and are close to the shower building and playground across the road from it. The best sites in the loop, and some of the best in the park, are on the outer loop of the road. Avoid the inner sites: 16-20, 23, 25, 28, 31, 36, 38, and 40. They are closer to each other and not as private as the outer sites. Site 21 (photo) is my favorite site in the park- large and shady under large trees with a superb view of Cox Hollow Lake (photo) from the high cliff it is situated upon (there is a fence along the cliff to avoid slips). When the sun starts setting the water on the lake turns a golden color and the view of the fishing boats drifting across the lake is memorable. The neighboring sites, site 22 (photo), and site 32 (photo) share the great view and are large and shady. Site 22 also has a good lake view and is large and shady, similar to site 33. Sites 24 and 26 are large, shady sites along the cliff, and 26 has some excellent rock outcroppings behind it with a superb view. Sites 27, 29, and 30 are good-sized shady sites, as are 34, 35, 37, 39, and 41-44 which are situated at the edge of a forested valley. Site 43 and 44 are located near the shower building, as is site 16, which is handicapped-accessible.
In the 49-118 section, sites 49-66 are all along the main center road and are average-sized and sunny. Sites 67 and 68 are close together and good for families who want to camp side by side. Good large, shady sites on the outside of the loop are 70, 71, 73, and 74. Site 71 (photo) is deep, shady, and private. Site 74 is next to the access trail to many of the trailheads. Site 76 is more open near the access trail and can get a little busy with hikers passing by. Site 77 is also on the outside of the loop and is large and private. Other nice sites on the outside of the loop are 78, 81, 82, 85, 86, 89, 90, 93, and 95-97 which are all good-sized and shady at the edge of a valley where the Lost Canyon trail descends. Many of the early sites in this section have connector trails behind them to the large trail. Sites on the inner loop here are not as private. There is a playground in this area and the closest sites are 50, 52, 54, 105, 110, 112, 115, and 118. Site 55 (handicapped), and sites 91 and 92 are close to the shower building. Double site 98/99 is good for groups of campers who want to camp together. The best of the rest are on the outside loop- sites 107, 108/109 (double), 111, and 114, all larger shady sites with good privacy.
The Twin Valley Campground is midway between Cox Hollow and Twin Lakes and is more popular because it has electric sites, which are all on the inside of the loops. Cox Hollow Beach is only .8 miles away down the trail from this campground. Site 201 is across the road from the playground but is too close to the access road. Sites 202 and 204 are medium-sized, wooded and private. Site 203, which is sunny, and sites 205, 206E, and 208E, which also get a little sun, are good medium-sized sites and 205 and 206 are good for medium-sized RVs. The flush toilets are behind site 210. Other good-sized, deep, mostly shady sites in this area are 211E, 214E, 215E, 217E, 218E, 221 (sunny next to a field), 223 (a pull-through at the edge of a valley), and 228 (photo), a nice shady, bi-level site with the lower camping area at the edge of a valley. Sites 220 and 222 are smaller but have nice views of the distant hills. Other nice shaded sites at the edge of the valley and similar to 228 are numbers 230, 232, 234, 236, 238, 240, 242, and 243. Site 241 is a hard-surfaced handicapped-accessible site which is close to the shower building. Sites in the 255-293 loop are heavily wooded and shady. Sites 262-264 are excellent secluded walk-ins, with 263 (photo) the deepest and most private, about 70-feet from the parking area, with patches of sunlight in the afternoon. This site has lots of room, with a path that leads to a cliff (be careful if you have kids or dogs). One night I stayed here coyotes came yipping and howling through the canyon below. Only Cox Hollow Site 21 compares to this site in my opinion. Sites 262 and 264 are also great sites, but not as large and deep. Another fine set of large, shady walk-in sites are 269-271, with the middle site, 270, the best of the three. Most of the sites on the outside of the loop here are large and private and good choices. Site 285 is one of the best, a large private site at the edge of a wooded valley. Sites 273/274 and 276/277 are excellent large doubles for groups of campers.
At the entrance to the 300-355 loop is a large playground area which is very popular with kids. Sites in the early 300s are good for sun-lovers. Site 302 has a big field behind it, 303E is a sunny electric site, and 305 is very wide and sunny. Other medium-sized sunny sites in this area are numbers 306E, 307E, 309E, 310E, and 313E. Good medium-sized shady sites here are numbers 311, 312, 315, 316 (extra-wide), 318, and 320. Lots of RVs come to this area because of the electric hook-ups and depth of the sites. Site 335 (photo) is large, deep, and sunny in the afternoon, similar to sites 325, 326, 328, 336, 339, and 342. Sites 337/338 make a good double-site for groups of campers and are close to the shower building. Sites in the 340s are near the playground.
There are eight campsites that can accommodate groups of 15 to 100 persons per site. Only tents are allowed. Each group site has a large tent area, picnic tables, a large fire ring, and a set of pit toilets. Drinking water is provided at group road intersections.
There are six backpack campsites in the Hickory Ridge group camp area. All require about a half mile hike from the parking lot. Water and pit toilets are near the parking lot.
The park has 11 regular campsites for horse campers. No electricity is available. Vehicle admission stickers and trail passes are required. Reservations are recommended. The horse campground and horse trails are open May 1 to November 15.
Two small group sites are also available in the horse campground on a first come, first served basis. Contact the park office for more information.
Tether poles are provided at each campsite. Please bring your own tethering ropes, as none are available at the park. Please contact the park office for information about the use of fencing or other types of restraining devices.
More than 30 campsites in the Twin Valley campground are maintained for winter campers. Electricity, pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings are provided. Winter water is available at the park office and at Cox Hollow Beach. If camping is not your style, you may want to spend a day at the park and then head back at night to seek the comforts of one of the local motels.
Map of Governor Dodge State Park
Map of Campgrounds at Governor Dodge State Park
Gold Mine Hike-Bike-Ski Trail:
This 2.5-mile loop trail meanders through a variety of woods and meadows without encountering the steeper grades that other trails have. The trailhead is about .4 mile west of the Twin Valley Campground entrance. This trail is designed primarily for beginner and intermediate skiers. (Ski time: 45 minutes)
Horse Trail (Interior Loop):
This 6.7-mile trail connects the horse camp and horse day use areas. It also provides access to the 15.3-mile horse/snowmobile exterior loop. This trail allows horse riders the option of making several shorter loops from the campground or day use area. Horse trails are open May 1 to November 15 unless posted otherwise.
Horse-Snowmobile Trail (Exterior Loop):
This 15.3-mile loop trail winds its way through some of the most scenic and remote areas of this 5,270-acre park. The trail is maintained for horse riders, snowmobilers, and hikers. At the southeast corner of the park, there is a snowmobile access trail that connects with the 39-mile Military Ridge snowmobile trail. (Snowmobile time: 1.5 hours; horse time 3.5 hours).
Lakeview Hike-Ski Trail:
This 1.25-mile loop trail begins at the Cox Hollow beach picnic area. The trail is wooded and offers a few hills, a secluded valley, and a nice view of Cox Hollow Lake. This trail is designed for less experienced skiers who may wish to walk down the first grade and start skiing on the opposite side of the first bridge. (Ski/hike time: 30 minutes).
Lost Canyon Hike-Ski Trail:
This is an 8.1-mile loop trail that starts at the Cox Hollow beach picnic area. The trail is rated "advanced" due to several steep grades and trail length. It is mostly wooded and passes through the scenic Lost Canyon, Stephens Falls, and Twin Valley Lake areas. (Ski time: 3 hours).
(Secret Destination) The Lost Canyon: If you look closely at the trail map for Governor Dodge you'll see a short line, just a little squiggle, which juts off the Lost Canyon trail where it makes a loop behind Twin Lakes. This is not a typographical error, but an indication that something is here. There is a sign along the Lost Canyon Trail near this point which reads "to the cave", and there is a small sandy path through the woods that winds up the canyon-side. Be sure to take this trail. It leads to the "Lost Canyon", some excellent sandstone rock formations (photo) and cliffs with two caves (cave photo). This area, Stephens falls, and the Box Canyon Trail (see description below) are in my opinion the three most scenic areas of the park
Meadow Valley Hike-Bike-Ski Trail:
This is a 6.8-mile loop trail that begins at the Cox Hollow beach picnic area. The trail is rated more difficult than the Mill Creek Trail due to its length and steeper down grades. The trail follows along the ridge of the Lost Canyon and passes through open meadows and wooded ridges. (Ski time: 2.5 hours).
Mill Creek Hike-Bike-Ski Trail:
This is a 3.3-mile loop trail that begins at the Cox Hollow beach picnic area. The trail winds through meadows and wooded valleys. The trail provides spectacular views of both Cox Hollow and Twin Valley lakes. You will encounter several steep grades, but the majority of the trail is quite level. This trail also provides biking and hiking access to the Military Ridge State Trail. (Ski time: 1 hour).
Pine Cliff Nature Trail:
This is a wooded 2-mile self-guided loop trail which begins and ends at the Enee Point picnic area. Nature labels interpret area history, wildlife, vegetation, and ecology. While hiking the trail, you will encounter several steps, steep grades, and rocky surfaces. Hikers will enjoy the scenic views above Cox Hollow Lake and the hike along the lake shore. Note: Pets are prohibited on this trail. (Hike time: 45 minutes - 1 hour).
Stephens Falls Hiking Trail:
This is a half-mile scenic trail with rock outcroppings, lush ferns, and a beautiful waterfall (photo). You may reach this trail from the Lost Canyon Trail or the Park Road. There is a scenic overlook above the falls. Steps will be encountered to gain access to the falls below.
White Oak Hiking Trail:
This is a 4.5-mile wooded trail that begins at the Cox Hollow Lake beach picnic area. At the south end of Cox Hollow Lake, the White Oak Trails joins the Pine Cliff Nature Trail. The nature trail leads hikers to the Enee Point picnic area. At Enee Point, hikers will have to walk one more mile along Cox Hollow Road to return to the starting point at Cox Hollow beach. The trail meanders around the lake and provides scenic overlooks of the lake and valleys below. While hiking this trail, you will encounter steps, several steep rocky grades, and rocky surfaces. (Hiking time: 2-2.5 hours).
(Secret Destination) The Box Canyon Trail: A little-known trail exists in the park called the Box Canyon Trail (photos). On the way to the Cox Lake Beach area coming from the park office, you will see a parking lot for the little-used Box Canyon Picnic Area. If you enter the parking lot here you will notice a small trail tucked away in the woods to the right with a sign that reads: "Not an authorized trail. Proceed at your own risk." This is the Box Canyon Trail, one of Governor Dodge's best-kept secrets. According to a local woman I met here once, an average of one person per year falls off these cliffs every year, and that is why the trail is kept a secret. At the highest point of the rocks, there is a jump you have to take to get to the last rock where you have the best view. Some people have failed to make the jump correctly. This is a beautiful area of the park. The rock formations are excellent. But proceed carefully "at your own risk".
Boating: Boats and canoes may be rented daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day at Cox Hollow Beach concession stand (photo of dock for rented boats). Rentals are also available during the spring and fall. There are boat launching ramps on both Cox Hollow Lake (photo) and Twin Valley Lakes (photo). Electric motors only are permitted on both lakes. Boat mooring is permitted May 1 through October 31 at designated areas only.
Fishing: The park’s two manmade lakes offer excellent fishing. Species include bass, walleye, muskie, and panfish. A nice handicapped-accessible fishing pier (photo) is located on Cox Hollow Lake. Many people fish right off the Cox Hollow Levee (photo) with great success. Fishing licenses are required and may be purchased at local bait shops. Both lakes in the park offer ice fishing opportunities throughout the winter. A bait shop is conveniently located nearby. The park does not monitor ice conditions or make recommendations as to the safety of the ice.
There are eight designated picnic areas. Picnic shelters are available at Enee Point, the amphitheater, Twin Valley picnic area, and Cox Hollow and Twin Valley beaches. Contact the park office for shelter reservation information.
The "carry in-carry out" program is in effect at the Twin Valley beach, all shelters, wayside picnic areas, and boat landings. No garbage or recycling bins are provided in these areas. Please bring a bag to carry out your garbage and recyclables.
Swimming: Swimming beaches are located on both lakes- Cox Hollow Beach (photo), and Twin lakes Beach (photo). Bathhouses are found near both beaches, and both beaches have pet swim areas. The beaches are open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. No lifeguards are on duty.
The park provides 10 miles of challenging off-road bicycle trails. You may also access the 39-mile Military Ridge bicycle trail from the park’s trails. Trail passes are required to use the bike trails. Trails are open May 1 to November 15 unless posted otherwise.
Meadow Valley, Mill Creek, and Gold Mine trails are designated off-road biking trails. Bikers, hikers, and horses will share parts of these trails and must exercise caution when encountering each other. The Mill Creek Trail also provides biking and hiking access to the Military Ridge State Trail.
Cross Country Skiing:
Governor Dodge has more than 20 miles of ski trails. All trails can be reached from the Cox Hollow Beach trailhead. Water, picnic tables, and flush toilet facilities are also available at the trailhead. A state trail pass is required of all skiers aged 16 and over (in addition to the vehicle admission sticker). Lakeview, Gold Mine, Mill Creek, Meadow Valley, and Lost Canyon (in order from easiest to most difficult) are groomed for skiing when conditions permit.
Wildlife: Governor Dodge State Park abounds with wildlife from the tiniest shrews up to the big white-tailed deer. Deer, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, red and grey fox, beaver, woodchucks, and muskrats are common park inhabitants. More than 150 species of birds have been observed. Red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures soar over the park’s steep hills and valleys. In the woods, the rat-a-tat of the elusive pileated woodpecker can be heard for great distances as it searches for grubs in hollow trees.
The open fields and woods edges are great places to observe wildlife, especially in early mornings and late afternoon. As darkness overtakes the park, the howl of a lone coyote or the eerie calls of several barred owls hooting back and forth may break the night silence. While you’re visiting the park, take time to observe and enjoy the diverse wildlife populations in action. The park wildlife perform daily and there’s no charge for this enlightening entertainment.
The tremendous variations in topography, exposures to sunlight, and soil types provide a diverse array of habitats that support many hundreds of interesting plant species.
The forests are basically oak-hickory in type, with many dozens of other tree species and shrubs mixed in. The sandstone areas support beautiful white pines, some red pines, and a few Jack pines. The spring wild flowers of the forests include bloodroot, hepatica, and Dutchman’s breeches. The damp, shaded rich soil slopes produce almost solid communities of ferns, including giant interrupted ferns.
The open areas, for the most part, were farmed recently, but they will gradually revert back to more natural plant communities. Many open areas still support remnant prairies which, from spring through fall, exhibit many colorful wild flowers including goldenrods, sunflowers, asters, milkweeds, boneset, iron weeds, and mountain mint.
Many rare plants have been found in the park’s isolated areas. Remember, wildflower picking is prohibited. Leave the flowers for others to enjoy in their natural setting.
Most of Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota once looked much the same until a series of four glaciers inched their way across the northern United States. Massive sheets of ice "peeled off" hilltops and filled in valleys from Canada to Kansas, leaving a vast, flat expanse in their wake.
Due to certain geological "quirks of fate," southwestern Wisconsin was bypassed and encircled by the four glaciers. The area, therefore, stands as an "island" of hills and valleys amid surrounding plains.
The term "Driftless Area" is given to this region because it is devoid of drift or the accumulated rock and soil left by retreating glaciers. More than 5,000 acres of this unique "island" make up Governor Dodge State Park. As you make your way through this magnificent park, you make your way through time itself.
The beautiful sandstone bluffs, such as the one pictured here, date back 450 million years, to a time when vast, warm seas covered the area. These seas deposited sand, layer upon layer, and then retreated. Wind and water began to carve into the ancient, flat seabeds, century after century, carving ever-deeper valleys.
Today, you can stand within those valleys and view the park’s many bluffs, seeing for yourself the layers of ancient sand—pages of time locked within rock.
Other Highlights: The Dodgeville Kiwanis Club operates a concession stand at the Cox Hollow Beach area. The stand offers boat and canoe rentals, soda, coffee, ice cream, pizza, ice, charcoal, T-shirts, and miscellaneous snack items. The concession is open daily Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Hunters with special permits may hunt turkey, deer and small game in the park in season. Special regulations apply for each hunt. Along the Hiking Trails you can find side trails that lead you to interesting sights. Near the path to Stephens Falls is an old Spring House (photo) where a spring rises from the ground and is housed by a small brick building which served as an early refrigerator and source for cool water. Another spring house can be found on a side-trail of the Meadow Valley Trail. There is a small stream here that has some of the cleanest-looking water I have ever seen or tasted as it passes through a filter of prairie grasses. The park is so huge with so many miles of hiking trails that it will take you many visits to find all its scenic treasures.
The Pet Swim Area at Twin Lakes