Hiking Across Wisconsin: Top 5 County Parks

By Amy Bayer
Staff Writer

As an avid hiker, people often ask me about my all-time favorite place to hike in Wisconsin. This is not an easy answer. My list is long and I have multiple favorites based on a variety of criteria. For example, I have favorite hiking trails during different seasons.

One of my lists includes all of my favorite county parks for hiking. County parks are like hidden gems to me. They’re often a little smaller, a little less populated, and many have an incredible natural feature to explore. Here are just a few that make the top of my list.

1. Dells of the Eau Claire County Park – Marathon County

I was first introduced to this park in high school when my dad and I went on a road trip. We hiked along the shore and I learned it was where my grandparents went on dates before they were married in the 1940s.

I revisit the park every other year and am often wowed by its nostalgic charm. The main feature is the splashing, swirling Eau Claire River as it winds around large rock formations. You can walk onto the large flat outcroppings for picnic lunches or jump from them into shallow pools for a refreshing dip.

With picturesque water features, hiking trails and scenic bridges combined with my family history, it makes perfect sense for this park to be No. 1 on my list.

2. Indian Lake County Park – Dane County

I live in Madison, so of course one of my favorite places is going to be close to home. I visit Indian Lake County Park multiple times every season!

From incredible cross-country ski trails to hillside views overlooking Indian Lake to open fields filled with prairie flowers, the park is vast and I’m often finding new trails I haven’t explored before.

3. Jersey Valley County Park – Vernon County

The Driftless Region makes for incredible scenic hikes. Winding through the hills and valleys of the region makes the drive alone worth it!

In addition to a beautiful wooded trail, the park surrounds a lake that is a popular fishing spot among the local Amish community. The last time I visited the park, I was charmed by the serene lake, beautiful views and quite possibly the friendliest folks I’ve ever encountered in a park.

4. John Muir Memorial County Park – Marquette County

Not only do I love hiking, I also love history, so it’s natural (no pun intended) for John Muir Memorial County Park to make my list. This park honors the famous conservationist, who grew up in central Wisconsin and later became the “Father of National Parks.”

The land he used to explore as a boy has been preserved as a park. As I hike along the woods and prairies I can envision a young John Muir filled with awe over the natural wonders.

5. Cave Point County Park – Door County

This may seem like a stretch to include in my top list for hiking, since the park itself is relatively small with shorter trails, however, its easy-to-hike gravel paths connect to the neighboring Whitefish Dunes State Park if anyone is interested in longer hikes.

My favorite aspects of Cave Point are the scenic views and thunderous waves of Lake Michigan that crash into the rock ledges along the park. Visitors can hike through the woods, walk along the rocky shore or stand above the limestone cliffs.

One of the best times to visit is right before a storm or on a windy day, when the waves crash high over the rocks for a spectacular show of nature’s force.

With 72 counties, I could keep writing, but instead I would love to hear from you. What are your favorites?  I’m always looking for suggestions and can’t wait to keep exploring the state one trail at a time.

 

A Wisconsin native, Amy loves to explore the state. From hiking through scenic parks to climbing bluffs to kayaking lakes, she's always on the quest to find the next beautiful destination in Wisconsin. In 2015, Amy paired her love of hiking with her love of Wisconsin and mapped out a plan to hike all 1,100+ miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail during her free time.

This entry was posted in Trails and Hiking County Parks