The 6 best places to hike in Wisconsin are beautiful! Are you under the impression that Wisconsin is a frozen tundra or is flat and only focused on bicycle trails? Have you wondered where you can go for some great hiking that rivals other areas of the country? If so, this post is for you!
As an idea for a post, I thought this one would be easy. Great hiking trails in Wisconsin? There are plenty! The problem came down to narrowing it down into a neat little list that I could easily share with everyone!
With 47 state parks, 72 counties with their own great parks, and over 2500 miles of hiking trails, including two National Trails – the Ice Age Scenic Trail and the North Country Scenic Trail, this one was a lot more difficult than I imagined!
So, to help me organize my thoughts, I decided to focus on trails in some of the main geographic formations of Wisconsin, the Driftless Area, the Kettle Moraines, Door County Peninsula, Apostle Islands, and the Upper Highlands.
Most of the Wisconsin landscape was formed by huge glaciers. The Driftless Area, shared by Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa, is a region left untouched by glaciers, leaving a rugged terrain formed by major rivers, like the Mississippi, and flooding from melting glaciers.
At the eastern edge of this area lies one of my favorite State Parks and hiking areas, Devil’s Lake.
Devil’s Lake State Park
Devil’s Lake State Park is the largest state park in Wisconsin and one of the oldest. Its 500-foot quartzite bluffs are part of the Baraboo Range and includes a 360 acre lake, a mixed conifer-deciduous forest, unique rock formations, effigy mounds, and a deep gorge known as Parfrey’s Glen.
The area is an unexpected natural wonder and an outdoor paradise of the Midwest.
There are 41 miles of hiking trails in the park, including the Ice Age Trail, and the best ones are listed here.
The best trail to hike is a loop made up of West Bluff Trail, Balanced Rock Trail, East Bluff Trail and Devil’s Doorway plus a bit of walking through the parking lots and concession area, for a total of about 4.5 miles.
The trail consists of stone steps, rock formations, scenic views, bluff edges, woods, cliffs, and boardwalks.
Going up the bluff at Balanced Rock Trail is easier, in my opinion, than going down. You can start at the South Shore or the North Shore, but either way, I’d go counter-clockwise. There is a steep climb with rock steps and switchbacks, but well worth the views!
When you get to the top, head right along the East Bluff Trail to the Devil’s Doorway side trail before double-backing and continuing on along the cliff. You could also descend down via the Potholes Trail if you’re short on time.
You’ll have to drive down the road a bit to Parfreys Glen, a 1.5 out-and-back trail through a scenic gorge at the eastern end of the park. Powerful floods have changed the glen and the official trail now ends at the gorge. Hikers can continue on by navigating a stream and rough stone to the waterfall.
Wyalusing State Park
Wyalusing State Park, also residing in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, sits 500 feet above where the waters of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers meet and is one of Wisconsin’s oldest parks. The park consists of campsites with views and even a canoe/kayaking trail.
It has over 14 miles of hiking trails, and the best are listed here.
Bluff Trail to Old Immigrant Trail
This 3-mile trail starts at some scenic outlooks, winds down through a couple staircases/ladders to Treasure Cave, and then follows the ridge along the Wisconsin River bluff to the other side of the campground.
You can also connect to the Old Wagon Road Trail (1 mile) which takes a path through the woods out to the park road in order to make a loop.
Sugar Maple Trail
This 2.5 mile loop through the woods includes a self-guided nature trail with informational signs. A short side trail leads to Pictured Rock Cave with a wet-weather waterfall.
Sentinel Ridge Trail
This 1.5 mile trail follows the ridge above the Mississippi River side of the park in between the Old Immigrant Trail and the Sugar Maple Trail. You will either need to go out and back or follow the park road back to your starting point.
There are some steep areas and great views along this trail, along with Indian mounds.
Kettle Moraine State Forest
Kettle Moraine is a large area of lakes, kettles, serpentine ridges, and canonical hills in Eastern Wisconsin formed by receding glaciers and offering many outdoor recreation opportunities. It includes a State Forest and is divided into a Northern Unit with 14 trailheads and a Southern Unit with 17 trailheads.
The best of over 145 miles of trails in this area are listed here.
Ice Age Trail to Lapham Peak
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is more than 1,000 miles in 30 counties across Wisconsin. It starts at Interstate State Park, following the edge of the last continental glacier in Wisconsin to Lake Michigan.
The trail covers some of Wisconsin’s most scenic areas, including the Kettle Moraine area. One of the best sections is the hike to Lapham Peak.
This 2.8-mile trail is a moderate loop through woods and grassy areas. It starts at the entrance of the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Laphma Peak Unit and includes an observation tower at Lapham Peak. You can connect up to the Kettle View Trail to make the loop.
Also in the Kettle Moraine Forest, don’t miss the 3.4 mile out-and-back Bald Bluff Trail, the Emma Carlin Trails (watch out for mountain bikes!), Scuppernong Trail, and the Parnell Tower Trail. All worthy for a stop!
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is made up of 21 islands and 12 miles of coastal mainland on the shores of Lake Superior. It includes cliffs, sea caves, rock formations, beaches, light houses, and many hiking trails.
Seeing all of the features of the islands requires a boat tour, and some of the 50 miles of hiking trails are only accessible via boat. The best trails are listed here.
Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail (aka Lakeshore Trail)
This 4.6-mile out-and-back trail follows the shoreline of Lake Superior and offers spectacular views of the lake and the sea caves below. It starts with a boardwalk at Meyer’s Beach and includes edge and wooded sections.
Take the ferry over to Madeline Island and hike Big Bay State Park, then check out the trails and camping at Stockton Island, hike the Overlook Trail and see the Hole in the Wall on Oak Island, and wander among 250-year-old trees and view sea caves on Sand Island.
As you leave the Apostle Islands, head over to Lost Creek Falls, one of Wisconsin’s best waterfall hiking trails. It’s a 2.2-mile out and back trail through lush woods to a beautiful waterfall. To access the trail from Cornucopia, take County Road C South to Trail Drive (on the right) to the parking area.
Peninsula State Park
Peninsula State Park is located in the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin, which lies between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The park includes high bluffs and sandy beaches with 8 miles of shoreline on Green Bay.
The Eagle Bluff Trail is a 2-mile loop along the shoreline and through woods with stunning views and some beach access. You walk along the water with 100 foot bluffs and a some caves. You can extend your hike by taking Minnehaha to Lone Pine to Sentinel to make a 4.25 mile loop.
The park is filled with miles 30 miles of hiking and bicycle trails which make for easy hiking throughout the rest of the park and shoreline.
These are just five of the top hiking areas of Wisconsin. I’m sure if you ask 10 people who love Wisconsin, you will get a different list! There are just that many great trails and scenic areas! If you’re going to hike these areas, it’s a good idea to bring mosquito and tick repellent (Deep Woods Off is my favorite), plenty of water, and a Wisconsin State Park pass.
However, I do think that these hikes do a great job at representing the diverse geography of Wisconsin. It’s a beautiful state with a lot to offer. Many of these hiking trails are open in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. So, don’t be afraid to come any time of year to check them out!
If you are thinking of planning a road trip to or in Wisconsin, or looking for recommendations on where to stay, eat, or other activities while exploring this wonderful area, we can help! Just let us know at Roadtrippers R Us!
Thanks for reading!
Kristi, aka The Trippy Tripster!