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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide

The view from the top: A Perrot State park bluff.

Perrot State Park is a well-kept secret


Perrot State Park is one of the relatively well-kept secrets of the Wisconsin State Parks system.

The park consists of more than 1,200 acres of land surrounded by bluffs, where the Mississippi and Trempealeau Rivers meet. Not only are the natural surroundings a haven for campers, but the park also offers a multitude of activities and amenities including hiking, biking and canoeing.

Take a hike on Brady's Bluff to catch some of the most spectacular views of the Mississippi River and Trempealeau Mountain. The latter is a cone-shaped mountain surrounded by water, which Native Americans in the area considered sacred and used as a landmark for meetings.

The hiking and biking trail system lies in the center of the park surrounding the 500-ft. high Perrot Ridge. The trail encircles the ridge and offers grand views of the Mississippi below, with boats bustling on its waterways and Burlington Northern trains moving along its shore. The off-road trail covers a wide path of grass and at times hard-packed soil.

Perrot puts mountain bikers right at the heart of the park's true splendor. The scenery is beautiful throughout, with the trail cutting through thick forests and occasionally breaking out into meadows of waist-high grass.

Outside the park, you will find access to the Great River State Trail, which spans 24 miles, winding its way through the park to Onalaska, Trempealeau, and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.

You can also canoe in the calm waters of Trempealeau Bay, which is a laid out trail -- perfect for first-time canoers. Fishing in the Mississippi also can be spectacular at the right times of the year.

The park is a nature lovers' paradise. Many colorful butterflies and moths spend time in the prairies. Big blue and green dragonflies and dainty damselflies keep you company as you walk along the river or canoe in Trempealeau Bay.

Beaver, muskrats, mink and occasionally otters are found in wetland areas. Deer, raccoons, woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks, fox, weasels and many species of mice, shrews and bats also can be found.

You can record more than 200 species of birds in Perrot in a year's time. Migrating birds such as warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers, waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds and hawks come through in great numbers in spring and fall. Tundra swans are the first migrating birds to come through in the spring. They often stay a few weeks in Trempealeau Bay. Once they show up in November you know the cold is coming.

You can see about 100 kinds of birds here in the summer. The numerous songbirds and waterfowl found in the area make Perrot State Park a popular stop along the Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail.

The bottomlands are home to many kinds of frogs and toads including the spring peeper and American toad. Snapping, painted, false map, soft-shell and wood turtles live in the rivers and wetlands, along with brown water snakes and garter snakes. The bluffs have hog-nosed and fox snakes, bullsnakes and blue racers.

Be aware. Timber rattlesnakes, a species of special concern in Wisconsin, live in the rock cliff areas in the bluffs.

Perrot State Park has an interesting history, both in terms of how it formed naturally and of the people who have called it home. The land formations had their beginnings under water. The sandstone bluffs throughout the park were formed when the area was the floor of an ancient sea. The bluffs formed from sand and mud in the sea bottom.

After the sea receded, glaciers moved through, shearing the tops off the bluffs and rerouting the Mississippi from one side of the park to the other.

The park's human history goes back over 7,000 years, starting with the Archaic Indians who passed through here on their way to various hunting grounds. Many other tribes have utilized this area as well, building effigy mounds that are still visible today.

In the late 1600s, the French fur trade brought Indians and French together here. French explorer Nicholas Perrot spent the winter in the area in 1685 and, 45 years later, the French established a permanent fort on the site. The park was eventually named after Perrot.

If you visit Perrot, make sure you also stop in Trempealeau, to the south of the park. The historic Trempealeau Hotel offers food, lodging and great music. The hotel will host a reggae festival May 3, Bluesfest May 17 and the Art of the River festival June 29.

The hotel also offers the famous Walnut Burger.

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