Wisconsin is home to 49 state parks, each featuring their own unique scenery and natural beauty. Yet while a handful are popular for their rock formations or water features, many other gems are overlooked. So, if you tend to visit hot spots like Devil's Lake, Peninsula, Willow River or Heritage Hill, here are four prime alternatives to check out this year. You know, memories are made even easier when you get off the beaten path.
If you like Devil's Lake, try Mirror Lake
Devil's Lake in Baraboo is the state's most popular park, attracting over 2.6 million visitors annually. People appreciate its ancient, 500-foot quartzite bluffs, 30 miles of hiking trails and deep, sapphire lake. But Mirror Lake, just 15 miles north, is impressive, too.
Mirror Lake is also on a pretty body of water, this one noted for its smooth, calm surface. The park boasts nearly 20 miles of trail and, like Devil's Lake, is home to impressive rock formations — this time in the form of intricately sculpted sandstone. View them from the lake, or from the Echo Rock and Pulpit Rock Trails. In the winter, fantastical ice formations form in the park's ragged gorges.
One of Mirror Lake's biggest treasures is the Seth Peterson Cottage, Frank Lloyd Wright's final commission. You can rent the cottage for overnight stays, and public tours are available once a month.
If you like Peninsula State Park, try Point Beach
Peninsula State Park is full of a variety of things to explore and discover. In addition to offering typical activities such as hiking, biking, fishing and camping, it's also home to a golf course, lighthouse and eight miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in the bay of Green Bay. There's even a summer theater here. Yet Point Beach has plenty to boast about, too.
The state park in Two Rivers clings to Lake Michigan proper, offering six miles of sandy beach and 17 miles of winding paths, including several miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Its signature feature is the Rawley Point Lighthouse, one of the largest and brightest lighthouses on the Great Lakes. The first lighthouse at Rawley Point was erected in 1853. Today's tower arrived in 1894, after first standing sentinel along the Chicago River.
If you like Willow River, try Wyalusing
Some 1 million people flock to Willow River each year, excited to check out its signature waterfall and gorge, not to mention Little Falls Lake. Yet Wyalusing in southwestern Wisconsin is easily as impressive. One of the oldest state parks in Wisconsin, Wyalusing sits at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. Hiking trails wind up its 500-foot bluffs, offering incredible views of the water. You can also experience them via the park's six-mile canoe trail through the Mississippi backwaters. The park also has several caves with small waterfalls, two dozen Native American burial mounds, and it’s even home to an astronomy observatory.
If you like Heritage Hill, try Aztalan
Green Bay's Heritage Hill State Park is a living history museum showcasing four eras in northeastern Wisconsin's history: fur trading, Fort Howard, immigrant trades and Belgian immigrant agriculture. Aztalan, in contrast, is home to one of the state's most important archeological sites: an ancient Middle-Mississippian village dating to 1000-1300 A.D.
While this park near Jefferson doesn't have interpreters or numerous structures like you'll find at Heritage Hill, it features two reconstructed mounds that the Middle-Mississippians liked to build – flat-topped, pyramidal earthworks that you're allowed to climb. These ancient settlers surrounded their mounds with a stockade, a portion of which has also been reconstructed. Two miles of hiking trails and access to the Crawfish River round out the offerings at Aztalan, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
Keep exploring at these 12 Hidden Gem Wisconsin State Parks!