Want to escape the city and hit some of Wisconsin’s best hiking trails? Fragrant woodlands, prairies lush with wildflowers, glittering lakes, sandy beaches and even exciting cliffs and waterfalls are within your reach—even if you’re not an experienced hiker. Check out these stress-free trails that are within 1 hour of Midwestern cities.
Near the Twin Cities
Tiered waterfalls and a great river gorge await, only 40 minutes from Minneapolis/St. Paul. Hike the wetland and riverbed trails at Willow River State Park to discover one of the most scenic waterfalls in Wisconsin. Willow River is a well-loved park, so plan to get there early for the best views of this impressive natural area.
Nature conservation parks within 20 minutes from Madison offer gorgeous and meditative day hikes. If you love wildflowers like goldenrod and coneflower, hike the 3.5 miles of trail at Owen Nature Conservation on Madison’s west side. Or try the Holy Wisdom Monastery Nature Trails. They’re situated along the north shore of Lake Mendota, with trails quietly winding through restored prairies and oak forests.
For relaxed hiking a little farther from town, try Indian Lake County Park or Lake Kegonsa State Park. Both feature more than 5 miles of varied trails around smaller lakes, restored prairies and oak, pine and cedar forests. Lake Kegonsa trails are less strenuous, while Indian Lake’s have some rolling hills.
You can see some of the most breathtaking views in southern Wisconsin from around Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area, and the hike is only 40 minutes from Madison. The full trail is 4.5 miles and contains part of the Ice Age Trail, but it can be broken into easy segments. Your prime photo opportunity is at the top of Gibraltar Rock overlooking the Wisconsin River Valley and Baraboo Hills.
Near the Fox Valley
One of the hidden hiking gems near Oshkosh and Appleton is High Cliff State Park. You can choose paved and fully accessible walks along Lake Winnebago, short interpretive hikes around Native American effigy mounds, or the longer trail that summits the limestone cliff for stunning views of the area.
Even though Milwaukee is Wisconsin’s urban center, you can find enchanted woods, bubbling creeks and meandering hiking trails within 20 minutes from downtown. The Seven Bridges Trail at Grant Park features Depression-era bridges and stone walkways. You’ll wander through wooded ravines to a quiet Lake Michigan beach for up to 3 miles of hiking. For longer, flatter trails within city limits, head to Havenwoods State Forest. You can explore miles of grasslands, wetlands, gardens and an urban forest.
If you’re looking for a full day hike outside the city, travel 30 minutes west to the Kettle Moraine State Forest - Lapham Peak. You can catch a few miles of the famed Ice Age Trail or try some laidback loops that vary between 2- and 5-miles. If you climb the observation tower at the center of the park, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible vantage point of the hilly landscape and distant farmlands.