Wisconsin is a land of lush forests, pristine lakes, and diverse landscapes, is home to some of the most stunning state parks in the nation. In our comprehensive guide to the best state parks in Wisconsin, we’ll explore over 60 state parks, forests, and recreation areas available to everyone.
No matter what your outdoor hobbies may be, there’s an adventure for everyone! Whether you’re a hiking enthusiast, a waterfall chaser, orienteerer, or someon who is simply looking for a park escape from the daily grind.
In this fun and informative guide, we’ll explore the best state parks in Wisconsin, offer insider tips on how to make the most of your visit, and delve into the history of these natural treasures.
So, grab your backpack and get ready to bust boredom, find a new hobby, or just find a new place to relax with our ultimate Wisconsin state park adventure guide!
Top 10 State Parks in Wisconsin
Embark on an unforgettable journey as we explore the top 10 state parks in Wisconsin, each offering unique landscapes, recreational opportunities, and natural beauty.
Devil’s Lake State Park
Located in Baraboo, Devil’s Lake State Park is the most popular state park in Wisconsin, attracting over 3 million visitors annually.
Known for its picturesque quartzite bluffs and clear, blue lake, this park offers a variety of recreational activities.
some of the activities you can enjoy at Devil’s Lake State Park:
- Hiking on 29 miles of trails
- Rock climbing on the cliffs
- Swimming and fishing in Devil’s Lake
- Picnicking and camping
- Boating, canoeing, and kayaking
Resource: Devil’s Lake State Park – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/devilslake
Peninsula State Park
Peninsula State Park is widely considered one of the best Wisconsin state parks. Nestled along the shores of Green Bay in Door County, boasts magnificent views, sandy beaches, and a historic lighthouse.
some of the activities you can enjoy at Peninsula State Park:
- Exploring 8 miles of shoreline
- Hiking, biking, or skiing on over 20 miles of trails
- Playing a round at the 18-hole golf course
- Visiting the historic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
Resource: Peninsula State Park – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/peninsula
Willow River State Park
Just a short drive from the Twin Cities, Willow River State Park in Hudson offers a perfect escape for nature lovers.
The park’s main attraction is the breathtaking Willow Falls, a multi-tiered waterfall surrounded by lush greenery.
Some of the activities at Willow River State Park include:
- Hiking on 13 miles of trails
- Swimming in the park’s beach area
- Fishing and boating on Little Falls Lake
- Camping in one of the park’s 300 campsites
Resource: Willow River State Park – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/willowriver
Copper Falls State Park
Located in Mellen, Copper Falls State Park features dramatic waterfalls, deep gorges, and beautiful hiking trails.
The park’s ancient lava flows and deep gorges make it a geological wonder.
Activities at Copper Falls State Park include:
- Hiking on over 17 miles of trails, including the famous Doughboys’ Nature Trail
- Swimming in Loon Lake
- Fishing in the Bad River or Tyler Forks River
- Winter sports like snowshoeing and skiing
Resource: Copper Falls State Park – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/copperfalls
Governor Dodge State Park
Governor Dodge State Park, located in Dodgeville, offers a diverse landscape of valleys, bluffs, and prairies spread over 5,000 acres.
With two lakes and miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, this park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
activities at Governor Dodge State Park include:
- Hiking on more than 40 miles of trails
- Swimming, fishing, and boating on Cox Hollow and Twin Valley Lakes
- Camping in one of the park’s 269 campsites
- Exploring the park’s unique geological features, such as sandstone bluffs
Resource: Governor Dodge State Park – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/governordodge
Kohler-Andrae State Park
Situated along the shores of Lake Michigan, Kohler-Andrae State Park in Sheboygan is known for its sandy beaches, scenic sand dunes, and peaceful woodlands.
This park is a perfect destination for beach lovers.
Activities at Kohler-Andrae State Park include:
- Strolling along the 2.5-mile sandy beach
- Bicycling & Hiking on 8 miles of nature trails
- Camping in one of the park’s 137 campsites
- Birdwatching, horseback riding, and wildlife observation
- Swimming and Fishing
Resource: Kohler-Andrae State Park – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/kohlerandrae
Perrot State Park
Perrot State Park, located in Trempealeau, offers breathtaking views of the Mississippi River and the surrounding bluffs.
The park’s unique location at the confluence of the Trempealeau and Mississippi Rivers makes it a hotspot for migratory birds.
Activities at Perrot State Park include:
- Hiking on 12 miles of trails, including the famous Brady’s Bluff Trail
- Canoeing and kayaking on the Trempealeau River
- Birdwatching and wildlife observation
- Camping in one of the park’s 102 campsites
Resource: Perrot State Park – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/perrot
Whitefish Dunes State Park
Whitefish Dunes State Park, located in Sturgeon Bay, boasts the highest sand dunes on Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shoreline.
The park offers a unique combination of sandy beaches, wooded trails, and historical sites.
Activities at Whitefish Dunes State Park include:
- Exploring the 1.5-mile sandy beach
- Hiking on 14.5 miles of trails, including the Old Baldy observation tower
- Visiting the park’s historical sites, such as a Native American village
- Birdwatching and wildlife observation
Resource: Whitefish Dunes State Park – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/whitefish
Newport State Park
Newport State Park, situated on the tip of Door County, is a designated International Dark Sky Park, making it an ideal destination for stargazing.
This 2,373-acre park features 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and over 30 miles of hiking trails.
Activities at Newport State Park include:
- Stargazing and astronomy programs
- Hiking and backpack camping
- Canoeing and kayaking along the shoreline
- Birdwatching and wildlife observation
Resource: Newport State Park – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/newport
Kettle Moraine State Forest
Kettle Moraine State Forest, spanning across southern Wisconsin, is divided into several units, offering a variety of recreational activities and showcasing unique glacial landforms.
The forest’s Northern and Southern Units are the most popular, each offering picturesque landscapes and plenty of outdoor activities.
Some of the activities at Kettle Moraine State Forest include:
- Hiking, biking, and horseback riding on over 175 miles of trails
- Swimming, fishing, and boating on the forest’s numerous lakes
- Camping in one of the forest’s several campgrounds
- Exploring the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and the Parnell Tower
Resource: Kettle Moraine State Forest – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/StateForests/kmsf
Best State Parks in Wisconsin for Various Activities
In this section, we’ll highlight the best state parks in Wisconsin for different activities, from hiking and camping.
With a variety of amenities available, there’s a camping experience available for anyone to enjoy.
Best state parks in Wisconsin for Camping
Camping enthusiasts will love the variety of camping opportunities in Wisconsin state parks.
Some of the best state parks in Wisconsin for camping include:
- High Cliff State Park (near Sherwood)
- Buckhorn State Park (near Necedah)
- Mirror Lake State Park (near Wisconsin Dells)
- Potawatomi State Park (near Sturgeon Bay)
- Rock Island State Park (accessible only by ferry)
Best state parks in Wisconsin for hiking
Wisconsin’s state parks offer miles of diverse and scenic hiking trails.
Some of the best state parks in Wisconsin for hiking include:
- Interstate State Park (near St. Croix Falls)
- Rib Mountain State Park (near Wausau)
- Wildcat Mountain State Park (near Ontario)
- Roche-A-Cri State Park (near Friendship)
- Pattison State Park (near Superior)
Best state parks in Wisconsin with Waterfalls
Waterfalls add a touch of magic to any park, and Wisconsin has several state parks with mesmerizing cascades.
Some of the best state parks in Wisconsin with waterfalls include:
- Amnicon Falls State Park (near Superior)
- Pattison State Park (near Superior)
- Willow River State Park (near Hudson)
- Copper Falls State Park (near Mellen)
- Big Manitou Falls (located in Pattison State Park)
How to Start Exploring State Parks in Wisconsin
Venturing into Wisconsin’s state parks is an exciting and rewarding experience.
In this section, we’ll provide you with some helpful tips and advice to get started exploring these natural wonders.
Obtain a Wisconsin State Park vehicle admission sticker
To gain access to most state parks in Wisconsin, you’ll need to obtain a vehicle admission sticker. These stickers are available for purchase online, at park offices, and self-registration stations within the parks.
They are offered as daily or annual passes, with discounts for Wisconsin residents and senior citizens.
Resource: Wisconsin State Park Stickers – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/admission
Plan your visit
Before embarking on your state park adventure, it’s essential to plan your visit.
Research the parks you’re interested in and gather information about their recreational opportunities, amenities, and seasonal conditions.
Be sure to check the park’s operating hours, rules, and any special events or alerts that may affect your visit.
Resource: Wisconsin State Parks – https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks
Dress for the weather and terrain
Wisconsin’s climate can be unpredictable, and the terrain in state parks can vary significantly. Be prepared by dressing in layers, wearing comfortable and sturdy footwear, and bringing rain gear when necessary. Don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, insect repellent, and a hat to protect you from the sun.
Pack necessary supplies
When visiting state parks in Wisconsin, it’s crucial to pack necessary supplies like food, water, and a first aid kit.
If you’re planning to camp, be sure to bring appropriate camping gear, such as a tent, sleeping bag, and cooking equipment.
Don’t forget essentials like a map, compass, and multi-tool, as well as a fully charged cell phone and portable charger.
Practice Leave No Trace principles
To preserve Wisconsin’s state parks for future generations, it’s essential to practice Leave No Trace principles. These include:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impact
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
By following these guidelines, you can help ensure that Wisconsin’s state parks remain beautiful and unspoiled for years to come.
Resource: Leave No Trace – https://lnt.org
How to Choose the Right State Park for You
With so many state parks in Wisconsin, it can be overwhelming to decide which park is right for your adventure.
In this section, we’ll provide some helpful tips on how to choose the perfect state park for your interests and needs.
Consider your interests and activities
When selecting a state park, consider the activities and interests that you and your companions enjoy.
If you’re an avid hiker, choose a park with an extensive trail system.
If you love water sports, select a park with lakes or rivers suitable for swimming, kayaking, or fishing.
Research park amenities and facilities
Each state park in Wisconsin offers different amenities and facilities. Some parks have developed campgrounds, while others offer more primitive camping experiences. Research each park’s facilities to ensure they meet your needs, such as picnic areas, restrooms, and playgrounds.
Take travel distance and time into account
Consider the travel distance and time required to reach your desired state park. If you have limited time, choose a park closer to home. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a weekend getaway, select a park that’s further away and offers a unique experience.
Assess the park’s popularity and crowd levels
Some state parks in Wisconsin are more popular and crowded than others, especially during peak seasons. If you prefer a quieter and more secluded experience, research less-visited parks or plan your visit during off-peak times.
Evaluate the park’s accessibility
Consider the accessibility of the state park you plan to visit.
Some parks may have limited access for those with mobility impairments or may require a certain level of physical fitness to fully enjoy.
Research the parks accessibility to ensure it suits your needs and abilities.
Check the park’s seasonal conditions and hours.
Finally, check the seasonal conditions and operating hours of the state park you plan to visit. Some parks may have limited facilities or closures during certain times of the year. Be sure to plan your visit accordingly.
By considering these factors, you can choose the perfect Wisconsin state park for your adventure and ensure a memorable experience for everyone involved.
Why Exploring State Parks in Wisconsin is Fun
Exploring state parks in Wisconsin offers a wealth of fun and educational experiences. These parks provide countless opportunities for outdoor recreation, relaxation, and discovery. Here are a few reasons why exploring Wisconsin’s state parks is such a fun and fulfilling endeavor:
Diverse landscapes and natural beauty
Wisconsin’s state parks showcase the state’s diverse landscapes, from dense forests and sparkling lakes to rolling hills and scenic river valleys. These parks offer a chance to immerse yourself in nature and experience the breathtaking beauty of Wisconsin’s great outdoors.
A wide range of recreational activities
State parks in Wisconsin cater to a variety of interests and abilities, offering activities such as hiking, biking, camping, fishing, swimming, and wildlife viewing. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a leisurely nature lover, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Opportunities for learning and discovery
Wisconsin’s state parks are rich in cultural, historical, and natural significance. Many parks offer interpretive programs, guided tours, and educational resources to help visitors learn about the area’s unique heritage and ecological features.
Quality time with friends and family
Exploring state parks in Wisconsin provides an excellent opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family. Whether you’re embarking on a weekend camping trip or just enjoying a scenic picnic, these parks offer a memorable setting for bonding and creating lasting memories.
The History of Wisconsin State Parks
The history of Wisconsin state parks dates back over a century, with many parks established to preserve the state’s unique natural and cultural heritage. In this section, we’ll delve into the rich history of Wisconsin’s state parks and their impact on the state’s conservation efforts.
The beginning of Wisconsin’s state park system
Wisconsin’s state park system began with the establishment of Interstate State Park in 1900. Located on the St. Croix River, this park was created to preserve the unique geological features and scenic beauty of the area. The creation of Interstate State Park marked the beginning of a statewide effort to protect and showcase Wisconsin’s diverse landscapes.
The growth of the state park system
Throughout the 20th century, Wisconsin’s state park system continued to grow, with the addition of many new parks. Some notable parks established during this period include Devil’s Lake State Park (1911), Peninsula State Park (1909), and Governor Dodge State Park (1948).
These parks, along with others, were created to protect the state’s natural resources and provide recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
The role of the Civilian Conservation Corps
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a federal program established during the Great Depression, played a significant role in the development of Wisconsin state parks. Between 1933 and 1942, the CCC built trails, roads, bridges, campgrounds, and other park facilities throughout the state, greatly improving access to and enjoyment of these natural areas.
The modern era of Wisconsin state parks
Today, Wisconsin’s state park system comprises 49 state parks, 15 state forests, and 44 state trails, providing a wide range of recreational opportunities for millions of visitors each year.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources manages these areas, ensuring their preservation and continued accessibility for future generations.
Complete List of Wisconsin State Parks: A through Z
Here is a list of Wisconsin state parks in alphabetical order, along with the nearest city:
- Amnicon Falls State Park – South Range
- Aztalan State Park – Lake Mills
- Belmont Mound State Park – Belmont
- Big Bay State Park – La Pointe
- Big Foot Beach State Park – Lake Geneva
- Black River State Forest – Black River Falls
- Blue Mound State Park – Blue Mounds
- Brunet Island State Park – Cornell
- Buckhorn State Park – Necedah
- Cadiz Springs State Recreation Area – Browntown
- Capital Springs State Recreation Area – Madison
- Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area – New Auburn
- Copper Falls State Park – Mellen
- Council Grounds State Park – Merrill
- Cross Plains State Park – Cross Plains
- Devil’s Lake State Park – Baraboo
- Fenley Recreation Area – Albany
- Governor Dodge State Park – Dodgeville
- Governor Nelson State Park – Waunakee
- Governor Thompson State Park – Crivitz
- Harrington Beach State Park – Belgium
- Hartman Creek State Park – Waupaca
- Heritage Hill State Park – Green Bay
- High Cliff State Park – Sherwood
- Hoffmaster State Park – Muskegon
- Interstate State Park – St. Croix Falls
- Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit – Campbellsport
- Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit – Eagle
- Kinnickinnic State Park – River Falls
- Kohler-Andrae State Park – Sheboygan
- Lake Kegonsa State Park – Stoughton
- Lake Wissota State Park – Chippewa Falls
- Lakeshore State Park – Milwaukee
- Lapham Peak State Park – Delafield
- Merrick State Park – Fountain City
- Mill Bluff State Park – Camp Douglas
- Mirror Lake State Park – Baraboo
- Natural Bridge State Park – North Freedom
- Nelson Dewey State Park – Cassville
- New Glarus Woods State Park – New Glarus
- Newport State Park – Ellison Bay
- Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest – Woodruff
- Pattison State Park – Superior
- Peninsula State Park – Fish Creek
- Perrot State Park – Trempealeau
- Peshtigo River State Forest – Crivitz
- Pike Lake Unit Kettle Moraine State Forest – Hartford
- Point Beach State Forest – Two Rivers
- Potawatomi State Park – Sturgeon Bay
- Rib Mountain State Park – Wausau
- Richard Bong State Recreation Area – Kansasville
- Roche-a-Cri State Park – Friendship
- Rock Island State Park – Washington Island
- Rocky Arbor State Park – Wisconsin Dells
- Straight Lake State Park – Luck
- Tower Hill State Park – Spring Green
- Whitefish Dunes State Park – Sturgeon Bay
- Wildcat Mountain State Park – Ontario
- Willow River State Park – Hudson
- Wyalusing State Park – Bagley
- Yellowstone Lake State Park – Blanchardville
FAQs for State Parks in Wisconsin
In this section, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about state parks in Wisconsin.
What is the most beautiful state park in Wisconsin?
The most beautiful state park in Wisconsin is subjective, as each park offers unique landscapes and features.
However, Devil’s Lake State Park, with its impressive quartzite bluffs and pristine lake, is often considered one of the most beautiful state parks in Wisconsin.
What are the most visited state parks in Wisconsin?
The most visited state parks in Wisconsin include Devil’s Lake State Park, Peninsula State Park, and Willow River State Park.
How many state parks does Wisconsin have?
Wisconsin has 49 state parks, 15 state forests, and 44 state trails, offering a wide range of recreational opportunities.
What is the most popular state park in WI?
Devil’s Lake State Park is the most popular state park in Wisconsin, attracting over 3 million visitors annually.
What is Wisconsin’s only national park?
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, located along the shores of Lake Superior, is the only national park in Wisconsin. It encompasses 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland shoreline, offering a variety of recreational opportunities, such as kayaking, hiking, and birdwatching.
Are Wisconsin state parks free?
While some Wisconsin state parks do not require an admission fee, most state parks charge a daily or annual vehicle admission fee. Fees vary depending on the park and the time of year.
Best state parks near Madison, WI
Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, is surrounded by beautiful state parks offering a variety of recreational activities.
Some of the best state parks near Madison, WI include:
- Governor Nelson State Park (16 miles from Madison)
- Lake Kegonsa State Park (16 miles from Madison)
- Aztalan State Park (25 miles from Madison)
- Devil’s Lake State Park (33 miles from Madison)
- Blue Mound State Park (34 miles from Madison)
Best state parks near Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin Dells, known as the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” is also close to several picturesque state parks. Some of the best state parks near Wisconsin Dells include:
- Mirror Lake State Park (4 miles from Wisconsin Dells)
- Rocky Arbor State Park (6 miles from Wisconsin Dells)
- Devil’s Lake State Park (21 miles from Wisconsin Dells)
- Buckhorn State Park (30 miles from Wisconsin Dells)
- Wildcat Mountain State Park (55 miles from Wisconsin Dells)
I hope you found this comprehensive guide to state parks in Wisconsin informative and fun.
Please let me know if there’s anything else you would like me to cover, and feel free to explore the resources mentioned throughout the article for further information. Happy exploring!
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