Go, See, Explore: Parfrey’s Glen and the Merrimac Ferry

My son is always up for an adventure. We’ve made a nearly annual tradition out of taking a lazy afternoon trip on the Merrimac Ferry. Up until our most recent trip, the point of our trip has mostly been to just take the ferry across the Wisconsin River and back and go to dinner at one of the restaurants near the bridge over Lake Wisconsin in Okee, WI.ferry

The Merrimac Ferry is free and part of WI Hwy 113. It ferries car, motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic between the east and west banks of Lake Wisconsin in Merrimac, WI, 24 hours a day from approximately April 15 to November 15 each year. It has a capacity of 12 automobiles. Depending on time of day, season, and weather, your wait for the ferry could be just a few minutes or 20+ minutes. Snack shops on either bank are easy and inexpensive distractions from the wait.

On our most recent Merrimac Ferry visit we added a hike in Parfrey’s Glen to our trip and skipped the dinner in Okee as we ran out of time. Parfrey’s Glen is Wisconsin’s first state natural area. The trail is an approximately 1.6 mile round trip hike into a gorge that is lined with layers of sandstone and quartzite. The parking lot has a picnic area, bathrooms, and an old-style water pump you can use to get a drink and fill water bottles. This is a State Natural area and thus your car needs a current State Park Annual Sticker or non-expired Day Use Pass attached to it.glen2

A tip I wish we’d have know before: wear clothes and shoes you don’t mind getting wet and dirty. While the hiking trail itself is not strenuous for most people until needing to climb over some boulders near the end of the gorge before the waterfall (ie you must climb the boulders to get to see the waterfall!), when you climb the boulders you will likely get dirty. There is a stream that runs through the glen and its very, very tempting for children who like to get wet in water and it also necessary at times to follow the the trail through the stream.

Parfrey’s Glen is a magical, relaxing place. It is lush and verdant in the summer. You’ll find flora and (if you’re lucky) fauna lining the trails. My attention was drawn to the many different fungi and to cedar waxwings feasting on berries. The feel of walking into a gorge that is at times up to 100 feet deep is refreshing and awe inspiring on a hot summer day. One of the rules of the State Natural Area is to not collect items. So, please have your rock collectors admire, but not fill their pockets with rocks! There are awesome rocks in the stream, but they need to stay there. Also, leave pets home. Pets are not allowed.glen3

While the trail itself isn’t long, we spent considerable time at Parfrey’s Glen because we explored, observed, and didn’t rush. Next time we go, we will allow ourselves more time to explore. Hope you get out and have fun and explore with your family.glen4


    • You’re welcome Sue! Have a great time when you go! My son had a vacation day from school last Friday and we went again at his request. Much different scenery in spring than in summer or fall. Tons of rare and protected wildflowers in bloom right now!

  1. Looks like a fun place to explore…and the ferry…well, we are just going to have to check it out! Thanks for the nice article, Laura! Love, Mom


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