4 National Parks In Wisconsin

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Surrounded by two of the Great Lakes and numerous rivers, it should be no surprise that the National Parks of Wisconsin celebrates the abundance of fresh water in the state. And while Wisconsin may not end up on many lists of the best places to explore in the United States, there’s no doubt one trip to the beautiful state will have you convinced you’ve discovered one of America’s best-kept secrets.

The Apostle Islands are Wisconsin’s crown jewel, just off Lake Superior’s coast. Here you can kayak, boat or ferry between islands – each offering a slice of paradise with abundant wildlife and attractive coastlines. Along the border with Minnesota, you’ll find the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, just waiting to be explored by canoe. Or, if hiking is more your style, why not head out on the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometre) Ice Age National Scenic Trail and see for yourself the impressive landscapes left behind by glaciers.

Whether you have days, weeks or a lifetime in Wisconsin, getting out to explore the fairytale forests, expansive lakes, and winding rivers is a must. Let Midwest charm sweep you off your feet, kick back, and enjoy these four National Parks in Wisconsin.

National Parks In Wisconsin

1- Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

best national parks in wisconsin
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is one of the best national parks in Wisconsin if you love hiking and camping.

A paradise like no other awaits your discovery in northern Wisconsin.

Crystal clear fresh water, vibrant red sandstone sea cliffs and historic lighthouses are just a few highlights of any Apostle Islands National Lakeshore trip.

While the park includes 12 miles (19 kilometres) of shoreline, the 21 beautiful islands keep you coming back time and time again.

You can head out for an all-day kayak trip around the islands, settle in for a scenic cruise, spend the night camping, or head underwater for a scuba dive.

Things To Do In Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

national parks in wisconsin with camping
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is one of the Wisconsin national parks sites to visit.

Before setting off on your Apostle Islands adventure, it’s best to first check in at the Visitor Center at the Bayfield Headquarters.

Here you can check to see if there is any bad weather coming in, chat with a ranger about park highlights and learn about the park’s history.

Kayak In The Apostle Islands

There’s no doubt the best way to see the beauty of the Apostle Islands is by kayak.

Both beginner and experienced kayakers can explore sea caves, pine-fringed shorelines, and hidden beaches.

If you have a few days up your sleeve, you can also travel between islands while staying at campsites.

Scuba Diving In The Apostle Islands

Exploring the underwater world of the Apostle Islands is an entirely different experience.

Numerous shipwrecks, submerged caves, unique rock formations and underwater cliffs can be explored by both beginner and expert divers, and the clean and clear water makes for excellent visibility.

“The Wall” is one of the most famous dive sites, where sandstone ledges drop dramatically down 100 feet (30 metres), as well as the 1890 Sevona bulk freighter shipwreck.

Camping In The Apostle Islands

To experience the Apostle Islands’ charm and beauty, staying overnight at one of the many campsites is a must.

19 of the 21 islands have campsites that can be reached by kayak, water taxi or ferry service, and 16 of the islands offer more primitive camping with no facilities.

Sand Island, the closest island to Little Sand Bay on the mainland, is great for those who want to kayak to their campsite but not spend an entire day on the water to get there.

On the other hand, Oak Island offers a more secluded experience with gorgeous hiking options.

Apostle Island Cruises

Another great way to experience the Apostle Islands’ beauty is to cruise. Depending on how much time you’d like to spend on the water, there are many different options, but it’s worth booking at least a 2.5-hour cruise to get to the many sea caves, shipwrecks and other points of interest.

It’s also possible to get a shuttle to Stockton and Oak Islands, spend the night at a campsite and then shuttle back the next day.

How To Get To The Apostle Islands

national parks in wisconsin
Rugged cliffs in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

The main gateway to the Apostle Island is in Bayfield in northern Wisconsin. To get here, fly into Duluth International Airport and take US-2 E for two hours.

From Bayfield, you’ll be able to kayak, boat or cruise to your island or islands of choice.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore HQ is at 415 Washington Avenue, Bayfield, Wisconsin, 54814

2- Ice Age National Scenic Trail

national state parks in wisconsin
Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a Wisconsin national parks site that offers camping, hiking and other outdoor activities.

Stretching 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) across Wisconsin, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail offers hikers a chance to disconnect from the modern world and discover impressive landscapes characterised by the Ice Age.

On the trail, you’ll come across lakes, rivers, rolling hills and deep ridges, many of which were created during the last ice age 15,000 years ago.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail crosses 30 Wisconsin counties, from the western border with Minnesota down to southern Wisconsin in Green and Rock counties, back up to the northeast corner of Door county.

With an endless number of places to join the trail, it’s easy to head out for hour-long walks up to month-long journeys.

It’s no wonder more than 2.3 million people use the trail each year.

Things To Do In Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Hiking The Ice Age Trail
national parks in wisconsin Kettle Moraine State Forest autumn
Kettle Moraine is a beautiful section of the Ice Age Trail and one of the Wisconsin national parks site you will love.

By far, the top attraction on the Ice Age Trail is hiking.

Whether you’re looking to head out for a few hours or a few days, finding yourself a perfect section of the trail to explore is easy.

Devil’s Lake State Park is one of the most popular places to hike the Ice Age Trail.

Here you can loop around Devil Lake, explore the dramatic quartzite cliffs and climb Balanced Rock Trail for endless views.

Another beautiful section is in the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit, where you’ll hike through hardwood forests and pine plantations.

Camping On The Ice Age Trail
are there any national parks in wisconsin blue water and green trees
Devil’s Lake State Park is one of the beautiful places on the Ice Age Trail.

Camping is a must to make the most of your Ice Age Trail experience.

There are plenty of campsites to choose from, which range from primitive to campsites complete with electric hookups and running water.

There are also 23 Dispersed Camping Areas (DCAs), which are similar to primitive camping areas in that they lack facilities but have been handpicked for their location and proximity to water.

The Ice Age Trail In Winter

Just because winter brings a thick blanket of snow doesn’t mean the Ice Age Trail closes down for the season.

Many parts of the trail are equally as busy in the winter months with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

Of course, cold temperatures, strong winds and icy trails mean you should always be over-prepared and bring lots of layers, but exploring under frosted trees and quiet forests is worth the effort.

How To Get To The Ice Age Scenic Trail

what national parks are in wisconsin
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail meanders past Devil’s Lake.

As the Ice Age Trail stretches across Wisconsin, visitors can reach the trail easily from many parts of the state.

If you find yourself near Cross Plains, Wisconsin, an Interpretive Site has been created and is a great spot to start your hike.

Other great regions to access the park include Devil’s Lake State Park, Dells of Eau Claire, Kettle Moraine State Forest and Interstate State Park.

The Ice Age Scenic Trail Interpretive Site is at 8075 Old Sauk Pass Road, Cross Plains, Wisconsin 53528

3- North Country National Scenic Trail

Wisconsin national parks loon in the water
Wisconsin national parks sites are filled with wildlife.

Crossing parts of Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin, the North Country National Scenic Trail brings you on a journey through glacier-formed landscape and open prairies.

While Wisconsin is home to just 220 miles (354 kilometres) of the enormous 4,600-miles (7402 kilometres) trail, there’s no shortage of breathtaking views and fantastic hiking opportunities.

As the trail cuts through northwest Wisconsin, hikers can look forward to exploring the MacQuarrie Wetlands, the Brule-St. Croix Portage Trail, the Chequamegon National Forest and plenty more.

Things To Do On The North Country National Scenic Trail

Similar to the Ice Age Trail, the North Country Trail is used primarily for hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing.

One can head out for a day hike, spend the weekend camping on the trail or even head out for a week or longer adventure.

Below are some of our favourite places to hike on the North country Scenic Trail.

Douglas County Wildlife Area

Located in western Wisconsin, this part of the trail brings you through a large protected region of bush prairie perfect for wildlife watching and meandering through endless wildflowers.

You can also rent a charming log clubhouse for family gatherings and other groups.

Penokee Mountain Range

Deemed the Alps of Wisconsin, the Penokee Mountain Range is one of the most scenic parts of the North Country Scenic Trail.

While the mountains may not be as tall as Europe’s giants, the expansive views of Lake Superior, dramatic granite ledges and fairytale-like forests more than make up for their lack of height.

Chequamegon National Forest

Located right in the middle of northern Wisconsin, the Chequamegon National Forest is home to the oldest section of the North Country Scenic Trail.

Here, maple, beech and aspen trees stretch as far as the eye can see, with trails zigzagging under the bird-filled canopy.

With numerous cross-country ski trails, this is also one of the best spots to explore during winter.

How To Get To The North Country National Scenic Trail

Similar to the Ice Age Trail, there’s an abundance of places to hop on the North Country Scenic Trail.

However, one of the most popular and easy-to-access places is in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, located at Clam Lake, WI 54517.

4- Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

national parks in wisconsin Namekagon River
The Namekagon River is part of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, which is a Wisconsin national parks site.

Travelling along the Minnesota and Wisconsin border, the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway offers adventurers a chance to disconnect from the business of the modern world and spend hours, days or even weeks exploring remote Wisconsin wilderness by water.

The Riverway protects 252 miles (406 km) of the St Croix and Namekagon Rivers, and plenty of campsites along the way offer stunning places to call for a night or two.

Things To Do In Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

If it’s your first time exploring the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, it’s best to first stop at the Visitor Center in St. Croix Falls.

Here you can learn about any high water areas or dangers out on the water, plan where to put your kayak or canoe in and decide on the best camping spots.

Rangers are always happy to answer your questions and offer advice on which parts of the Riverway to explore.

If you’re looking to get well off the beaten path and out in true Wisconsin wilderness, the Namekagon River is your go-to.

As much of the river remains undeveloped, the riverbanks are rugged and abundant with deer, beavers and turtles, and overhead, you’ll no doubt spot eagles and osprey soaring by.

There aren’t many campsites with amenities along the Namekagon, so you will need to pack supplies with that in mind.

However, the primitive campsites dotted along the river are incredibly scenic and well worth the effort.

If you’re after a shorter day trip or prefer campsites with amenities, stick to the St Croix River near St Croix Falls.

The river will be a bit busier here, but with so much to explore, you’ll hardly even notice the increase in water traffic.

How To Get To The Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

To start your Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway adventure, check in at the Visitor Center in St Croix Falls.

To get here, you’ll fly into the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) and drive 90 minutes along I-35E N.

There are also numerous other places along the Wisconsin and Minnesota border to hop on the Saint Croix River.

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway Visitor Center is at 401 N Hamilton St, St Croix Falls, Wisconsin 54024.

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cropped Danielle Strayer Bio Pic.jpg
Danielle grew up in central Minnesota, spending her summers enjoying the many lakes and her winters playing ice hockey. After graduating from college, she booked a one-way ticket to New Zealand and never looked back. Now, 10 years later, Danielle spends her time hiking amongst the Southern Alps, Airbnb hopping around Europe and travelling the U.S. Rarely a day goes by you won't find her searching for her next grand adventure.