Is the great outdoors calling? Whether you’re a geology buff wanting to explore ancient rock formations or looking for a picturesque beach to kick back and relax, all the beautiful state parks near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have something for everyone.
Sprinkled within driving distance of Milwaukee, these state parks boast breathtaking landscapes, rich natural history, an array of wildlife, and plenty of family-friendly activities. Journey back to the Ice Age and explore the captivating landscapes of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Marvel at the magnificent quartzite cliffs in High Cliff State Park.
Hike some of Wisconsin’s most incredible trails, from the Ice Age Trail in Devil’s Lake State Park to Kohler-Andrae State Park’s lush Black River Trail. Bask in the sun on the beautiful beaches of Harrington Beach State Park and Lake Kegonsa State Park, where you can swim, paddle, and picnic to your heart’s content.
Ready to hit the road? Start planning your adventure with our complete guide to the best state parks near Milwaukee.
Lakeshore State Park
You don’t even have to leave the city to enjoy this serene oasis! Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, just a half-mile southeast of Downtown Milwaukee, Lakeshore State Park offers a picturesque escape within a stone’s throw from the city.
Based in a once-industrial area in the Historic Third Ward, Lakeshore State Park is now a haven for city dwellers and nature enthusiasts to enjoy. A network of walking and biking trails meander through scenic landscapes, offering breathtaking views of Lake Michigan’s shimmering waters and the iconic Milwaukee skyline. Pause along the way to take in the sight of sailboats gently gliding across the water.
If you’re a twitcher, have your trusty binoculars on hand, as the park serves as a sanctuary for various avian species. Keep an eye out for graceful herons and vibrant warblers as they go about their daily routines. The park’s diverse ecosystems also make it one of the coolest places to visit in Milwaukee for plant lovers, with native flora dotting the landscape.
Grab some local Wisconsin cheeses, fresh bread, and a bottle of wine to enjoy a leisurely picnic along the water’s edge. Plan your visit around sunset to witness the sky ablaze with hues of orange and pink, casting a magical glow over the lake and cityscape.
Don’t forget your camera or smartphone. Lakeshore State Park is a photographer’s paradise, with countless opportunities to capture some spectacular shots.
Havenwoods State Forest
If you want to escape the city for a few hours, head to Havenwoods State Forest. Just five miles northwest of downtown, this beautiful forest is ideally located for a day trip from Milwaukee.
Once the site of gravel mining and farming, Havenwoods State Forest was established in the 1970s and has been nurtured back to life over the years. The forest boasts a network of well-maintained trails that wind through diverse ecosystems, from wetlands to woodlands. Encounter local wildlife and marvel at the seasonal changes that paint the landscape as you explore the trails.
The Environmental Awareness Center offers interactive exhibits and insightful displays that delve into the forest’s history, ecology, and the importance of preserving urban green spaces. The forest is a prime spot for birdwatching, so bring binoculars to glimpse the bird species that call Havenwoods home.
Join one of the guided nature walks or workshops that explore the forest and its ecosystem. Every season at Havenwoods has its own unique charm. From the vibrant foliage of autumn to the serenity of winter snowfall, plan your visit to experience the forest’s beauty in various forms.
Kettle Moraine State Forest
Another spectacular stretch of woodland to explore is the Kettle Moraine State Forest. This remarkable forest is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, offering a diverse range of landscapes and activities for adventurers.
Kettle Moraine State Forest is about 45 miles northwest of Milwaukee, making it an easy day trip or weekend getaway. It’s also within reasonable driving distance of other major cities in Wisconsin, including Madison and Sheboygan. So, you can escape the city’s hustle and immerse yourself in the forest’s beauty in no time.
The history of Kettle Moraine State Forest is intertwined with the last Ice Age. The unique topography of the park is a result of glacial activity, which left behind fascinating features like kettles, moraines, and eskers. These natural formations create a captivating landscape that is both beautiful and geologically significant.
Hiking trails wind through lush forests, over rolling hills, and around serene lakes, offering breathtaking views at every turn. One of the highlights is the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which passes through the forest and provides a glimpse into the prehistoric past. Don’t miss the numerous scenic overlooks that offer panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. They’re exceptionally breathtaking during the fall foliage season.
Crystal-clear lakes and tranquil rivers beckon you to paddle, fish, or relax by the water’s edge. In winter, the park transforms into a snowy wonderland, perfect for activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Harrington Beach State Park
When it’s time to feel the sand between your toes, Harrington Beach State Park is a must! Boasting one of Lake Michigan’s most beautiful sandy shores, this gem is a haven if you love the outdoors. Based 30 miles north of Milwaukee in the town of Belgium, the park’s locale makes it ideal for exploring the region’s beauty beyond the urban landscape.
Harrington Beach State Park was transformed from a quarry and limestone mining operation in the late 19th century to the recreational haven it is today. The jewel in the crown is the mile-long Lake Michigan shoreline, featuring sandy beaches that invite you to relax, swim, and soak up the sun.
The lake’s clear waters make it a popular spot for kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing. Take leisurely walks along the Lake Michigan shoreline during sunrise or sunset. The views are breathtaking, and you might even catch a glimpse of passing sailboats or migratory birds.
Hiking enthusiasts will be delighted by the trails that meander through the park’s woodlands, wetlands, and prairies. One of the standout trails is the Quarry Lake Trail, which leads you to a tranquil quarry lake nestled within the forest. Keep your eyes peeled and your binoculars at hand to spot an array of birds and wildlife that call the park home.
Big Foot Beach State Park
Nestled on the shores of Geneva Lake, Big Foot Beach State Park offers an idyllic escape from the city to a lakeside paradise. Located 45 miles southwest of Milwaukee and within easy drives of Lake Geneva, Fontana, and Walworth, this picturesque escape offers a blend of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and a serene atmosphere.
The park’s name is a nod to Chief Big Foot, a prominent Potawatomi leader in the region’s Native American history (not the giant, mysterious furball by the same name). Spectacular sandy beaches along the shore of Lake Geneva are perfect for basking in the sun, building sandcastles, or taking a refreshing swim.
The trails at Big Foot Beach State Park wind through a diverse landscape of woods, wetlands, and prairies. Lovely lakeside hiking trails provide beautiful views of Geneva Lake and the surrounding area – don’t forget your binoculars and camera!
Bring your gear and cast a line into Geneva Lake if you’re into fishing. The lake is known for its variety of fish species, making it a paradise for anglers. Find a cozy spot on the beach or a lakeside trail and witness a breathtaking sunset over Geneva Lake.
Kohler-Andrae State Park
If you’re a beach-lover, one park you don’t want to miss is Kohler-Andrae State Park. Set along Lake Michigan’s shores close to Kohler and Sheboygan, this park offers a pristine haven of dunes, beaches, and wetlands.
Situated just 55 miles north of Milwaukee, Kohler-Andrae State Park was donated to the state by the Kohler and Andrae families and plays a vital role in the conservation of the area. Visit the Sanderling Nature Center to learn more about the park’s history and ecology. It’s a great starting point for your visit.
Pristine sandy beaches are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing in perfect Milwaukee weather. The adjacent dunes form a unique ecosystem, home to specialized plant and animal species.
For hikers and nature enthusiasts, the Kohler-Andrae State Park’s trails offer picturesque vistas of Lake Michigan and the surrounding natural beauty. The Black River Trail takes you through marshes, woodlands, and dunes, providing loads of opportunities for birdwatching and photography.
Wear sturdy shoes or hiking sandals, especially if you plan to explore the dunes and trails. The sand can get hot, and the terrain varies.
Lake Kegonsa State Park
Venture further afield to Lake Kegonsa State Park near Madison. Located about 80 miles west of Milwaukee, this park is a fantastic destination for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a peaceful escape. The longer drive makes it an ideal place to explore on a day trip from Milwaukee.
Established by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, Lake Kegonsa State Park is a sanctuary for nature lovers and families, providing recreational opportunities and beautiful landscapes.
The park’s main attraction is Lake Kegonsa itself. The lake’s clear waters invite you to swim, fish, and paddle, and its scenic shoreline is perfect for picnicking and relaxing. Hiking trails weave through the park, offering picturesque views of the lake and woodlands.
Anglers will find good fishing opportunities on Lake Kegonsa. Rent a boat for a better chance at a catch. Take the Indian Mound Trail to discover historical Native American mounds and enjoy a leisurely hike with scenic views. Bring your binoculars if you’re a bird enthusiast. The park’s diverse habitats make it an excellent spot for birdwatching.
Devil’s Lake State Park
If you’re a natural history buff, Devil’s Lake State Park is a must! Located in the Baraboo Range, around 35 miles northwest of Madison, WI, the park is home to quartzite bluffs formed over 1.6 billion years ago.
Devil’s Lake State Park is about 140 miles west of Milwaukee, so why not combine a visit to Devil’s Lake State Park with the nearby towns of Baraboo and Madison and spend a few days exploring the area? Devil’s Lake State Park is packed with attractions and activities for outdoor lovers, and you don’t want to rush your visit.
Resting at the park’s center is the 360-acre Devil’s Lake, where you can swim, fish, and paddle to your heart’s content. Enjoy lakeshore picnic areas, bird watching, or ease into the backcountry solitude. Hike or mountain bike along parts of the 1,000-mile Ice Age Trail and explore the region’s intriguing natural history.
Head to Balanced Rock Trail for panoramic views from the bluffs or the Tumbled Rocks Trail for a geological adventure amidst the rocks. If you’re an experienced rock climber, Devil’s Lake offers challenging routes on the bluffs.
High Cliff State Park
Looking for an adventurous day trip from Milwaukee? Make your way to High Cliff State Park near Sherwood, about 85 miles from the city. Overlooking Lake Winnebago, the largest inland lake in Wisconsin, the park boasts a rich natural history that geology buffs will love!
Set on ancient limestone cliffs, once sacred to Native Americans, High Cliff State Park was known for its limestone quarrying and kilns. Today, you can still see the old quarries and kilns and mysterious effigy mounds dotted throughout the park.
Explore the Lime Kiln Trail to see remnants of the park’s industrial past, or take the Indian Mound Trail to learn about the area’s Native American history. Capture breathtaking photos of Lake Winnebago from the top of the limestone cliff; sunrise and sunset promise some spectacular shots!
If you enjoy fishing, grab your line and hit the lake. Known for its abundant fish population, Lake Winnebago is an angler’s paradise.