Editor’s note: Wisconsin-native Kevin Revolinski is the author of 60 Hikes Madison, Best Hikes Near Milwaukee, Paddling Wisconsin, Best Tent Camping Wisconsin and Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide. His blog is Revtravel.com.
By KEVIN REVOLINSKI
You don’t have to go as far as the Appalachian Trail for a fine walk in the woods. Wisconsin’s state park system and its two national scenic trails – not to mention county and city parks and forests – offer enough mileage of paths to keep even the most avid trekker busy for years. Here is a mere sampling:
Interstate State Park, St. Croix County
Wisconsin’s oldest state park, Interstate is home to the western terminus of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the 1,000-mile path in progress that lies completely within the Badger State and follows the edge of the farthest reach of the last glaciers.
“Potholes,” drilled by stones once whirling in the eddies of a massive river, lie in rock high up above the basalt gorge of the St. Croix River. The park’s trails are a series of short loops through key eco-systems and geological zones, making your hiking day as long or as short as you like.
Governor Dodge State Park, Iowa County
The nearly 40 miles of trails include shoreline and bluff views of the two good swimming lakes and a stop at a spring-fed waterfall. The Lost Canyon Trail is wooded but shows the exposed sandstone outcrops that contain it as you head to Stephens’ Falls.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Bayfield County
While there is great hiking on the islands themselves, you won’t need a boat to get to the Lakeshore Trail. Departing from the Meyers Beach, it follows 0.7 mile of boardwalk before passing along the cliffs above the dramatic sea caves. The 4.5-mile trail ends at a backcountry campsite.
Rock Island State Park, Door County
It’ll take you two ferries to get here – one to Washington Island, another to Rock – but you can hike the 5.2-mile circumference of the island, starting from an historic Viking-like boathouse and passing a lighthouse open for visits. You can walk beneath the stony cliffs along the island’s northwest shore. Camp here in fall and you may have the island to yourself.
Horicon Marsh, Dodge and Fond du lac counties
Left behind by melting glaciers, the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the nation is globally important as a wetland and a very busy place for birds, especially during migration periods. Trails explore both the national- and state-managed portions of the 32,000 acres, and offer boardwalks and viewing platforms along the way.
Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area, Chippewa County
Part of a national scientific reserve of the same name, this pristine region is filled with kettle lakes and rugged terrain. A 7.6-mile segment of the Ice Age Trail runs through, but starting at the David Obey Ice Age Interpretive Center you can complete a 4.5-mile loop through woods and water that brings you back to an excellent high prairie view over the landscape. The center has abundant information on nature and geology, as well as some local critters, both preserved and living.
Dells of the Wisconsin River State Natural Area, Adams County
While boat rides and water parks are the popular attraction at the Dells, this hike, less than two miles out and back, takes you over a few rolling hills on a blanket of pine-needles to a short stretch of sand with views of the picturesque carved sandstone along the Wisconsin River.
Copper Falls State Park, Ashland County
An easy, 1.7-mile trail along Bad River gorge takes you past a 65-foot observation tower, the 29-foot Copper Falls and Brownstone Falls, which plunges 30 feet off a red lava ledge. Bridges cross the Bad River twice and Tyler’s Fork once and viewpoints open into a gorge as deep as 100 feet. A segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail crosses the park, but don’t miss the trail to Red Granite Falls at the park’s southern end.
Holy Hill and the Ice Age Trail, Washington County
The view from atop Holy Hill Basilica, which rests atop one of the highest glacial kames in the Kettle Moraine region, reaches as far as downtown Milwaukee, 25 miles away. A careful eye can see the surrounding geological features left behind by glaciers. A spur trail connects the site to a segment of the Ice Age Trail over rolling hills with occasional erratics, boulders left behind by the ice, and a view back up to the double steeples of this holy site.
Devil’s Lake State Park, Sauk County
Known for its two towering, 500-foot, rocky bluffs overlooking the lake, hikers feel the burn up nature’s Stairmaster or take a gentler asphalt path. Other trails, including a segment of the Ice Age Trail, pass through forest and prairie full of wildflowers. A thru-hike of the Ice Age segment starts in Merrimac, crosses both bluffs and Johnson moraine, and ends at the beautiful gorge of Parfrey’s Glen.