State Park Hidden Gems

Wisconsin's state park system is so well-known, so well-publicized, and so widely admired it may seem impossible 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 offering great trails, views, camping and even swimming. Here are our recommendations:

Best Hiking Trails at State Parks

Amnicon Falls State Park

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.

Willow River State Park

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 you might see while hiking through the park.

Best Views at State Parks

Big Bay State Park

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. The park is a must stop to view some of the 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.

Kohler-Andrae State Park

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 of biking and hiking trails within the park.

Best Camping at State Parks

Perrot State Park

More than 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.

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, in the area outside the park 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.

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.

Rock Island

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, 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

Big Foot Beach State Park

While the crowds flock to Devil's Lake State Park for a day of swimming, pass them going the other direction 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 more than five miles of meadow and forest hiking trails.


Be sure to check out all of Wisconsin's state parks and forests! Which one is your favorite?