Article Summary: National Parks Near Milwaukee
National Parks Near Milwaukee! There’s so much more to the Badger State than the Pabst Mansion. In this article, More Than Just Parks gives you some exciting vacation destinations within a day’s drive of Milwaukee.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is perhaps best known for its famous breweries and the Major League Brewers, but there’s more to the city than beer and baseball. Milwaukee is rich in historical and cultural attractions, making it the perfect place for a weekend of exploring.
But it’s also home to some amazing national parks that are within a day’s drive (or less) of the city.
So, What Is A National Park?
We get asked that question a lot because there’s a difference between a “national park” and a “national park site.” To help you understand that difference you might want to check out our article titled: What Is A National Park Really?
If you’re planning a trip to Milwaukee then one book that I highly recommend is: Walking Milwaukee: 31 Tours of Brew City’s Neighborhoods, Landmarks, and Entertainment Districts by Royal Brevvaxling and Molly Snyder.
Now let’s go ahead with 5 reasons why you’ll want to hop in your car and make a day’s drive from Milwaukee to one of these truly amazing places.
Table Of Contents: National Parks Near Milwaukee
National Parks Near Milwaukee
- Best National Parks Near Milwaukee
- More National Parks Near Milwaukee
- National Parks Near Milwaukee FAQ
- Meet The Parks Brothers
- Map Of National Parks Near Milwaukee
- We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Best National Parks Near Milwaukee
1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Distance From Milwaukee: It takes approximately 5h 25m to get from Milwaukee to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, including transfers.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a beautiful park located in the northern part of Wisconsin on Lake Superior. The park encompasses 21 islands and the mainland, and is known for its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural history, and diverse recreational opportunities.
Some of the main attractions and activities at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore include:
- Scenic boat tours: Visitors can take boat tours around the islands, offering stunning views of the towering cliffs, clear waters, and lush forests.
- Camping: There are several campgrounds within the park, offering opportunities for tent and RV camping, as well as backcountry camping on some of the islands.
- Hiking: The park offers a variety of hiking trails, ranging from easy nature walks to challenging backcountry treks.
- Kayaking and canoeing: The park’s waterways are a paddler’s paradise, offering opportunities to explore the islands and their intricate shorelines.
- Lighthouses: The park is home to several historic lighthouses, offering a glimpse into the past and providing opportunities for tours and climbing.
- Rock climbing: The cliffs of the islands offer opportunities for experienced rock climbers, and the park is also home to a variety of sea caves that can be explored by kayak or boat.
- Fishing: The waters of Lake Superior are known for their excellent fishing, and visitors can fish from shore or by boat.
- Winter sports: During the winter months, the park offers opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing.
Kayak Tours & Outfitters | Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
- Canoe Sport Outfitters Paddling Tours-advance reservations required. 515-961-6117, [email protected]
- Lost Creek Adventures LLC-Paddling tours, kayak rentals and overnight camping trips. 715-953-2223, [email protected]
- Rustic Makwa Den-Paddling tours, kayak rentals, overnight camping trips, and guided snowshoe tours, 715-209-3216, [email protected]
- Trek & Trail-Paddling tours, kayak rentals and overnight camping trips., 800-354-8735, 715-779-3595, [email protected]
- UMD Recreational Sports Outdoor Program-Organized group paddling tours and overnight camping trips – advanced reservations required, 218-726-7128, [email protected]
- Voyageur Outward Bound School– Paddling tours – advance reservations required, 218-365-5761, [email protected]
- Whitecap Kayak-Paddling tours and overnight camping trips, 715-513-6196, [email protected]
- Wilderness Inquiry– Accessible paddling trips and camp experiences, 612-676-9400, [email protected]
Sailing Charters | Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
- Cornucopia Sailing LLC-Sailing day trips to the sea caves and around the islands, 920-915-7548
- Dreamcatcher Sailing Adventures-Multi-day and day trip sailing charters, chartered island drop-off/pickups, 800-262-4176, 715-779-5561, [email protected]
- Superior Charters Inc.-Sailboat charters and bareboat sailboat rentals (prior experience required for boat rentals), 715-779-5124, [email protected]
- True North Sailing Charters-Captained sailing trips among the islands from Bayfield, 715-513-6284, [email protected]
Fishing Charters | Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
- Willigan’s Adventures-Chartered fishing and motorboat tours, 763-381-7076, [email protected]
- Escape Excursions-Chartered boat tours, island drop offs/pick-ups, powerboat supervised recreational kayaking, fishing charter, 612-805-7454, [email protected]
Hiking In The Apostle Islands
There are more than fifty miles of hiking trails on the islands of the National Lakeshore. These trails provide access to lighthouses, abandoned quarries, old farm sites, historic logging camps, beaches, campsites, and scenic overlooks.
Scuba Diving In The Apostle Islands
If you enjoy scuba diving then you’re in luck. There are clean, clear water, underwater rock formations, and fascinating shipwrecks which provide outstanding diving opportunities at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Camping In The Apostle Islands
Camping is available on 18 of the Lakeshore’s 21 islands, and at one campsite on the mainland.
Individual Campsites: $15/site/night. Group size of 1-7 people. Individual sites are spread across the islands and are often set apart from other sites so visitors can experience solitude and basic camping amenities (picnic table, fire ring, bear resistant food locker, & nearby privy).
Primitive Camping Zone: $15/site/night. Group size of 1-5 people. Primitive Zone camping is not a specific site, but provides the option of choosing a backcountry area to camp. Specific guidelines determine what areas are available on each island.
In additions, there are no amenities, such as privies and food lockers, so campers should be prepared to properly manage your food and waste. (Source: National Park Service)
Please remember to practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace.
2. Cave Of The Mounds
Distance From Milwaukee: One hour & 36 minutes via I-94 W.
First, the disclaimer. Cave of the Mounds is not managed by the National Park Service. That having been said, however, it’s the premier cave in the upper Midwest and the crown of America’s major show caves.
Cave of the Mounds is a natural limestone cave located in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin.
The cave is considered to be one of the finest examples of a classic limestone cave in the country and is known for its unique and intricate formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and curtains.
Some of the main features and attractions of Cave of the Mounds include:
- Guided Tours: Visitors can take a guided tour of the cave, which lasts about 45 minutes and provides a fascinating look at the cave’s history, geology, and formations.
- Beautiful formations: The cave is home to a wide variety of unique and intricate formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and curtains.
- Natural beauty: The cave is a stunning example of natural beauty, with its clear, sparkling waters and delicate formations, making it a popular destination for visitors of all ages.
- History: The cave has a rich history, having been discovered in 1939 and serving as a popular tourist destination for over 80 years.
- Geology: The cave provides a unique opportunity to learn about the geology of the region and the process of limestone cave formation.
- Outdoor activities: The surrounding area of Cave of the Mounds offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, and birdwatching, making it a great destination for nature lovers.
3. Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Distance From Milwaukee: 43 minutes via I-94 W.
Imagine a trail formed during the Ice Age. It was a time 15,000 years ago when much of North America lay under a huge glacier. There were mammoths, saber tooth cats and cave lions. Oh my!
Evidence of this glacier is found today in Wisconsin such as the state’s many lakes, river valleys, gently rolling hills, and ridges. The nearly 1,200 mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail was established in 1980. It traces the glacier’s edge.
Outdoor Activities | Ice Age National Scenic Trail
While the trail is primarily enjoyed for hiking and backpacking, other activities include: (1) Birdwatching and Nature Walks, (2) Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing, (3) Stargazing and Wildlife Viewing, (4) Camping , (5) Hunting and Fishing (during the proper seasons), (6) Biking, (7) Horseback Riding and (8) Snowmobiling.
If you’re camping, be advised that in some areas camping is allowed anywhere along the trail; in others only at designated sites.
These facilities may be spaced quite far apart. Along such segments it may be difficult to find any place to camp legally. You should plan your multi-day hike carefully. (Source: NPS)
More National Parks Near Milwaukee
4. North Country National Scenic Trail
Distance From Milwaukee: Four hours via Milwaukee – Muskegon & I-96 E.
The North Country National Scenic Trail provides visitors opportunities from bird watching to backpacking.
The trail traverses eight northern states and connects a host of natural, historic and cultural sites. You can see everything from small towns to larger cities, valleys to hilltops and much more.
The History Of The North Country National Scenic Trail
In 1980, the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) was authorized by Congress. It stretches 4,600 miles from upstate New Hampshire to its western terminus at Lake Sakakawea State Park.
The trail actually traversed seven states until 2019 when Vermont was added. The Vermont section is only about 70 miles long.
The North County National Scenic Trail In Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, the North Country Trail clips the northwest corner of the state for 220 miles, passing through Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland and Iron counties.
The North Country Trail route crosses Wisconsin’s western border just south of Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park and the trail crosses into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula via the State Highway 122 bridge across the Montreal River southeast of Saxon Harbor.
Although Wisconsin has the second shortest trail distance among the eight states the trail passes through, Wisconsin is responsible for providing the name to the North Country Trail.
The original 60-mile Northern Country Trail in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest lent its name to the 4,600-mile National Scenic Trail when the idea of the multi-state trail was first envisioned. (Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)
5. Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Distance From Milwaukee: Five hours via I-94 W.
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway is a protected area along the Saint Croix and Namekagon Rivers in Wisconsin and Minnesota, designated to preserve the natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and cultural heritage of the region.
Some of the main attractions and activities at Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway include:
- Boating and canoeing: The Saint Croix and Namekagon Rivers are popular for boating and canoeing, offering opportunities for fishing, swimming, and wildlife viewing.
- Fishing: The rivers are known for their excellent fishing, with a variety of species, including bass, walleye, and musky.
- Hiking and camping: The park offers several hiking trails and campgrounds, providing opportunities for exploring the park’s natural beauty and wildlife.
- Wildlife watching: The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, beavers, and river otters, and is a popular destination for birdwatching.
- Scenic drives: The park offers several scenic drives, providing breathtaking views of the rivers and the surrounding landscapes.
- Cultural history: The park preserves the cultural heritage of the region, including historic sites and communities, and is home to a number of historic lodges and resorts.
- Ranger-led activities: The park offers a variety of ranger-led activities, including guided hikes, canoe trips, and campfire programs, providing visitors with the opportunity to learn more about the park and its history.
The Area Has A Rich Cultural History
The Saint Croix River has been used by people for centuries, and the area has a rich cultural history. The Ojibwe people have lived in the region for thousands of years, and European settlers began to arrive in the 1700s. The Saint Croix River was an important transportation route for the fur trade and for logging, and many towns and settlements grew up along its banks.
In the early 20th century, the Saint Croix River became a popular destination for canoeing, fishing, and camping. However, as development increased along the river, concerns grew about the impacts on the natural and cultural resources. In the 1960s, a group of citizens formed the St. Croix River Association and pushed for the protection of the river.
Their efforts led to the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, which created the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. The Riverway protects over 200 miles of the Saint Croix and Namekagon Rivers, as well as adjacent lands, and provides opportunities for outdoor recreation, while also preserving the natural and cultural resources of the area.
Hiking Trails Along The Saint Croix
There are seven hiking trails which are open year round. Trail surfaces are uneven and may be steep so be sure to watch your step. And also make sure to check for ticks.
Ridge View Trail is a three mile trek with two loops. The Chisage Loop traverses basalt rock outcroppings; the Osceola Loop is more level as you hike through pine and woods. Vistas of St. Croix River backwaters are visible from the bluff side of the trail.
This trail is a great place to see scarlet tanagers, bald eagles, turkey, grouse, and other forest-loving wildlife. Forest plants include marsh marigolds and large maple trees.
Trego Lake & Trego Nature Trails
The Trego Lake Trail is 3.6 miles and 3 loops. It offers hikers many scenic overlooks of Trego Lake. The area has a large population of white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse. Watch the ground for signs left by these animals.
The Trego Nature Trail is 2.8 miles. Hikers will see a beautiful forest and breathtaking views of the Namekagon River. Wildlife seen can include deer, fox, otters, wolves, and bobcat.
Indian Head Flowage & Sandrock Cliffs Trails
The Indian Head Flowage Trail is a three quarter mile trek. This trail crosses bridged streams as it winds its ways through woods and wetlands to the river. Hikers will be treated to wildflowers which include marsh marigolds, trilliums, blue flag iris, wild geraniums, and more.
Sandrock Cliffs Trail is five miles and four loops. The lower loop of this trail follows the river closely, then turns onto a ridge providing a variety of terrain and scenery. The highlight of this trail system is the sandstone cliffs located in a side channel of the river.
National Parks Near Milwaukee FAQ
There are technically no national parks in Wisconsin, but it’s easy to understand why many people believe Apostle Islands National Lakeshore should be one. Referred to as the “Jewels of Lake Superior,” the lakeshore encompasses 21 islands and 12 miles of pristine mainland coast.
Copper Falls State Park ranks as the best state park in Wisconsin because of its views. Ancient lava flows and gaping gorges meander across this 3,000-plus acre state park in northern Wisconsin. Seventeen miles of trails lead to cascading waterfalls and historic log cabins.
Why Trust Us About National Parks Near Milwaukee?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
Map Of National Parks Near Milwaukee
List Of National Parks Near Milwaukee
- Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
- Cave Of The Mounds
- Ice Age National Scenic Trail
- North Country National Scenic Trail
- Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!