Are you looking for a little nature but also want great lodging with lots of food options? There are plenty of places to go! Here are the best Wisconsin state park weekend trips near a city. Read ahead for tips to plan a trip to a state park that has something for the whole family. Here you can find a balance between the natural beauty of the great outdoors and also the amenities of a larger city.
First, we will talk about the city of Madison. It is a perfect place to have your base camp where you can access a ton of near by Wisconsin state parks! Secondly, we turn our attention to Milwaukee. This Wisconsin state park is small but the city amenities are plentiful! Thirdly is Appleton, which hosts High Cliff State Park and is very close to town. The fourth city we talk about is Sheboygan which features the beautiful beachside park, Kohler-Andrae. Next is Wausau and the large day-use-only park, Rib Mountain which features lots of hilly hiking. Finally, we will briefly talk about Green Bay and its unique living museum state park.
Madison as a Hub
If you are trying to visit more than one Wisconsin state park and to be near a city, Madison is the perfect hub. Capital Springs State Park and recreation area are only 6.5 miles from downtown Madison. Conveniently, there is a pedestrian trail called the Capital City State Trail that connects the city center to the park. Madison itself is filled with fun and adventure. Check out a UW football game, go to the free zoo or a free museum, check out some of the many local bike trails, see a concert, go on a food tour, and more! Check out Visitmadison.com for more ideas.
While you can certainly stay busy in Madison and Capital Springs, there are another 13 state parks within an hour of downtown Madison! Devil’s Lake is one of the farther parks but it is also one of the state’s most popular parks and for good reason. This park has a huge beach, challenging rocky hikes, and beautiful overlooks. There is also rock climbing available. For guided tours check out Devil’s Lake Climbing Guides. If you want to practice ahead of time or get a taste of climbing in a more controlled environment check out Boulders Climbing Gym in Madison.
|1||Capital Springs||15 minutes southeast|
|2||Lake Kegonsa||25 minutes southeast|
|3||Cross plains||27 minutes west|
|4||Governor Nelson||28 minutes|
|5||Aztalan||38 minutes east|
|6||Blue Mounds||40 minutes west|
|7||New Glarus Woods||48 minutes south|
|8||Tower Hill||55 minutes west|
|9||Mirror Lake||55 minutes northwest|
|10||Governor Dodge||59 miles west|
|11||Devil’s Lake||59 minutes northwest|
|12||Rocky Arbor||59 minutes northwest|
|13||Natural Bridge||60 minutes northwest|
Milwaukee and Museums with Lakeshore State Park
If you don’t mind a small park and instead are focusing on the strengths of a city, then check out the most urban Wisconsin state park-Lakeshore Park in Milwaukee. Lakeshore, as its name implies, is along the edge of Lake Michigan. It provides great views of the water as well as the city skyline. The park itself is quite small, only 22 acres, but is literally right in downtown Milwaukee. With at least 50 restaurants within a couple of miles of Lakeshore, you are sure to find something that suits you! There are many hotel options as well. Within about 1.5 miles of the park, there are some great museums including the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, Discovery World, and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Picking between the many options for city dining is always tough. If you have trouble deciding or have a group with varied tastes, check out the Milwaukee Public Market. Many different places come together under one roof and it’s less than a mile from Lakeshore. For a real experience go on a hunt for the SafeHouse. It is a spy theme restaurant with an unassuming storefront. Let the kids and the young at heart investigate the various rooms and look for intel while you wait for food.
Appleton with High Cliff State Park
Just 20 minutes southeast of the city of Appleton Wisconsin is High Cliff State Park. It boasts a marina where you can overnight in your boat but if you need different lodging you can camp or explore the many lodging options in Appleton. This park has a beach, over seven miles of hiking trails, Indian effigies, horse trails, and off-road biking. There is also an impressive playground and an observation tower. Part of the Niagara Escarpment is in the park and offers interesting geological features to investigate.
During the summer be sure to stop at the Chubby Seagull. It’s close to the entrance of the park and has pizza and ice cream. If you are looking for coffee or breakfast, check out Tempest Coffee Collective. The indoor seating is fairly limited but they have a wonderful patio. We like Parker John’s BBQ and Pizza but if you are in the mood for Mexican go to Sangria’s. If you’d rather Thai or Vietnamese, you may like Basil. For a Gastro Pub, head to Draft, for a local brewery we like Stone Arch and for wine go to Tandem Wine and Beer. If you like live music I recommend Waverly Bar, it’s right on the water.
Sheboygan and Kohler-Andrae State Park
Kohler-Andrae State Park is only 14 minutes south of Sheboygan. It is a beautiful park including several miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan. Dip your toes in the water or launch a boat. You can choose to walk on the beach, the cord walks, or in the forests. There are 2.5 miles of trail also available for bikes or horses. If you want to camp there are well over 130 sites or if you prefer a hotel, there are plenty of options for all tastes in Sheboygan.
For more outdoor fun, check out the Bookworm Gardens which features various gardens themed after popular children’s books. Check out the remains of the Lottie-Cooper a Schooner that capsized prior to 1900. It is housed at Deland Park where you can find beaches and boat ramps to enjoy Lake Michigan. Another fun park to check out is Evergreen Park on the north end of Sheboygan. There is a beach on a smaller lake, a huge playground, and some walking trails. Check out King Park for another playground, this one is on Lake Michigan so it has a great view. For an indoor activity, check out the Above & Beyond Children’s Museum. If the audience is a bit older, try the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.
Just five minutes from the park is Parkside Family Restaurant-a tasty American-style restaurant. For Italian, try Lino Ristorante Italiano which overlooks the river near the shore of Lake Michigan. For Mexican, try Cocina Mi Familia-their tacos are awesome! If you need a morning pick me up try Paradigm Coffee and Music or try Johnston’s Bakery for coffee and pastries. If it’s a beautiful day and you are looking for a beer and more time outside, check out Der Sheboygan Biergarten-a truly German-styled outdoor beer garden open seasonally. If you would rather have a local brew experience, try 3 Sheep Brewing.
Wausau and Rib Mountain State Park
Wausau is right in the center of the state and not too far from any part of Wisconsin making it a great destination for a State Park near a city. It hosts Rib Mountain State Park-an amazing day-use park at the 4th highest point in Wisconsin. This is a great park if you want to hike some hills. You can follow the yellow loop or the paved trail up the southeast side of the mountain or the turkey vulture trail past the quarry on the northwest side. Alternatively, if you aren’t looking for a workout but still want the views, simply drive to the top. There is a new playground at the top of the mountain as well as an observation tower for great views. It is especially beautiful during the fall colors.
Wausau offers many great outdoor opportunities similar to much of the beautiful Northwoods including mountain biking (at Nine Mile, Ringle, or Slyvan), playgrounds (check out Jojo’s Jungle), hiking (take the Ice Age trail segment past Eau Claire Dells), but it also has a manmade whitewater run right in downtown Wausau. This is perfect for experienced paddlers or beginners alike.
Rib Mountain park is mere minutes from the city of Rib Mountain where you can find many popular franchises and plenty of hotel options. If you want local eateries, check out Sconnies or grab a coffee near by at Clean Slate Coffee House. Downtown Wausau is about 15 minutes from the top of the mountain and has several great food choices including Red Eye Brewing or Back When for locally sourced food, Townies for a pub atmosphere, Lemongrass for asian fusion, or Politos for pizza by the slice. Afterwards, go to Sweets on Third for Chocolate Shoppe ice cream. Finally, the best breakfast is either Era or 6th Street Filing Station.
Green Bay for History at Heritage Hill State Park
Lastly for a Wisconsin State park trip near a city we have Heritage Hill, a small but unique 56 acre state park in Green Bay. It is a living history museum with an admission separate from the normal state park pass sticker. They have various interactive exhibits about the local history and also feature a variety of year round events.
Green Bay also has plenty of lodging options. For outdoor fun check out the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary or the neighboring Bay Beach Amusement Park. There is a children’s museum and the National Railroad Museum as well as and the New Zoo and of course don’t forget about Lambeau Field, home of the Packers! If you need a cool playground visit Pamperin Park which also has a landscaped gardens with creek.
For a morning pick me up, check out Kavarna coffee. They also have a vegetarian deli but if you specifically want a traditional breakfast go to Black Stone Family Restaurant. We love the sourdough bread at Voyageur’s Bakehouse. If you are visiting Lambeau Field, check out 1919 Kitchen. Check out Sushi Lover for all you can eat Japanese fare. If you prefer southern style comfort food, stop by T. Bacon’s BBQ. If you would rather have a sports bar atmosphere, try Mackinaw Grill. The menu is broad and everyone should be able to find something they like. Cheesesteak Rebellion has amazing sandwiches! The Rebellion wording is part of a Star Wars type theme with lots of memorabilia.
Altogether, I love nature and exploring Wisconsin’s beautiful state parks. That said, sometimes on a Wisconsin State Park trip it’s nice to be near a city. It’s certainly easy to find something that suits the whole family including great lodging, a wide variety of food options, and fun activities. Have you planned a weekend trip to one of these Wisconsin state parks near cities? Which was your favorite? What great activity did I miss?