If this wasn’t surrounded by water and marsh, I’d be climbing it.

Sometimes life’s little obstacles can open new doors. Such was the case with Rocky Arbor State Park in Wisconsin.

For years I’ve wanted to visit Witch’s Gulch, a canyon off of the Wisconsin River in The Dells, and this year I put it on our itinerary as a quick morning hike before a day of touristy stuff. But as I sat in our hotel room the night before trying to find directions to the gulch, I discovered the old drive-up, hike-in route was no longer available, and the only way to access it was to book a private boat tour at the cost of $30 per person.

We hadn’t budgeted for this, and I’m not too fond of tours that put exploring on a schedule, so I looked around for something similar and came up with Rocky Arbor State Park.

Tucked off of Highway 12, the park is a 500-million-year-old sandstone gorge with a playground/picnic area, a campground and a one-mile hiking trail. The trail skirts a marsh and low bluffs — below the cliffs one way, then a small climb and it loops back around on top of the cliffs.

Along the lower trail, we came across an isolated chunk of rock that looked like it had wandered away from the cliffs and waded into the swamp. It sat alone, surrounded by water and mud, trees and saplings growing from it, and I couldn’t resist the urge to climb it. I charted out a course — jump over to the large log to avoid the muck, ascend the north face, only about a dozen feet of challenge, then the going would get easy — but decided the idea reeked of a “hold my beer and watch this” moment that would leave me at the top with no real way down. Imagining the park ranger rescue that would follow, I decided to keep hiking.

Admission is $5 per car for an hour, $11 for a full day or free with the purchase of a $28 state parks sticker ($38 for out of staters), which grants entry to other state parks.

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