COPPER FALLS STATE PARK
Ancient lava flows, deep gorges, and spectacular waterfalls make Copper Falls one of Wisconsin's most scenic parks. Log buildings built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s add to the park's charm.
There are many things to do?hiking, picnicking, fishing, and swimming. The park is one of the highlights of the North Country National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin.
For overnight stays, there are 54 regular campsites, a group camping area big enough for 40 people, a backpack campsite, and, for people with disabilities, a rustic cabin. Average season snowfall of more than 100 inches enables the park to maintain 12 kilometers (8 miles) of cross-country ski trails.
Beautiful hemlock, sugar maple, white pine, and yellow birch forests may be seen. Second-growth forests with red oak, ironwood, paper birch, aspen, basswood, red pine, and other trees blanket many parts of the park. The gorges are bordered by white cedar trees. Cool valleys and slopes exhibit a profusion of ferns, clubmosses, wild flowers, and herbs. In short, hundreds of species of plants are available for study, observation, and photography.
Animals most commonly seen in the park area include deer, fishers (exit DNR), black bears, raccoons, chipmunks, skunks, and red squirrels. Gray squirrels, gray wolves, and porcupines also live in the park and may be seen. Fishers have reduced the number of porcupine. Elk were recently reintroduced west of the park.
Bird life is abundant, with perhaps as many as 200 species living in or passing through the park in a given year. You will often hear the coarse caw of the big northern raven, you may often see a great pileated woodpecker, and you will some times be scolded by sassy chickadees. There are ruffed grouse, eagles, turkey vultures and loons in the park.
There are a five species of snakes, none of them poisonous, wood turtles, many wood frogs, and a few other amphibians. Pretty banded purple and tiger swallowtail butterflies are common in June and July.
Walk the Three Bridges Nature Trail to learn more about the park's geology and history.
During the last several thousand years, many different Indian tribes lived in this region. The earliest Indians followed the retreating glacier?s edge as nomadic hunters, and killed giant mastodons for food. Other ancient Indians, primarily hunters, followed the earliest tribes. Old Copper Culture Indians lived here for many centuries mining pure copper veins for the metal from which to make hunting weapons and tools.
The most recent Indians in this region were the Sioux and Chippewa. They were here when the French first came to Lake Superior country.
In the early 1860s and before, exploratory mining for copper ore occurred in the canyon of the Bad River between Copper Falls and Brownstone Falls. Not much is known of this activity other than the shafts shown on early maps, but it is assumed that this search for copper was due to the North?s armament needs during the Civil War.
Note: Edward Dolan of Mellen was son of Mrs. Ellen Bacon Dolan, cook for the Ruggles mining crew. They lived at Copper Falls for several years in the early 1900s. On January 16, 1975, at age 76, he gave the following information to Park Manager Kent Goeckermann:
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Wells M. Ruggles ran a four- or five-man mining crew in what is now Copper Falls State Park. Mr. Ruggles was an attorney by profession who somehow ended up running a mining camp. The camp consisted of several houses and farm buildings on the Bad River just southwest of the present picnic grounds. John Blix was mine captain and crew boss of the Ruggles men in their search for copper ore.
The Ruggles crew sank a vertical shaft at the site of the present footbridge across the Bad River. They also dug a nearly horizontal shaft into the hillside at the southeast corner of the present picnic grounds. This shaft was known as ?the cave.?
While working on this shaft, the mining crew became irritated at the rises of the Bad River causing flooding in their diggings. To solve this problem, the Ruggles crew proceeded to divert the Bad River to the north of the hill that you can see at the east end of the present picnic ground. The river formerly curved to the south in the area of the present concession footbridge, then swept east, and then north in a quarter-mile loop back to Copper Falls.
The Ruggles mining venture found little copper, and investors were disappointed.
Copper Falls State Park was created in 1929 and much of the development work was done by two Depression-era government agencies, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) (both links exit DNR).
Copper Falls is in the heart of prime fishing area, with scores of lakes offering all kinds of sport fishing within easy traveling distance. In the park, the Bad and Tyler Forks rivers both offer fishing for rainbow, brown, and brook trout. You can catch largemouth bass, northern pike, and panfish in Loon Lake. Small car-top boats and canoes can be launched at Loon Lake. Only electric motors are allowed.