Wisconsin is blessed with natural beauty at every turn. The state’s forests, recreation areas, wildlife preserves, shorelines, conservation areas, and state parks offer more than 2,730 miles of hiking trails, so you can see much of this beauty on foot.
While most people enjoy hiking during the warmer seasons, some trails really come alive during the winter. Some of the most memorable outdoor fun we’ve ever had involved snowshoeing!
Birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts will find that many of these trails are great places to spot elusive species.
Whether you want to get a workout with challenging terrain, stroll comfortably to take in a view, or something in between, Wisconsin hiking trails offer enough variety to satisfy just about everyone.
1. Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Verona (And Elsewhere Across The State)
We might as well start with the mother of all Wisconsin hiking trails, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. It winds for more than 1,000 miles from the Interstate State Park on the Minnesota border to Potawatomi State Park on Lake Michigan. The Ice Age Trail is a unique conservation resource comprising some of the most beautiful landscapes in Wisconsin. It was created by receding glacial ice more than 12,000 years ago.
There are many trailheads and hikes for people of all fitness levels. We enjoy hiking and snowshoeing on the Verona Segment, but you’ll find many other trail options on the Ice Age Trail Alliance website.
2. Military Ridge State Trail
Iowa And Dane Counties
If you’re looking for variety, the 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail covers a military route that was established during the Black Hawk War in 1832. The route passes through state parks, farmland, woods, wetlands, and prairies, and it boasts several observation platforms next to the trail where you can view wildlife and other natural features. Toward the end of the trail, you can visit Dodgeville, Wisconsin, an old mining town with lots of fun things to do.
3. Elver Park Trails
We may be a little biased, but Elver Park offers some of our favorite Wisconsin hiking trails. In all fairness, it’s only a short drive from where we live, and not only does it have terrific hiking trails, but it hosts all kinds of activities, too.
The 227-acre park features hiking trails, sports fields, a splash park for the grandkids, and disc golf. In the winter, the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, and the whole family can enjoy a sledding hill and skating rink. There are small lakes where the geese gather, and birdhouses pop up along the winding trails.
There’s an easy 2.5-mile trail that runs through the park; pets are allowed on it, so feel free to bring your furry friend along. The outer loop trail is more rustic and hilly. It winds through forests, and you’ll see beautiful wildflowers, squirrels, birds, and maybe even a rabbit or two.
4. Devil’s Lake State Park Trails
Devil’s Lake State Park is one of the best areas for outdoor recreation in Wisconsin; it offers more than 29 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to difficult, steep climbing trails with the reward of exceptionally scenic views. You can even pick up parts of the Ice Age Trail here at the West Bluff and Sauk Point Trails, both of which offer a moderate challenge.
During winter some of the trails may be closed, but there are still plenty of places to wander, and candlelight hikes and snowshoe events are available.
While the park can get quite busy, especially in the summer, early mornings and dinnertime offer some quiet opportunities.
5. University Of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum Trails
For a chance to see savannas, forests, prairies, and wetlands, head to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, which spans 1,200 acres and has more than 17 miles of trails. The Arboretum is a teaching and research institution focused on ecological restoration and preservation. You’ll see entire ecosystems and, depending on when you go, you can discover flowers, plants, butterflies, birds, horticultural gardens, and even some animal visitors. We encountered a pair of wild turkeys on our last visit!
The trails offer a wide array of natural areas to explore. Some are available for skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. If you go in warm weather, be sure to prepare with insect spray, as the mosquitos can get very active.
6. Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park Trails
Part of an extensive wetland area covering more than 2,000 acres, Cherokee Marsh is a great place to explore.
Both the park’s North Unit and South Unit offer short easy loops, more extensive trails, and even some unnamed trails that are usable year-round. There are trails groomed for winter skiing and snowshoeing. We recently attended a candlelight snowshoe and ski event that finished with hot cocoa and s’mores. It was so much fun, and we can’t wait to do it again next year!
Cherokee Marsh is also great for birders. There is even a bird checklist you can use to track how many of the 187 species there you catch on your hike. And if you want to see what’s happening at the marsh, check out the webcams. They’re updated every hour.
7. Lake Geneva Shore Path
In the 1800s, the Potawatomi people who lived in the area around Lake Geneva were removed by the European settlers who took over the land. But the natives left a trail that covers more than 20 miles of easy pathway ranging from brick or pavement to dirt. The views everywhere along the Lake Geneva Shore Path are gorgeous, and while the route is public, parts of it are adjacent to massive private estates belonging to famous families like the Wrigleys and Rockefellers. Additional twists and turns take you up through wooded areas that provide spectacular leaf-peeping opportunities during the fall.
8. Lost Creek Falls
When a hike is located in a place called Cornucopia, you know you’re in for a treat. That’s certainly the case with Lost Creek Falls in Cornucopia, Wisconsin. The well-marked trail takes you across two bridges and past plenty of wild berry bushes. During the spring, the water flows through scenic woodlands leading to the secluded falls. Take your camera with you -- you’ll undoubtedly find much beauty to capture along the way.
9. Hidden Lake Trail
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
For those who want a challenge, the Hidden Lake Trail in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest offers some thigh-burning stretches and overnight camping along its 13-mile loop. You’ll pass by almost a dozen lakes! Keep your eyes open for a forest of hemlock trees, and maybe even some local wildlife.
You could do part of this trek as a day hike, but take time to overnight by one of the many scenic lakes. Be sure to get a map before you start, bring plenty of bug spray if you’re hiking during the warmer months, and consider this a marathon, not a sprint.
Wisconsin hiking trails provide enough variety to satisfy everyone, from casual amblers to hardcore backpackers. These are just a few of the gems available to explore. Whatever the season or terrain you’re looking to enjoy, there’s a Wisconsin hiking trail calling your name.
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