The 10 Best State Parks in Wisconsin

Fall Colors in Rocks and Water at Devils Lake State Park in Wisconsin

Wildnerdpix / Getty Images

The Badger State of Wisconsin is perhaps most well-known for its agricultural bounty (cheese, please) and beer-centric history (hey, Brew City). But, as an outdoor paradise, this favorite Midwestern destination shouldn't be discounted. Thankfully, much of the area's natural beauty has been preserved, either as part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore or as state park land. In fact, Wisconsin was the first state ever to earmark a state park, all the way back in 1878. These days, there are 49 state parks totaling over 73,000 acres and earning more than 19 million visitors annually. From the northern reaches of Washington Island to the prairies of the south, here are the 10 best state parks in Wisconsin.

01 of 10

Peninsula State Park

Sven's Bluff, Peninsula State Park, WI

Kate / Flickr

9462 Shore Rd, Fish Creek, WI 54212, USA
Phone +1 920-868-3258

Considered Wisconsin's most complete park for its well-rounded offerings, Peninsula State Park fittingly occupies a peninsula on the bustling Green Bay side of Door County between Fish Creek and Ephraim. This almost 4,000-acre area is the state's third-largest state park and a popular one to boot, boasting over a million annual visitors.

Attractions include more than 460 campsites, the Eagle Bluff lighthouse, miles of biking and hiking trails, an 18-hole golf course, and a sandy beach. There's also a new Eagle Tower that visitors can access via stairs or an ADA-accessible canopy walk. Perched 250 feet above Green Bay, high on Eagle Bluff, the tower rises an additional 60 feet to offer some of Wisconsin's best views.

Please note that vehicle admission stickers are required for all cars entering the state park area; these can be purchased for annual admission to all parks, or day pass options are also available.

02 of 10

Rib Mountain State Park

Rib Mountain State Park
stockphoto52 / Getty Images
149801 State Park Rd, Wausau, WI 54401, USA
Phone +1 715-842-2522

Located near Wausau in northern Wisconsin, Rib Mountain State Park covers about 1,500 acres and can be enjoyed all year long. It’s home to a billion-year-old hill that may be one of the oldest geological structures on Earth. Also notable is Granite Peak, the state’s largest downhill ski hill and one of the nation’s oldest ski resorts. Fall foliage fans can even ride the ski lift to view the changing colors in autumn. Reserved for day use, Rib Mountain State Park offers 13 miles of trails for hiking, including eight accessible miles for those with disabilities. A 2-mile groomed snowshoe trail is a new addition for wintertime fun beyond the ski hill.

03 of 10

Mirror Lake State Park

Beautiful autumn cloudscape
Kristen Prahl / Getty Images
Mirror Lake, Wisconsin, USA

The Wisconsin Dells area is best known as the water park capital of the world. Beyond artificial thrills, this southern Badger State destination also offers natural beauty, which travelers can enjoy at the 2,000-plus-acre Mirror Lake State Park. The centerpiece and namesake for the park is Mirror Lake, so-called for its calm, mirror-like surface set among pine-dotted sandstone cliffs. Boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, swimming, and picnicking are just some recreational activities offered here. Trails are groomed for cross-country ski use, hiking, and snowshoeing in the winter.

Overnight accommodations include rustic campsites and cozy cabins. Architecture buffs will especially appreciate the Seth Peterson Cottage, the first of native son Frank Loyd Wright’s homes that was made available for rent. Additionally, Mirror Lake State Park is one of just 10 parks in the state that provides an accessible cabin for those with disabilities.

04 of 10

Pattison State Park

Pattison State Park, Big Manitou Falls

Theodore Sadler / Getty Images

6294 WI-35, Superior, WI 54880, USA
Phone +1 715-399-3111

Situated on the Black River in Northwestern Wisconsin, Pattison State Park boasts the tallest waterfall in the state. Big Manitou Falls, which clocks in at an impressive 165 feet tall, is the fourth-highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, and is accessible via the Falls Overlook or the Falls River Trail. Please note that geology fans can download a free “Geology Walk” booklet to accompany their journey through the boreal forest.

Camping, fishing, and picnicking are also popular activities in the 1,400-acre park during the warm weather months, while cross-country skiing and snowshoeing make it a winter haven as well. Don’t miss exploring Interfalls Lake and its 300-foot sandy beach, which is perfect for swimming or sunbathing; discover the Beaver Trail, which winds 2 miles around this pretty body of water.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

Rock Island State Park

Evening Shoreline at Rock Island

Joshua Mayer / Flickr

1924 Indian Point Rd, Washington, WI 54246-9078, USA
Phone +1 920-847-2235

Located at the mouth of Green Bay, Rock Island is the easternmost point in Wisconsin, making it one of the most remote parks in the state park system. To reach it, visitors can take a car or passenger ferry to Washington Island; once there, a second passenger ferry will transport them to the park.

One noteworthy point of interest on Rock Island is the massive boathouse that first greets travelers from the ferry. Listed on the National Register for Historic Places, it was built by eccentric inventor Chester Thordarson, who used to own the island before the state purchased it from his heirs in 1965. Another highlight is Pottawatomie Lighthouse, the oldest in Wisconsin and on Lake Michigan; free guided tours are offered daily and include a climb up into the lantern room.

Visitors will find plenty of outdoor activities, including 10 miles of trails and 6 miles of shoreline that welcome swimmers. Canoeing and kayaking are also popular, though rentals aren't provided on the island; if you'd like to head out on the water, be sure to bring your own boat and exercise caution in Lake Michigan's wrath.

There are 40 primitive campsites that are in demand year after year and must be reserved in advance for overnight accommodation. Note that the park can only be accessed from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.

06 of 10

Interstate Park

River overlook at Interstate Park Wisconsin and Minnesota
DynamicDetails / Getty Images
1275 WI-35, St Croix Falls, WI 54024, USA
Phone +1 715-483-3747

Sitting partially in neighboring Minnesota, this 1,400-acre park is situated on both sides of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which is federally protected and part of the National Parks Service. Interstate Park is also significant as the oldest state park still in existence, dating back to 1895. An area highlight is the Dalles of the St. Croix, a narrow, L-shaped river gorge sculpted during the Ice Age. Adventurers can reach it via the Summit Rock, River Bluff, or Pothole trails, just a small portion of the 9-plus miles of hiking trails. Interstate Park is also home to the western terminus of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, one of the only 11 national scenic trails nationwide.

Beyond hiking, recreational activities abound, with rock climbing, swimming, picnicking, and paddling available to partake in. There are also 12.5 miles of trails that are maintained for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing for wintertime visitors. Naturalist programs may be accessed during summer at the Ice Age Interpretive Center, along with exhibits about Wisconsin history and a gift shop.

07 of 10

Devil’s Lake State Park

Kayaking at Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin
Alisha Bube / Getty Images
S5975 Park Rd, Baraboo, WI 53913, USA
Phone +1 608-356-8301

No list of the best state parks in Wisconsin could be complete without considering its most visited entity, Devil’s Lake State Park. This area is situated on the 374-acre Devil’s Lake near the Wisconsin Dells in the central-southern reaches of the state. Water sports shine here, including swimming, fishing, paddling, scuba diving, and boating. In terms of accessibility, a specially adapted kayak is available for rent for those with disabilities. About 30 miles of hiking trails also allow for outdoor recreation along the massive quartzite bluffs. Picnicking, biking, rock climbing, and camping are also on tap at Devil’s Lake State Park. Don’t miss the Nature Center and its wildlife displays, naturalist programs, and 3D model of the park.

08 of 10

Whitefish Dunes State Park

Sandy Beach at Whitefish Dunes State Park on Lake Michigan
juliannafunk / Getty Images
3275 Clarks Lake Rd, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235, USA
Phone +1 920-823-2400

Set on the shores of Lake Michigan, on the eastern Door Peninsula, Whitefish Dunes State Park is significant as the home of the largest sand dunes in Wisconsin. Visit “Old Baldy,” the highest dune in the state, which rises majestically above the lakeshore nearly 100 feet from the watery edge. There’s also a dog-friendly beach, about 15 miles of trails, and a year-round nature center. Guests can fish, boat, canoe, kayak, picnic, swim, snowshoe, and cross-country ski for recreation. An on-site bookstore and two archaeological dig sites round out the offerings at this versatile, day-use park.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Big Bay State Park

View of the Bay, Lagoon Ridge Trail, Big Bay State Park, Madeline Island
Susan Ruggles / Getty Images
2402 Hagen Rd, La Pointe, WI 54850, USA
Phone +1 715-747-6425

Big Bay State Park occupies the eastern edge of Madeline Island, part of the famed Apostle Islands archipelago. An accessible boardwalk, a 1.5-mile-long beach, multiple picnic areas, and seven-plus miles of hiking trails are just some of the attractions in this 2,300-acre state park. Bird watching is another popular pursuit, with 240 types of birds found in the park; birders are especially fond of the views from the wildlife platform on the lagoon. Experience the best of Lake Superior with an overnight stay at one of 60 campsites, including five plowed for winter use for the hardiest of visitors.

10 of 10

Perrot State Park

Mississippi River Autumn Vista
John_Brueske / Getty Images
Perrot State Park, Trempealeau, WI 54661, USA

Wisconsin's Driftless Area is home to Perrot State Park, perched where the Mississippi River and Trempealeau River meet. Think soaring, 500-foot bluffs with spectacular water views in this 1,200-acre protected area. Cyclists can access the Great River State Trail, while visitors can camp, fish, canoe, hike, picnic, and cross-country ski in the park. Of the roughly 13 miles of trails, the easy Riverview Trail is perhaps the most scenic, running the entire 2.5-mile length of Perrot State Park. Another highlight is the 0.5-mile Black Walnut Nature Trail, which features 20 interpretive stops.

Back to List

The 10 Best State Parks in Wisconsin