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State Park Hidden Gems
Last Updated: 3/7/2013
Wisconsin's state park system is so well-known, so well-publicized, and so widely admired that it may seem impossible that a few individual parks actually don't get the credit they deserve. Yet, with some hot spots attracting the most attention -- especially during the summer months -- there are definitely less-traveled places that offer great trails, views, camping and swimming. Here are our recommendations.
Best Hiking Trails at State Parks
While many travelers stop at nearby Pattison State Park to view the state's largest waterfall, Amnicon Falls State Park offers visitors a unique blend of the state's natural history with its surroundings. This park has nearly two miles of hiking trails along the river, showcasing Wisconsin's rich geologic and natural scenery. The stunning geologic formations along the river are the result of earthquakes from a half billion years ago, due to a crack in the bedrock known as the Douglas Fault. Along with the prehistoric rock formations, you can see evidence of an ancient ocean that once covered Wisconsin millions of years ago, as well as volcanic material. The scenic River trail uncovers mini-pools, cascades and waterfalls. Branching to the west of the River trail is Snake Pit Falls and branching to the east is Now and Then Falls. While hiking on the trails, be sure to view the river from the historic Horton Bridge, a covered bridge located at the Lower Falls, which takes hikers to the Island. A hike on the Thimbleberry Nature Trail is a great place to enjoy the forested natural setting of the park. Expect to see wildlife and unique vegetation, including deer, coyote, thimbleberries and Indian Pipe.
This park offers a number of activities for visitors, including camping, fishing, canoeing and swimming, but its 13 miles of hiking trails showcase the park's beauty with its magnificent views and remarkable scenery. For the best views of the river valley, make one of your destinations Willow Falls, which looks over the river valley. The park has four overlooks with views of the waterfalls and the Willow River gorge. Stop at the nature center to learn about animals and plants that you might see while hiking through the park.
Best Views at State Parks
This mile-and-a-half of secluded beach is one of the state's best secrets, tucked away in a bay on Madeline Island's shore of Lake Superior. In order to get to Madeline Island, you must take a car ferry, which departs from Bayfield and will take you to the Island. The park is a must stop to view some of state's undisturbed wilderness. While looking on the vast array of Lake Superior's fresh, clear water and endless horizon, you can see the beautiful view of the sun cascading upon the sandstone cliffs, which gives off a breathtaking amber hue. Stop at Big Bay Point, where you will find a panoramic view of the park and Lake Superior. There, you can see the span of Lake Superior, including Michigan Island, one of the Apostle Islands, as well as the state of Michigan. Another place to catch views is the Boardwalk Trail, which offers beautiful sights of the still lagoon, juxtaposed with a short walk over to the more wild shore of Lake Superior. While Big Bay State Park might be a bit hard to get to, the trip will prove to be well worth it since the scenery will be hard to forget.
The coastline of Lake Michigan gleams in the sunlight at Kohler-Andrae State Park. As you walk on the white sand dunes, you will be able to enjoy one of the last natural preserves on Lake Michigan's shore. The variety is what's notable here; on one end you enjoy the beach views of the lake, on the other the lush forested areas on biking and hiking trails within the park.
Best Camping at State Parks
Over 1,200 acres of land surrounded by bluffs, where the Mississippi and Trempealeau Rivers meet, is the perfect setting to set up camp at Perrot State Park. Not only are the natural surroundings a haven for campers, but the park offers a multitude of activities and amenities including hiking, biking and canoeing while camping there. In the park, you should make sure to hike on Brady's Bluff to catch some of the most spectacular views of the Mississippi River and Trempealeau Mountain. You can also canoe in the calm waters of Trempealeau Bay, which is a laid-out trail -- perfect for first-time canoers. Additionally, the area outside the park provides a variety of things that visitors can do. You will find access to the Great River State Trail, which spans 24 miles, winding its way through the park to Onalaska,Trempealeau, and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge. Also, travel south if you want to spend some time away from your campsite and enjoy indoor and outdoor activities in the Village of Trempealeau. The prime location of Perrot State Park makes it a great place to set up camp to take part in many activities inside and outside of the park's borders.
Door County's Peninsula State Park is usually thought of as the premier campground in the area, but for a truly rustic camping experience, go off the beaten path to Rock Island, just a ferry-ride away from Washington Island. Getting there may require a bit more manpower, but it will be well worth the effort. If you decide to camp there, yours will be a "true" outdoor camping experience, since no bikes or cars are allowed on the island. With 40 campsites to go with 10 miles of hiking trails and 5,000 feet of beach, Rock Island is your next destination for an immersive nature experience.
Best Swimming at State Parks
While the crowds flock to Devil's Lake State Park for a day of swimming, pass them going the other way to Big Foot Beach State Park, right on Lake Geneva. The park spans just over 270 acres with campsites wooded by tall oaks and a sandy beach with a 100-foot swimming area. The water in Lake Geneva is among Wisconsin's finest, as it is extremely clean, making for an ideal place to swim. Make a day of it since the park has a large picnic area, a lagoon for great fishing and over five miles of meadow and forest hiking trails.This entry was posted in State Parks & Forests