Wisconsin has many green spaces and wild landscapes, and the biggest city is different. Parks in Milwaukee feature bridges, Lake Michigan views, and amenities like beer gardens and playgrounds. Here are our 10 favorite parks and playgrounds in the city.
South Shore Park
Between mid-June and late October South Shore Park — on the farthest eastern edge of the Bay View neighborhood near the South Shore Marina and along Lake Michigan—hosts a popular farmers market every Saturday morning. The beer garden (with light snacks and occasional live music) is seasonal as well but the paved bicycle paths (part of the Oak Leaf Trail) tracing the shoreline (including sand beaches) are open year-round. Sprinkled among the grassy space are picnic tables that can be reserved, as well as sand volleyball courts. A playground keeps tiny park visitors busy.
Back Bay Park
This park is tucked into a historic East Side neighborhood at the top of Lincoln Memorial Drive (where it meets East Lafayette Place, along North Terrace Avenue). There’s a Little Library in Back Bay Park as well as a decent playground and picnic tables. If you’re an architecture buff consider taking a short walk during your park visit and drop into the Villa Terrace museum. Some of Milwaukee’s most revered architects — dating back to the turn of last century — have a residential project here.
Home to Lake Park Bistro (a popular date-night or celebration restaurant), the 138-acre Lake Park — designed in 1889 by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City’s Central Park — overlooks Lake Michigan and Lincoln Memorial Drive on the Upper East Side, near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Another cool find here is a six-hole golf course, plus the North Point Lighthouse (open for tours, and dating back to 1855). During July and August, the "Musical Mondays" concert series — in its 22nd season in 2019 — presents great concerts on Monday evenings
Located on the near West Side within the Washington Heights neighborhood, the 135-acre Washington Park is home to a satellite location of Urban Ecology Center, providing organized activities, games and events for kids and adults that further connect them with nature. “Washington Park Wednesdays” is the park’s summer concert series, hosted in a band shell. The park has a scenic lagoon and, like Lake Park, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Lakeshore State Park
As Milwaukee’s only state park, Lakeshore State Park was inaugurated only within the last decade. You can find it in downtown Milwaukee, right behind Discovery World and the Summerfest grounds. Paved walkways are large enough for cyclists and dog-walkers alike and easily connect to the lakefront’s pedestrian walkways immediately north of the Milwaukee Art Museum. If you like to take photos, this is an ideal location because — on warmer days — sailboats are continually streaming by and the shoreline is rimmed with boulders. Locals like to fish in this 22-acre park, too.
Within the heart of the Bay View neighborhood, lining South Howell Avenue to the west, this 73-acre park boasts a large pond, beer garden, tennis courts, baseball diamond, playground, gazebo, splash-pad (small pool for kids) and a pavilion (rented out for weddings as well as hosting activities like weekly yoga classes). On Tuesday nights between early June and late August is the popular “Chill on the Hill” outdoor-concert series, hosted in the band shell. The park dates back to 1891 and was initially referred to as South Park.
Rimming Lake Michigan directly east of Lincoln Memorial Drive and just north of the Milwaukee Art Museum, Veterans Park has hosted many events over the years, from Fourth of July fireworks to Harley-Davidson rallies. The Southeastern Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Memorial is in the park and avid bicyclists like to zip through via a segment of the Oak Leaf Trail. There is plenty of room to read a book under a tree or have a picnic, paired with a view of the lakefront and downtown-Milwaukee skyline. Juneau Park, which bumps up against Veterans Park, rents out paddle boats come summer, to use in its lagoon.
Three Bridges Park
Three Bridges Park was created in 2013 in Milwaukee’s growing Menomonee River Valley — an area immediately south of downtown Milwaukee and home to an increasing number of businesses (such as a craft brewery) and the new boutique hotel at Potawatomi Casino. A stroll through this 24-acre park’s 2 miles of trails reveals that the terrain — once a wild-rice marsh — is mostly rolling hills. Canoe and kayak launches in the park help locals better utilize the Menomonee River, which connects to downtown Milwaukee and the Third Ward. And like Washington Park, Urban Ecology Center has a location here that serves as a science classroom without walls.
Havenwoods State Forest
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources manages the forest’s 237 acres on the North side of Milwaukee, which function as a hiking locale as well as an interpretative area thanks to a staffed Visitor Center. However, you do not need a vehicle admission sticker to enter as you might for other state parks. Be sure to read the latest newsletter and learn what’s in bloom as well as what events are being held in the forest that month. The center’s main thrust is attracting children via events such as family-friendly, naturalist-led hikes; and deer-tracking.
Technically this park lies outside the city of Milwaukee but it’s only a 20-minute drive from downtown. Come fall the park is popular for leaf-peeping along the 7 Bridges Hiking Trail but no matter what time of year you can find plenty to fill a half day. Picnic areas can be reserved, there’s a 16-hole golf course, tennis courts, a soccer field and three disc-golf courses, too. It wouldn’t be fair to come all the way here and not experience the beach (there’s a stone staircase down to the shore just east of Wulff Lodge). Part of the Oak Leaf Trail runs through Grant Park.