Best Trails in Milwaukee
6 fall hikes within 60 miles of Milwaukee
There are many reasons why I love fall.
The obvious: the changing leaves, a sweet mug of warm apple cider, that I can bike to work and not arrive in a sweaty mess that leaves my co-workers questioning my hygiene habits.
But it's something more than that. In an age where everything is instantaneous and on demand — information, movies, communication — nature reminds us that it operates on its own timetable. No amount of mouse clicking or switch flipping can force its hand. We must wait and let the colors come on their own, coaxed out of their green shells by the shortening days and falling temperatures.
And while every autumn is different — also part of the allure — this one is shaping up to be spectacular.
Peak colors this year are expected anytime between mid-September and the end of October, starting in northern Wisconsin and moving south. Travel Wisconsin's Fall Color Report is a helpful tool for chasing the colors. The interactive map includes reports from more than 100 observers in all 72 counties, plus information on things to see and do throughout the state during autumn.
One of the best ways to slow down and savor the autumnal display is with a fall hike. Cooler weather, fewer pesky mosquitoes and trees donning their full fall regalia — it's the ultimate recipe for enjoying the outdoors.
You don't have to go far to soak it in. Some of my favorite fall hikes have come on early morning strolls around my neighborhood when the streets are quiet and nature takes center stage.
But if you do venture out, Wisconsin's bountiful forests offer plenty of opportunities to watch nature work its magic. Here are six options within 60 miles of Milwaukee.
1. Parnell Tower loop — Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit
County Highway U, 0.25 miles west of County Highway A, southwest of Plymouth
Nearly one million visitors enjoy the trees, trails and waterways of the 30,000 Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit every year, and it's easy to see why. Several trail systems are within an hour's drive from Milwaukee, providing an easily accessible slice of wildness.
Climb the 60-foot observation tower at the start of this moderate 3.5-mile trail for 360-degree views of southeastern Wisconsin's glacial landscape from the highest point in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Continue north through mixed hardwoods before looping back and connecting with the Ice Age Trail for a segment. You'll pass an Adirondack-style shelter that can be used for backcountry camping before breaking off again to head back to the parking area.
2. Tamarack loop — Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit
Mauthe Lake Recreation Area, County Highway GGG east of Campbellsport
Not all evergreens are actually forever-green. Or, more accurately, not all conifers are evergreens. Wisconsin's tamarack, with its triangle-shaped body, needlelike leaves and brown cones, looks the part of an evergreen. But it is actually a deciduous tree, its skinny leaves changing to a fiery, golden yellow every fall and dropping.
Catch glimpses of the golden conifer on this easy, 2-mile trail that circles Mauthe Lake and travels through the Milwaukee River and Swamp State Natural Area — swampland is a favorite habitat for tamaracks. Also look for white ash, yellow birch, elm and spruce. The trail is in a wildlife refuge and is closed to hunting and pets.
3. Ice Age Trail — Holy Hill Segment
Highway 167 to Donegal Road, Hubertus
Holy Hill has long drawn pilgrims of both the faithful and fall-foliage variety, thanks to the beautiful basilica perched on the top of a 1,350-foot kame in Washington County.
The church's scenic tower is certainly worth a visit, with its spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Just be aware you may have to wait to climb the 178 narrow stairs on a fall weekend. On a clear day, look for the tall buildings of downtown Milwaukee more than 30 miles to the southeast.
But don't stop your visit there.
The Ice Age Trail circles the church to the east for about 2 miles, passing through a beautiful stretch of hardwoods that blanket the trail in reds, oranges and yellows. Combine a hike on the trail with a walk along the church's paved Stations of the Cross path, a peaceful spot for respite and reflection.
4. Lapham Peak — Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit
W329-N846 County Highway C, Delafield
Lapham Peak is my go-to slice of nature in southeastern Wisconsin. Easily accessible just off I-94 in Delafield, the unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is a quick jaunt from downtown Milwaukee and the western 'burbs.
More than 17 miles of trails loop around the state forest unit, including a segment of the Ice Age Trail and a 1.8-mile wheelchair- and stroller-friendly paved path.
Climb the 45-foot observation tower for views from the highest point in Waukesha County — a spot where Wisconsin scientist Increase Lapham (the unit's namesake) recorded weather observations for his pioneering work in meteorology. Lapham would go on to help found the National Weather Service, which established one if its first stations on this peak in 1870.
5. Kohler-Andrae State Park
1020 Beach Park Lane, Sheboygan
The white, sandy beach at this park along Lake Michigan draws scores of summer visitors, but fall brings a quieter season to Kohler-Andrae.
Hike the 2-mile cordwalk trail through the Kohler Park Dunes State Natural Area, which protects the park's delicate dune ecosystem. In fall, the dunes glow as the grasses take on a beautiful golden hue. Also look for migrating raptors, waterfowl and shorebirds — the lake serves as a popular migration corridor.
6. Seven Bridges Trail — Grant Park
South Lake Drive and Park Ave., South Milwaukee
Milwaukeeans can thank the Civilian Conservation Corps for this slice of nature along Lake Michigan south of the city. In the '30s, the corps built the series of stone paths, bridges and stairways that wind through a ravine and alongside bluffs on the lake.
Today, there are actually 10 bridges scattered along the Seven Bridges Trail, which was designated as a National Recreational Trail in 2005. Stands of American beech, maple, white ash and yellow birch envelop the trail in reds, oranges and yellows in autumn.
The bridge at the trailhead welcomes visitors with an inscription — "Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature" — that some have taken literally. According to local legend, people have heard noises and spotted mysterious lights along the trail at night.
Whether you believe it or not, the park is best explored during the day (the park closes at 10 p.m.) when the sun dances off the lake below and filters through the fiery leaves above.
■ Most Wisconsin state forest land is open to hunting in the fall. While hunters are encouraged to stay away from trails, it's best to wear bright colors while hiking.
■ You will need a vehicle admission sticker to park at state parks, forests and trails.
■ Pets are allowed on most trails (except for nature trails) as long as they are on a leash no longer than 8 feet. Do your duty and pick up theirs.
■ Bring a cellphone and a paper map in case that 3G fails while you're on the trail.
■ The average person can hike 2 to 4 miles per hour. Assess your own fitness level and use that range to estimate hiking times.
■ While many trailheads have potable water, there are no bubblers out on the trail. Be sure to carry water with you while you hike.
View CommentsSours: https://www.jsonline.com/story/travel/wisconsin/day-out/2014/09/19/day-out-6-fall-hikes-within-60-miles-of-milwaukee/87625970/
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Famous for world-class cheese and beer, Milwaukee may not seem an obvious city choice for people who love to be outdoors. But for all of the great eats and drinks in Brew City, there are also dozens of great parks, trails, and green spaces in and around the city. Some of these give hikers access to the beautiful, vast shoreline of Lake Michigan, while others lead to breathtaking scenery and landscapes farther inland. If you’re hoping to go hiking near Milwaukee, you’ve got plenty of options. We created this guide to the best hikes near Milwaukee so you can easily find and plan your next outdoor adventure!
Easy Hiking Near Milwaukee
Hank Aaron State Trail
- Distance from Milwaukee: 0 miles
- Trail Length: 7 miles one way
- Elevation Gain: 229 feet
More of a multi-purpose trail than a traditional “hiking trail,” the Hank Aaron State Trail is a mostly paved, urban bikeway and walkway that spans nearly 7 miles across the city of Milwaukee. Running through many of the city’s neighborhoods and landmarks, this local trail is one of the best hikes in Milwaukee for getting your mileage in and enjoying some nearby green spaces.
Passing over bridges and by local landmarks like the baseball stadium, this trail has some slight elevation changes but is overall very easy and suitable for all experience levels. If you’re on a time crunch and looking for some fresh air, the Hank Aaron State Trail is a fantastic urban option.
Ice Age Trail: Holy Hill Segment
- Distance from Milwaukee: 34 miles/40 minutes
- Trail Length: 6.8 miles one way
- Elevation Gain: 603 feet
One of the most significant long distance hiking trails in the state of Wisconsin is the Ice Age Trail, which spans nearly 1,200 miles across a large area where a glacier once stood. Today, what’s left in the area are the geological remnants of this glacier, like the stark rock formations you’ll see dotted around the state.
The Holy Hill Segment of the Ice Age Trail is beloved not just for its natural elements, but also its great views of the Holy Hill Basilica. You’ll find views here reminiscent of Europe, with the Basilica’s spires peeking out from above the tree line. If you want, you can also walk up to the Basilica itself and have a look around.
Ice Age Trail: Monches Segment
- Distance from Milwaukee: 33 miles/40 minutes
- Trail Length: 3.7 miles one way
- Elevation Gain: 213 feet
Another popular section of the Ice Age Trail for hiking near Milwaukee is the Monches Segment. Unlike its Holy Hill counterpart, the Monches Segment of the trail is a much more rugged, nature-oriented hike that follows the Oconomowoc River as it flows from its namesake lake for much of the segment’s 3.7 miles. Along the way, you’ll find scenic wooden boardwalks running through the woods, with several nice viewpoints of the river and lake dotted throughout.
Kohler-Andrae Boardwalk Trail
- Distance from Milwaukee: 52 miles/1 hour (Kohler-Andrae State Park)
- Trail Length: 3 miles
- Elevation Gain: Minimal
If you’re seeking a lakeside stroll that feels like something out of New England’s coast, head to Kohler-Andrae State Park’s Boardwalk Trail. As one of the most scenic easy hikes near Milwaukee, this 3-mile set of trails takes hikers of all levels around some sandy dunes bordering Lake Michigan. Here, you’ll find beautiful wooden boardwalks built over the rolling terrain of the dunes, with golden, tall grasses growing in the sand. Another huge perk of this trail is that the beach is a sandy shore and is perfect for having a picnic or taking a small mid-hike siesta!
Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve
- Distance from Milwaukee: 24 miles/30 minutes
- Trail Length: 1.9 miles
- Elevation Gain: 141 feet
Another stunningly beautiful place for hiking near Milwaukee is Lion’s Den Gorge. This lakefront nature preserve is home to stunning bluffs that border the teal blue waters of Lake Michigan, offering hikers access to the sandy beaches and striking views from the park’s 1.9 mile trail. On sunny days, the water is an amazing color, and there are few lakefront views that are quite as magical as the ones at Lion’s Den.
Scuppernong Nature Trail
- Distance from Milwaukee: 36 miles/45 minutes
- Trail Length: 5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 298 feet
Sometimes you just need a refreshing walk in the woods to reset and unwind, and the Scuppernong Nature Trail provides exactly that. Located just 45 minutes from downtown Milwaukee, this beautiful, forested trail runs through some gentle hills throughout this 5-mile loop. There isn’t much in the way of views, but the trees here are tall and mighty, and are a spectacle in themselves, especially during the fall months when they’ve changed to wild, warm colors. Because this trail is less popular than some others on our list, it’s one of the best hikes near Milwaukee to get some peace and quiet solitude in nature.
Moderate & Difficult Hikes Near Milwaukee
Oak Leaf Trail
- Distance from Milwaukee: 0 miles
- Trail Length: Varies
- Elevation Gain: Varies
Another great spot for hiking in Milwaukee is the Oak Leaf Trail. Spanning a total of 19 miles across the city, the section by the shore in Grant Park is the most popular and scenic, with lovely views of the lakefront and the quaint, forested trails and bridges of the park. While this is an urban trail, it doesn’t feel like it in many sections because of the think nature that surrounds the trails. There are plenty of entrance points around the city for this trail, but we’d recommend starting at the parking lot in Grant Park if you want a shorter loop.
Parnell Tower Loop
- Distance from Milwaukee: 55 miles/1 hour (Kettle Moraine State Forest)
- Trail Length: 3.3 miles
- Elevation Gain: 311 feet
One additional section of the Ice Age Trail leads up to a scenic lookout tower, also known as the Parnell Tower trail. This 3.3-mile, moderately challenging hike leads through a forested trail to the large, wooden lookout tower. From the top, you can see views out across the Wisconsin landscape, which are especially beautiful in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. The rest of the trail is mostly a walk through the woods, but with a few elevation and terrain changes, it’s a fun and short trail for hiking near Milwaukee that’s not far from the city.
- Distance from Milwaukee: 53 miles/1 hour
- Trail Length: 5.2 miles
- Elevation Gain: 367 feet
Walking through the woods is the name of the game in Wisconsin, and the Zillmer Loop is another scenic forest trail that leads to a few nice landmarks. With 5.2 miles of trails and 367 feet of elevation gain, the Zillmer Loop offers a few slightly challenging areas that are suitable for hikers of all levels. The trail runs mostly through the forest, but it’s also got views over a still pond, and a few wide vistas across the top of the nearby forests. Fall colors here are absolutely spectacular, and its among the best hikes near Milwaukee for simply unwinding and enjoying nature.
- Distance from Milwaukee: 27 miles/30 minutes (Kettle Moraine State Forest)
- Trail Length: 3.1 miles
- Elevation Gain: 393 feet
Want to hike to a scenic mountaintop viewpoint that’s less than an hour from the city? Lapham Peak is a local favorite for hiking near Milwaukee that boasts a high tower for catching the most spectacular views. The trail has a mixture of wooden boardwalks and dirt pathways that run through the forest along the Ice Age Trail to Lapham Peak. Because it’s so popular, we’d recommend getting there early to avoid the rush of people, especially on weekends.
Pike Lake Trail
- Distance from Milwaukee: 36 miles/40 minutes
- Trail Length: 3.6 miles
- Elevation Gain: 374 feet
What’s more scenic than a historic trail to a quiet forest lake? The Pike Lake Trail is exactly that – a moderate hike to a lake surrounded by forests. Along these scenic trails, you’ll find beautiful wildflowers, tall, dense forests, and old machinery from the industrial era. There are a few minor ascents and terrain changes throughout the trail due to the glacial geology of the area, making it an especially fun spot for those wanting to get more hiking experience under their belts.
Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area
- Distance from Milwaukee: 100 miles/1.5 hours
- Trail Length: 1.4 miles
- Elevation Gain: 298 feet
For a short hike, the Gibraltar Rock Trail really packs a punch in terms of landscapes, terrain, and scenery. While the trail is only 1.4 miles, it runs through some strikingly beautiful rock formations left over by the glaciers in the area, as well as a few gnarly trees. Great for beginners and experienced hikers alike, this short trail is one of the most naturally beautiful hikes near Milwaukee.
Perhaps the most magical part of this trail, though, is the view from the top, which extends out over Wisconsin’s vast farmlands from a scenic rocky outcropping on top of the hill. Take some time to enjoy the views here with a snack or to explore some of the other perspectives from the nearby rocks.
Devil’s Lake State Park
- Distance from Milwaukee: 118 miles/2 hours (Devil’s Lake State Park)
- Trail Length: 4.7 miles
- Elevation Gain: 997 feet
One of the most beautiful areas on the Ice Age Trail is Devil’s Lake, a picturesque lake surrounded by forests located in central Wisconsin. The 4.7 mile Devil’s Lake trail that runs through the park via the West Bluff is the best way to explore the area’s stunning vistas and rugged, rocky trails. While the elevation gain here is just shy of 1,000 feet, it’s made more challenging around the lake’s perimeter because of frequent terrain changes. It’s a fun hike for all experience levels, but especially those looking for a hiking experience that feels more mountainous and less urban.
Rib Mountain Yellow Trail
- Distance from Milwaukee: 185 miles/2 hours, 45 minutes (Rib Mountain State Park)
- Trail Length: 4.1 miles
- Elevation Gain: 770 feet
As you travel further north in Wisconsin, you’ll start to find that the terrain gets a bit more rocky and mountainous. Rib Mountain State Park is one of the best areas in the state to experience this more varied terrain. Forests and rocky cliff sides come together on the park’s Yellow Trail, which offers gorgeous views and moderate forest terrain in a less crowded area than many on our list. The changes in elevation will get your heart pumping! Head there during the fall and you can experience the beauty of the changing leaves along the park’s many viewpoints.
Levis/Trow Mounds Trail
- Distance from Milwaukee: 210 miles/3 hours (Levis/Trow Mound Recreation Area)
- Trail Length: 6.1 miles
- Elevation Gain: 524 feet
Rocky landscapes are the central highlight of the Levis/Trow Mounds Trail, which is located about 3 hours outside of Milwaukee. Hike on wooden boardwalks through eerie forested rock formations and admire bird’s eye views from a stunning hilltop vista. Along the journey, you’ll enjoy quiet, scenic trails through evergreen forests, with tall trees that provide cool shade and a contemplative environment.
Although it’s quite far from the city, we wanted to include this longer trail on our list because it feels like a true adventure. There are few hikes near Milwaukee as naturally stunning or exciting as this one, so if you’re looking for a challenging and rewarding hike, add the Levis/Trow Mounds Trail to your list!
Additional Resources for Hiking near Milwaukee
What to Pack
- Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women. And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks in the world! For more information, check out our guides to hiking shorts for men and women and our top tips and gear for hiking in winter.
- Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable. For more information, check out our guide to the best trekking poles.
- Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.
- Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.
- A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
- Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
- Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.
Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.
Kay Rodriguez is the founder of Urban Outdoors. She's also the writer and photographer behind Jetfarer. When she's not writing furiously on her laptop or editing photos, you can find Kay running, hiking, surfing, or playing in the snow.
Related PostsSours: https://urbanoutdoors.com/hiking-in-near-milwaukee/
10 Epic Hiking Spots Around Milwaukee Are Completely Out Of This World
Grab your hiking boots. It’s time to hit the trails! Whether you’re looking for a quick and easy stroll or a full-on excursion, the Milwaukee area is filled with natural areas to explore. These ten places in and around Milwaukee are perfect for getting out-and-about to enjoy some of the most stunning spots in the state.
These hiking spots offer tons of unique trails to explore, but they are only a small slice of the amazing places to hike in the Milwaukee area. Regardless, we think these ten hikes definitely deserve a spot on your outdoor bucket list! Happy trails!
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