Last Updated on January 5, 2021 by Janet Frost
There are great hiking opportunities all across the Midwest. But Wisconsin hiking will always be my first choice. The people of Wisconsin are dedicated to maintaining great hiking and biking trails across their state. Thanks to some rugged glacier action, Wisconsin has unique and diverse topography to explore. This is my list of the 10 best hikes in Wisconsin. Share your choices in the comments. I am always looking for new adventures!
Let’s Go! Learn Things about the 10 Best Hikes in Wisconsin…
Best Hiking in Southern Wisconsin
#1 Kettle Moraine Southern Unit
Kettle Moraine State Forest swoops through Southeast Wisconsin along the pathway of kettles, moraines, ridges and lakes created by the last receding glacier. This State Forest is comprised of parks, campgrounds, hiking trails, biking trails and recreational lakes. The Kettle Moraine State Forest is divided into Southern and Northern Units. In my humble opinion, the absolute best hiking in Wisconsin can be found in the Southern Unit. Fat tire bikers also flock to this Southern Unit. There are three main trail systems within the Southern Unit. Map (pdf)
Scuppernong Trail System
Scuppernong Trail System is the most northern collection of hiking trails in the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit. It is best accessed from County Rd ZZ just off of Hwy 67. A couple of the trails will also access the Pinewoods Campgrounds and Ottawa Lake Campgrounds. As with much of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, the Ice Age Trail winds its way through this trail system as well as the other two systems. Along the eastern edge, there is access for equestrians and snowmobiles.
Emma Carlin Trail System
Further southwest is the Emma Carlin Trail System. This system is west of the town of Eagle and includes the Southern Unit State Forest Headquarters. Along Hwy 59 and County Rd Z are several access points to trails that depending on the season, are open to hikers/bikers/skiers and a few open to equestrians/snowmobiles. The far western edge of this system boasts an Equestrian Campground.
John Muir Trail System
John Muir Trails are the most southwest of the three trail systems. This set of trails is very popular for mountain bikers with the little LaGrange General Store and Bike Rental close by. Plenty of hiking, biking, skiing, equestrian and snowmobile trails can be found in this system. The trails are accessed from the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive (County Rd H) or Hwy 12.
Learn More: Kettle Moraine State Forest: A Wisconsin Gem
#2 Lapham Peak State Park: My favorite hiking in Wisconsin
Technically also in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, but its own Unit, Lapham Peak State Park is a hot spot and literally a high spot in Waukesha County. Lapham Peak is named after an early scientist and meteorologist of 19th century Wisconsin Territory. The park is used by hikers, bikers, trail runners, nordic skiers, birders, naturalists and local classrooms. Increase Lapham used the prominent “peak” for weather signals from Colorado to the Great Lakes regions. Today the peak has a 45 foot observation tower providing vast views of lake country of Southeastern Wisconsin.
Here, some of the best hiking trails in Wisconsin wind through meadows, up forested hills (kettles and moraines) and across waving grasslands. The main part of the park does require a WI State Park Fee/Pass. However along the southern and western borders the Ice Age Trail provides hiking access without a pass. We will discuss the Ice Age Trail further under #10. Map (pdf)
Central Wisconsin Hiking
#3 Devil’s Lake State Park
Devil’s Lake State Park is a gem for Wisconsin tourism. Residents and visitors alike flock to this park for hiking, rock climbing, sailing, diving, swimming and camping. The hiking trail works its way along the bluffs on each side of this deep glacial lake. A beach and park facilities break up the two trails so that you can do the whole loop or only one half.
Nearby is the historic town of Baraboo and the Barnum Circus Museum.
Best Hiking in Wisconsin: Eastern
#4 Ahnapee Trail
Eastern Wisconsin hugs Lake Michigan with small port towns, picturesque lighthouses and amazing vistas. The Ahnapee Trail traverses through evergreen glades, prairies and forests, from downtown Sturgeon Bay, at the base of the Door County Peninsula south to Kewaunee. This 48-mile, trail winds along the beautiful Ahnapee and Kewaunee rivers. This is quintessential hiking in Wisconsin.
#5 Door County
Door County is the ultimate destination for most travelers along Wisconsin’s Eastern Shore. This peninsula is a curious mix of historic and modern. The European immigrants to Wisconsin in the 19th century are represented in the buildings and cuisine. Masses of Milwaukee and Chicago summer tourists overwhelm the quaint with traffic and crowds. If you can plan your Wisconsin hiking trip during the shoulder season (April or November) you will discover serene forests and breathtaking views of the wild Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Peninsula State Park is a great hiking destination. Map (pdf)
Best Hikes in WisconsinWestern
#6 Interstate Park Trail
Far north along the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, flows the St. Croix River. Fifty-two miles downstream the St. Croix will meet up with the Mighty Mississippi River. But in St. Croix Falls, WI the river remains alone, flowing through great bluffs and hiking opportunities. The Interstate State Park straddles the river and the border. Each respective State Park offers trails that follow along the ridges. They are relatively short trails but the region offers many longer hiking trails outside of the parks. In addition, the Western terminus (begininng/end) of the Ice Age Trail sits in the Wisconsin State Park. This is beautiful country to enjoy hiking in Wisconsin.
Learn More: St. Croix River region
#7 Wyalusing State Park
Another confluence of rivers is in Wyalusing State Park. Here the Wisconsin River merges with the Mighty Mississippi, along the Wisconsin-Iowa border. The region is known for bluff hiking trails and wetland wildlife opportunities. Map(pdf)
Best Wisconsin Hikes “Up North”
#8 Nicolet National Forest
For many years we owned a cabin retreat near Eagle River, WI. It was within the Nicolet National Forest. We explored the region extensively and I have a couple of personal favorites from my fond memories. The Nicolet National Forest covers more than 1.5 million acres of Wisconsin’s northwoods. This vast region is pristine forested land with a variety of hiking opportunities.
A serene little hidden gem is Luna-White Deer Campground and Trail. The campground and 4 mile trail loop around two deep lakes, Luna and White Deer. These lakes are restricted to non-motorized boats so they are quiet and often isolated.
Another favorite hiking spot was the Anvil Lake Recreation Area. This heavily wooded set of trails was our go-to for hiking, mountain biking, nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. You will find this trail system on my best hikes in Wisconsin lists.
#9 American Legion State Forest
Traveling “Up North” is a big deal in Wisconsin. They make the trek for boating, fishing, hunting, hiking and every kind of outdoor adventure. About 35 miles west of the Nicolet National Forest is the American Legion State Forest which surrounds the quintessential northern Wisconsin town of Boulder Junction. Established in 1925 to protect the headwaters of the Wisconsin, Flambeau and Manitowish rivers, the Northern Highland-American Legion (NHAL) State Forest occupies more than 232,000 acres in northern Wisconsin. Visit the Boulder Junction website for some trail specifics and the NHAL trails website.
Thru-Hiking in Wisconsin
#10 Ice Age Trail
So I have been promising to talk about the Ice Age Trail this whole post. Finally, let’s see what the hype is about. Why do many feel this is the best hiking in Wisconsin? The Ice Age Trail is a “thru-hike” trail contained completely within the state of Wisconsin, crossing 30 counties and traversing over 1,000 miles. The trail consists of a combination of traditional hiking paths, multi-use trails and connecting roads, all blazed with bright yellow markings. Several areas have campgrounds nearby. Many segments of the trail are groomed in the winter months for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Some of the very best hikes in Wisconsin are in fact along the Ice Age Trail.
Just like the glacier lobe that created it, the trail starts at Green Bay on the western shore of Lake Michigan, it then dips as far south as Janesville, meandering its way across the state back up to St. Croix Falls at the border of Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Along this Wisconsin hiking trail is a complete display of the topography, flora/fauna, and cultures/ communities that the beautiful state of Wisconsin has to offer.
Some of my favorite segments
The Ice Age Trail runs straight through the Kettle Moraine State Forest including Lapham Peak State Park. Up in the Northwest corner, we found the trail’s western terminus in the Interstate State Park along the St. Croix River. In the middle of the state not too far from Devil’s Lake, is a segment called Gibraltar Rock. Rising 200 feet above the surrounding landscape, Gibraltar Rock is a flat-topped butte The butte offers panoramic views of the Wisconsin River Valley and Lake Wisconsin.
Learn More: Why you should hike the Ice Age Trail
Discover the best hikes in Wisconsin for yourself!
This list is packed with hiking ideas from across the State of Wisconsin. I hope you discovered some new Wisconsin hiking trails to explore. Because I am always looking for new trails, I would love to hear what you consider to be the best hikes in Wisconsin. Share them in the comments below.