15 Absolutely Beautiful Hikes Near Milwaukee for All Experience Levels
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated November 29, 2021
Famous for world-class cheese and beer, Milwaukee may not seem an obvious city choice for people who love to be outdoors. But for all of the great eats and drinks in Brew City, there are also dozens of great parks, trails, and green spaces in and around the city. Some of these give hikers access to the beautiful, vast shoreline of Lake Michigan, while others lead to breathtaking scenery and landscapes farther inland. If you’re hoping to go hiking near Milwaukee, you’ve got plenty of options. We created this guide to the best hikes near Milwaukee so you can easily find and plan your next outdoor adventure!
Easy Hiking Near Milwaukee
Hank Aaron State Trail
Distance from Milwaukee: 0 miles
Trail Length: 6.7 miles one way
Elevation Gain: 229 feet
More of a multi-purpose trail than a traditional “hiking trail,” the Hank Aaron State Trail is a mostly paved, urban bikeway and walkway that spans nearly 6.7 miles across the city of Milwaukee. Running through many of the city’s neighborhoods and landmarks, this local trail is one of the best hikes in Milwaukee for getting your mileage in and enjoying some nearby green spaces.
Passing over bridges and by local landmarks like the baseball stadium, this trail has some slight elevation changes but is overall very easy and suitable for all experience levels. If you’re on a time crunch and looking for some fresh air, the Hank Aaron State Trail is a fantastic urban option.
Ice Age Trail: Holy Hill Segment
Distance from Milwaukee: 34 miles/40 minutes
Trail Length: 6.8 miles one way
Elevation Gain: 603 feet
One of the most significant long-distance hiking trails in the state of Wisconsin is the Ice Age Trail, which spans nearly 1,200 miles across a large area where a glacier once stood. Today, what’s left in the area are the geological remnants of this glacier, like the stark rock formations you’ll see dotted around the state.
The Holy Hill Segment of the Ice Age Trail is beloved not just for its natural elements, but also its great views of the Holy Hill Basilica. You’ll find views here reminiscent of Europe, with the Basilica’s spires peeking out from above the tree line. If you want, you can also walk up to the Basilica itself and have a look around.
Ice Age Trail: Monches Segment
Distance from Milwaukee: 33 miles/40 minutes
Trail Length: 3.7 miles one way
Elevation Gain: 213 feet
Another popular section of the Ice Age Trail for hiking near Milwaukee is the Monches Segment. Unlike its Holy Hill counterpart, the Monches Segment of the trail is a much more rugged, nature-oriented hike that follows the Oconomowoc River as it flows from its namesake lake for much of the segment’s 3.7 miles. Along the way, you’ll find scenic wooden boardwalks running through the woods, with several nice viewpoints of the river and lake dotted throughout.
Kohler-Andrae Boardwalk Trail
Distance from Milwaukee: 52 miles/1 hour (Kohler-Andrae State Park)
Trail Length: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
If you’re seeking a lakeside stroll that feels like something out of New England’s coast, head to Kohler-Andrae State Park’s Boardwalk Trail. As one of the most scenic easy hikes near Milwaukee, this 3-mile set of trails takes hikers of all levels around some sandy dunes bordering Lake Michigan. Here, you’ll find beautiful wooden boardwalks built over the rolling terrain of the dunes, with golden, tall grasses growing in the sand. Another huge perk of this trail is that the beach is a sandy shore and is perfect for having a picnic or taking a small mid-hike siesta!
Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Distance from Milwaukee: 24 miles/30 minutes
Trail Length: 1.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 141 feet
Another stunningly beautiful place for hiking near Milwaukee is Lion’s Den Gorge. This lakefront nature preserve is home to stunning bluffs that border the teal blue waters of Lake Michigan, offering hikers access to the sandy beaches and striking views from the park’s 1.9 mile trail. On sunny days, the water is an amazing color, and there are few lakefront views that are quite as magical as the ones at Lion’s Den.
Scuppernong Nature Trail
Distance from Milwaukee: 36 miles/45 minutes
Trail Length: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 298 feet
Sometimes you just need a refreshing walk in the woods to reset and unwind, and the Scuppernong Nature Trail provides exactly that. Located just 45 minutes from downtown Milwaukee, this beautiful, forested trail runs through some gentle hills throughout this 5-mile loop. There isn’t much in the way of views, but the trees here are tall and mighty, and are a spectacle in themselves, especially during the fall months when they’ve changed to wild, warm colors. Because this trail is less popular than some others on our list, it’s one of the best hikes near Milwaukee to get some peace and quiet solitude in nature.
Moderate & Difficult Hikes Near Milwaukee
Oak Leaf Trail
Distance from Milwaukee: 0 miles
Trail Length: Varies
Elevation Gain: Varies
Another great spot for hiking in Milwaukee is the Oak Leaf Trail. Spanning a total of 19 miles across the city, the section by the shore in Grant Park is the most popular and scenic, with lovely views of the lakefront and the quaint, forested trails and bridges of the park. While this is an urban trail, it doesn’t feel like it in many sections because of the think nature that surrounds the trails. There are plenty of entrance points around the city for this trail, but we’d recommend starting at the parking lot in Grant Park if you want a shorter loop.
Parnell Tower Loop
Distance from Milwaukee: 55 miles/1 hour (Kettle Moraine State Forest)
Trail Length: 3.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 314 feet
One additional section of the Ice Age Trail leads up to a scenic lookout tower, also known as the Parnell Tower trail. This 3.3-mile, moderately challenging hike leads through a forested trail to the large, wooden lookout tower. From the top, you can see views out across the Wisconsin landscape, which are especially beautiful in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. The rest of the trail is mostly a walk through the woods, but with a few elevation and terrain changes, it’s a fun and short trail for hiking near Milwaukee that’s not far from the city.
Zillmer Yellow Loop
Distance from Milwaukee: 53 miles/1 hour
Trail Length: 5.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 367 feet
Walking through the woods is the name of the game in Wisconsin, and the Zillmer Loop is another scenic forest trail that leads to a few nice landmarks. With 5.2 miles of trails and 367 feet of elevation gain, the Zillmer Loop offers a few slightly challenging areas that are suitable for hikers of all levels. The trail runs mostly through the forest, but it’s also got views over a still pond, and a few wide vistas across the top of the nearby forests. Fall colors here are absolutely spectacular, and its among the best hikes near Milwaukee for simply unwinding and enjoying nature.
Distance from Milwaukee: 27 miles/30 minutes (Kettle Moraine State Forest)
Trail Length: 3.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 393 feet
Want to hike to a scenic mountaintop viewpoint that’s less than an hour from the city? Lapham Peak is a local favorite for hiking near Milwaukee that boasts a high tower for catching the most spectacular views. The trail has a mixture of wooden boardwalks and dirt pathways that run through the forest along the Ice Age Trail to Lapham Peak. Because it’s so popular, we’d recommend getting there early to avoid the rush of people, especially on weekends.
Pike Lake Trail
Distance from Milwaukee: 36 miles/40 minutes
Trail Length: 3.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 275 feet
What’s more scenic than a historic trail to a quiet forest lake? The Pike Lake Trail is exactly that – a moderate hike to a lake surrounded by forests. Along these scenic trails, you’ll find beautiful wildflowers, tall, dense forests, and old machinery from the industrial era. There are a few minor ascents and terrain changes throughout the trail due to the glacial geology of the area, making it an especially fun spot for those wanting to get more hiking experience under their belts.
Note: There may be seasonal road closures leading to this trail. Check here before you go.
Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area
Distance from Milwaukee: 100 miles/1.5 hours
Trail Length: 1.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 298 feet
For a short hike, the Gibraltar Rock Trail really packs a punch in terms of landscapes, terrain, and scenery. While the trail is only 1.4 miles, it runs through some strikingly beautiful rock formations left over by the glaciers in the area, as well as a few gnarly trees. Great for beginners and experienced hikers alike, this short trail is one of the most naturally beautiful hikes near Milwaukee.
Perhaps the most magical part of this trail, though, is the view from the top, which extends out over Wisconsin’s vast farmlands from a scenic rocky outcropping on top of the hill. Take some time to enjoy the views here with a snack or to explore some of the other perspectives from the nearby rocks.
Devil’s Lake State Park
Distance from Milwaukee: 118 miles/2 hours (Devil’s Lake State Park)
Trail Length: 4.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,007 feet
One of the most beautiful areas on the Ice Age Trail is Devil’s Lake, a picturesque lake surrounded by forests located in central Wisconsin. The 4.8 mile Devil’s Lake trail that runs through the park via the West Bluff is the best way to explore the area’s stunning vistas and rugged, rocky trails. While the elevation gain here is just a little over 1,000 feet, it’s made more challenging around the lake’s perimeter because of frequent terrain changes. It’s a fun hike for all experience levels, but especially those looking for a hiking experience that feels more mountainous and less urban.
Rib Mountain Yellow Trail
Distance from Milwaukee: 185 miles/2 hours, 45 minutes (Rib Mountain State Park)
Trail Length: 4.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 836 feet
As you travel further north in Wisconsin, you’ll start to find that the terrain gets a bit more rocky and mountainous. Rib Mountain State Park is one of the best areas in the state to experience this more varied terrain. Forests and rocky cliff sides come together on the park’s Yellow Trail, which offers gorgeous views and moderate forest terrain in a less crowded area than many on our list. The changes in elevation will get your heart pumping! Head there during the fall and you can experience the beauty of the changing leaves along the park’s many viewpoints.
Levis/Trow Mounds Trail
Distance from Milwaukee: 210 miles/3 hours (Levis/Trow Mound Recreation Area)
Trail Length: 5.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 456 feet
Rocky landscapes are the central highlight of the Levis/Trow Mounds Trail, which is located about 3 hours outside of Milwaukee. Hike on wooden boardwalks through eerie forested rock formations and admire bird’s eye views from a stunning hilltop vista. Along the journey, you’ll enjoy quiet, scenic trails through evergreen forests, with tall trees that provide cool shade and a contemplative environment.
Although it’s quite far from the city, we wanted to include this longer trail on our list because it feels like a true adventure. There are few hikes near Milwaukee as naturally stunning or exciting as this one, so if you’re looking for a challenging and rewarding hike, add the Levis/Trow Mounds Trail to your list!
Additional Resources for Hiking near Milwaukee
What to Pack
Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to wear a sweat-wicking shirt and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women (a must for hiking in Seattle). And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks!
Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable.
Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.
Sunscreen and bug spray – Sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.
A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or capfor day hikes in the sunshine.
Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.
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