It may be home to vast arrays of fresh farms, towny bars, and delicious cheeses, but this beautiful northern American state also happens to boast some of the most diverse topography in the entire country. When it comes to natural riches, Wisconsin is no doubt the cream of the crop, with its endless lush, driftless valleys, and ever-flowing river ways in the southwest, tons of the dense forests and lakes to enjoy in the northeast, and mass amounts of sandy pine trees lined along in the center. There are even a couple of stunning coastlines to take in, all along the greatest of the Great Lakes!
Adventure and possibility await in this truly outdoorsy haven, where over sixty state parks, forests, and recreation areas, plus even more state trails and protected areas, offer Wisconsinites and world travelers alike more than plenty of opportunities for fun wild exploration. From biking, hiking, and camping, to kayaking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and too much more, Wisconsin’s state park system is well-known, well-publicized, and incredibly widely admired. With land, water, and greens galore, there’s something for any sort of nature aficionado just looking for a new favorite spot to race to. From the hottest national parks to some lesser-know spaces offering terrific trails, awesome views, spectacular camping options, and even some chances for swimming, the Badger State is the place to go. Here are the nine best state parks in Wisconsin.
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Best State Parks In Wisconsin
Biker lovers will adore this fifteen mile park offering a leveled world-class single track as well as full access to hundreds of miles of other dedicated bike trails via the Military Ridge State Trail, which is just less than a half an hour from Madison. Whether two-wheeling it mountain style or in a more traditional manner, this obstacle and elevation-ridden state park in the most challenging hilly terrain in the region to cruise through. Plus, it’s home to the eponymous Blue Mound, which stands 500 feet tall over the lush green landscape.
Be sure to check out the aptly-named Holy Schist trail segment--- a more than challenging stretch of quick descents, rock formations, and plenty of root obstacles that make for the best and sometimes most difficult types of mountain biking riding in town. Ride hard at Blue Mound.
With deep gorges, stunning waterfalls, and ancient lava flows, this one is easily one of Wisconsin's most scenic parks. It features over fifty campsites, thirteen electric sites, as well as winter camping or backpack options, dumping stations, handicap- accessible picnic areas, showers, seasonal naturalist programs, lookout towers, and other handy-dandy concessions. The various stone buildings on site from the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) add a special charm to the over 2,500-acres of vista and shoreline areas that are perfect for boating, fishing, or canoeing.
So if you’re looking for a prime spot for some Wisconsin-based hiking, head on over to Copper Falls. With almost two miles of nature trails, seven miles of hiking trails, seven miles of off-road bicycle trails, and about fourteen miles of cross- country ski trails, ambitious hikers of all ages will no doubt enjoy the scenic views of the Copper and Brownstone water falls via Doughboys’ Nature Trail, or the small eight-foot cascade located on the Bad River via the 2.5-mile Red Granite Falls trail. There’s even the North Country Scenic Trail, a four-mile segment traversing the entire length of the park. Let’s get walking!
A list of Wisconsin’s best hiking spots would not be totally complete without this devil of a park, which offers hiking with varying degrees of difficulty (the bluff hikes are as gorgeous as they are challenging!), a swimmable lake with two beaches, concession stands, and lots of open or sheltered campsites with nice, clean facilities. For the kiddies, there’s even a circus museum and train museum just a short ride away! It’s known as the state’s largest park, with magnificent Quartzite bluffs overlooking a 360-acre lake on site. Make sure to take in the massively huge boulders encompassing the entire East Bluff trail, as well as the superior sights of Devil’s Lake and the surrounding valleys at this fantastic state treasure. It’s a natural fantasyland unlike anything else you'll ever see, the perfect place to ease into backcountry solitude.
Do some picnicking or bird watching, or better yet, take your pick at one of those numerous trails (In addition to the park itself, there are also various other awesome hiking options nearby, including the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the Aldo Leopold Cabin, as well as the jungle-like canyons of Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area)! Plus, out of all Wisconsin’s natural landscapes, this one’s the place for shutterbugs hoping to snap some mighty fine photographs of towering bluffs, intriguing rock formations, and collections of wildlife and foliage. The diverse array of photo ops available at Devil’s Lake is probably why the park and the surrounding areas was often frequented by famed historic photographer H.H. Bennett in the late 19th century.
Situated in the heart of the lush valleys and winding roads of the infamous Driftless Area, this 5,270-acre state park is defined by incredibly pristine lakes, as well as the miles and miles of gorgeous forested trails, campsites, and streams that surround the area. The park was named after the first governor of the Wisconsin territory, Henry Dodge, and has become a traveler’s favorite for swimming, especially since it delivers not one but two crystal clear lakes to wade in, plus kayaks/canoes for rent, and a stunning waterfall.
For those wanting to have some fun on land, there are plenty of cultural outdoor adventures available such as watching Shakespeare under the stars at the nearby American Player’s Theater or live concerts at Spring Green’s Sh*tty Barn. You can even check out Taliesin, the longtime studio of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Plus, with picnic areas and forty miles of wide, well-groomed trails, it’s the ideal spot for pet owners looking to have a nice weekend away their favorite pooch.
Lake Michigan’s coastline gleams in the sunlight at this coastally-located park where you can unwind after a tough work week by walking on white sand dunes and enjoying one of the last natural preserves on Lake Michigan's shore. What’s notable about Kohler-Andrae is the variety it offers: from beach views of the lake to lush forested areas full of biking and hiking trails within the park, there’s no better place to go to for a quick overnight trip from Madison, Milwaukee, or Chicago. Truly get away from it all at this scene gem on the shore.
Kids, listen up, because this is the park for you! One of Wisconsin’s most popular, this Door County hotspot has everything you need to keep those little ones occupied. From a sandy beach with kayak, canoe and other watercraft rentals, to high bluffs offering numerous hiking or biking trails, two playgrounds, tennis and volleyball courts, as well as a towering 1860s lighthouse to climb or explore, this four hundred plus campsite-filled space will fulfill any child’s playtime fantasy. Plus, it’s located super close to the shops, restaurants, and rentals in Fish Creek, and offers the older folks a challenging 18-hole golf course as well as the chance to watch various professional summer theater performances. It’s easy enough to plan a cheap and fun family weekend getaway at this 3,776-acre park. Head on over with those munchkins today!
It’s the best for privacy and is Wisconsin’s only formally designated wilderness area---a nice quiet contrast to the much busier state parks across the peninsula. With just under twenty backpack campsites, thirty miles of trails, and about eleven miles of Lake Michigan shoreline to explore, this small but totally under-the-radar park provides the perfect spot for anyone looking to spend some alone time reflecting and with themselves. Be sure to check out Campsite 16, a park favorite located on a private sand dune overlooking the lake. Beautiful indeed.
Camp five hundred feet about the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers at this western Wisconsin hotspot. It’s been deemed as the state park with the best scenery, offering visitors with sweeping sights of the Mighty Miss, as well as grand views of the giant vistas along the Bluff Ridge Trail. Make sure to visit at dusk time to have your breath taken away by river valleys being bathed in the glowing reds and oranges of the setting sun. What’s more is that as one of Wisconsin's oldest parks, the over 2,500-acres of land even features 28 Native American burial mounds along with its 132 campsites, 32 electric sites, handicap- accessible picnic areas, and ample chances for canoeing, boating, fishing, or even cross- country skiing. Pack a picnic meal and head on out to Henneger Point Picnic Area on the 1.8-mile Mississippi Ridge Trail. Trust us, you won’t be sorry.
One of Wisconsin's cornerstone parks, the 1,476 acres of forested land (mostly balsam fir, birch, aspen, and spruce) features wetlands, lakes, rivers, as well as Wisconsin's highest waterfall, the 165 foot Big Manitou Falls. There’s also a tinier 31-foot twin waterfall at Little Manitou Falls and a 300-foot beach on Interfalls Lake.
Camp out with the entire family at the 59 regular campsites (18 of them with electric hookups) and three remote walk-in sites. There are even sanitary dumping stations, showers and flush toilets during the summer, and over nine miles of hiking trails that offer stunning views of the park’s infamous waterfalls. What’s more is that almost two hundred species of birds come to the park each year, and with over 54 species of mammals as well as numerous reptiles and amphibians dwelling within Pattison's varied habitats, this nature lover’s favorite is the place to get in touch with your inner-animal instinct. So what are you waiting for?
This article was written by Pamela Chan.