It’s a new year and fresh start upon us, now is the perfect time to purchase your Wisconsin State Park pass! In fact, they are available for purchase at park offices around the state or online. And, at $28/vehicle with a Wisconsin license plate, it is quite a deal.
So then, what are you waiting for? Go for it! To get you started, we’ve got ten wildly fun nature adventure ideas for you and your family at Wisconsin’s State Parks this year.
Keep in mind, if you are planning to make it a family camping adventure, not all parks offer camping and campsite reservations open 11 months in advance. It’s not too early to book your late spring, summer, or even fall adventures!
1. Family beach day at Kohler-Andrae State Park
If you and your family have not had the chance to ride the waves on Lake Michigan, you need to get on it! Kohler-Andrae State Park is as close as you just might come to ocean-like swimming and beaching in the Midwest. The park boasts beautiful sand dunes, a large campground, and miles of soft and sandy beach along Lake Michigan in Sheboygan. While you’re there, you also must visit the Bookworm Gardens at UW-Sheboygan. These beautiful outdoor botanical gardens weave amidst storybook adventures that will entertain your family for hours.
2. Hiking the Baraboo Hills at Devil’s Lake State Park
The Baraboo area and surrounding hills are no doubt one of the prettiest areas in our state. It’s no wonder that Devil’s Lake is Wisconsin’s most popular state park. If you’re headed this way in winter, you can rent snowshoes at the park office and tromp around the many hiking trails. If you visit in the warmer months, you’ll want to hike around the lake for the iconic lake views from the bluffs and enjoy swimming at either of the two lake shores. Pro tip: try to visit during the week, especially in the summer. The park often reaches capacity on the weekends during these super busy seasons and has to turn people away. Looking for other ideas for fun while in the Baraboo area? Check out our list of hidden gems.
3. Northwoods Camping and Swimming at Governor Thompson State Park
Wisconsin’s newest State Park, Governor Thompson (and nearby Governor Earl Peshtigo State Forest) offers hiking, swimming, and camping opportunities for you and your family amidst the beauty of the Northwoods. Located just outside of Crivitz and adjacent to the Peshtigo River Flowage, this is also an ideal place to enjoy time in your kayak.
4. Snowshoeing or Kayaking at Hartman Creek State Park
Just a short drive west to Waupaca, and you will be at the lovely, forested Hartman Creek State Park. This gem of a park can be easily enjoyed in many seasons! Whether you’re hoping to get out into the beauty of nature in the winter (note: no mosquitoes or poison ivy!) and beat the summertime tourist crowds or enjoy the park’s abundant water activities in the warmer months, Hartman Creek has you covered. We recommend a family hiking or snowshoe adventure in the winter through the pine forest or a paddle on your kayak through the pristine lakes in the summer or fall.
5. Breathtaking vistas and fall camping at High Cliff State Park
We are quite spoiled in to have High Cliff State Park right in our backyard here in Northeast Wisconsin. Visit the Red Bird Trail at the top of the cliff for breathtaking vistas of Lake Winnebago. The campground is wooded and a particular treat in the fall months (if you camp in the summer, bring mosquito repellent!). This park is steeped with history, too, from the lime harvesting operation and town that once called this park home to the Native Americans who inhabited these shores thousands of years ago. You won’t leave High Cliff State Park disappointed.
6. Geological wonders and a summer splash pad at Blue Mound State Park
Worth the drive south, Blue Mound State Park has one of the most amazing set of countryside views in the state. This park is a also great spot for camping. If you visit in the summer, you can enjoy the splash pad, pool, and nearby Cave of the Mounds. If you visit in the fall, you won’t regret the brilliant colors that paint the surrounding hills and farmlands.
7. Amazing fall colors and boulder climbing at Rib Mountain State Park
If you have not yet been to Rib Mountain State Park in Wausau, this is going to be your year! This is as close as a taste of mountain hiking that Wisconsin will give you, and it is so worth it. Situated at the top of Rib Mountain, this state park is a great place for your kiddos to climb boulders, hike trails of a variety of difficulties, and enjoy the amazing views of the area. For a extra special treat, visit during the peak fall colors and take advantage of the Granite Peak ski lift rides up the hillside.
8. Pristine, Rocky Door County Shoreline at Rock Island State Park
If you’re looking for a truly unique Wisconsin State Park experience then you’ve got to get to Rock Island State Park! Located north of Washington Island in Door County and only accessible via ferries in the summer and fall, Rock Island State Park is a virtually-undeveloped island with pristine, clear waters and majestic rocky beaches. Highlights include a hike out to the Pottawatomie lighthouse, rustic camping, a board game or two in the Boathouse, and the fun ferry rides along the way. You’ll get a healthy dose of history via land and water while you’re here too!
9. Stargazing at Newport State Park
Looking to enjoy the quieter side of Door County? Newport State Park is just the ticket. This park offers rustic, wilderness backpacking & hike-in camping and ample hiking opportunities away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy areas of Door County. For winter adventures, the park maintains 26 miles of cross-country skiing trails and five miles of snowshoeing trails to help you get out into nature. Newport State Park is also designated as a Dark Sky Park (one of only two in the Midwest and 18 in the country), making it an ideal location for stargazing. If you’re lucky, you just might even catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis Northern Lights here at one the darkest spots in our state!
10. The Ultimate Experience at Door County’s Peninsula State Park
Nestled along eight miles of Door County shoreline, Peninsula State Park is no doubt one of the most popular parks in the state. It is also said to be the most ‘complete’ park in the state with bike trails, 460+ campsites, a sand beach, an 18-hole golf course, and more! While you’re here, check out our guide to all of the other fun family-friendly adventures available in Door County.
We hope this list gives you plenty of inspiration to make nature and Wisconsin’s beautiful state parks part of your upcoming year. Do you have other favorite family-friendly Wisconsin state park adventures? Please, share with us below!