Not everyone is lucky enough to live within minutes of majestic mountains, expansive oceans, or lush rainforests, but not everyone is lucky enough to live in Wisconsin either.
So if you’re not from this beautiful piece of the north, I can’t blame you for assuming Wisconsin is just a vast landscape of farms, cheese, and towny bars. However, as anyone who has called this place home for even a short amount of time can attest, our state’s topography is actually one of the most diverse in the country.
Between the lush, driftless valleys and riverways in the southwest, to the sandy pines in the central part of the state, the dense forests and lakes in the north, and not one, but two coastlines along the greatest of the Great Lakes, there is an incredible density of adventure to be had within a short drive from Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Minneapolis.
In honor of Hipcamp’s launch in Wisconsin (!!!) I’m excited to share 5 of the best state parks to visit in Wisconsin.
Devil’s Lake State Park – Baraboo, WI
Any list of the best places to hike in Wisconsin has to include Devil’s Lake. Climbing the huge boulders that make up the East Bluff trail makes you feel like you’re in a Tolkien fantasy and the views of the lake and surrounding valleys are absolutely unlike anything else you’ll see in Wisconsin. In addition to the park itself, there are several other great hikes nearby including the FernGulley-esque canyons of Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and the Aldo Leopold Cabin. With over a million visitors a year my favorite time to visit is actually in the very early spring or even winter when you have the park to yourself.
Blue Mound State Park – Blue Mounds, WI
Whether you ride a mountain bike or prefer a (relatively) more level ride make sure to bring some type of bike to Blue Mound State Park. Punctuated by the eponymous Blue Mound that towers 500 feet above the landscape, the park offers 15 miles of world-class single track and access to hundreds of miles of dedicated bike trails via the Military Ridge State Trail all less than 30 minutes from Madison.
Governor Dodge State Park – Dodgeville, WI
Located in the heart of the lush valleys and winding roads of the Driftless-region, Governor Dodge is defined by its two pristine lakes and the miles of beautiful forested trails, campsites, and streams that surround them. My favorite time to visit is in Mid-May when the temperatures are just starting to warm up, the bugs haven’t shown up yet, and everything in the park is intensely green.
Plus, if you like a little culture with your outdoor adventures, make it a point to stop at Frank Lloyd Wright’s longtime studio, Taliesin, take in a concert at Spring Green’s Sh*tty Barn, or watch some Shakespeare under the stars at the American Player’s Theater, all of which are within a short drive from the park.
Black River State Forest – Black River Falls, WI
Although not technically a state park, I had to include the Black River State Forest on this list because anywhere that allows me to get lost in the middle of thousands of acres (68,000 to be exact) of sandy pine forests and dirt roads is my kind of heaven.
Kohler-Andrae State Park – Sheboygan, WI
In contrast to the other places on this list Kohler-Andrae State Park offers a distinctly coastal vibe. Perfect for a quick overnight trip from Madison, Milwaukee, or Chicago, I could think of worse places to unwind after a tough work-week than by sitting on any of the hundreds of sand dunes and watching the sunset over Lake Michigan before heading back to your tent.
If you’re feeling like exploring a farm stay, be sure to check out the Orchard Camp at Willoway Farm not to far from the coast.
Words by Josh Haroldson
Between growing up in Minnesota, going to college in Iowa, and then moving to Wisconsin with his wife, Stasia, Josh Haroldson has spent his entire life exploring the Upper Midwest. To see the stories behind the rest of his favorite spots around his current home of Madison, WI follow him on Instagram @joshharoldson.
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