Our beautiful state has 66 state park units spanning whole width and breadth of Wisconsin. Most everyone has heard of places like Devil’s Lake, which had more than 2.6 million visitors last year, but there are so many more less-visited, but amazing places to discover and enjoy. Avoid the crowds and find a new favorite Wisconsin State Park among these lesser-known options!
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Tower Hill State Park - Spring Green
With all there is to see and do around Spring Green, this state park seems to be forgotten. It's home to the the reconstructed Helena Shot Tower, first built in 1832. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and is on the Wisconsin River. According to Wikipedia, "Shot towers harness the effects of surface tension on liquids in free-fall, a technique developed in 1782. Molten lead can be poured through a strainer at the top of a tower or shaft. The droplets become spherical as they fall and cool in this shape during their descent. The pellets are caught in a water basin to break their fall and finish cooling." A businessman from Green Bay recognized this as a good spot for a tower and the rest is history. Located at 5808 County Rd C, Spring Green, WI 53588.
2. Rocky Arbor State Park - Wisconsin Dells.
In an area with tons of state land, this place often gets passed by because it's smaller, but you definitely should add it to your to-do list. The park was created to protect the 500 million year old sandstone walls and ledges here. Eroded by weather and the Wisconsin River, the park now has a small stream and the Wisconsin River changed course, leaving a big gorge to explore.
Located off Hwy 12 between State Road A and I-90.
3. Lake Wissota State Park - Chippewa Falls
The lake is a reservoir of the Chippewa River and the park is near some popular areas, but somehow doesn't seem to draw the attention that other parks do. There's access to the Old Abe State Trail and it's just a 17.5 mile hike over to Brunet Island State Park. There's big forest and open prairie, but the lake is really the star. Hike, camp, fish and enjoy this beautiful spot. Located at 18127 Co Hwy O, Chippewa Falls, WI 54729.
4. Hartman Creek State Park - Waupaca
There are several small lakes in this park as well as some swampy, marshy bog spots. The Ice Age National Trail goes through the park, as well. Just about 75 minutes from Green Bay and two hours from Madison, this is a park easily accessible to a lot of the state yet somehow not on a lot of radars. It's usually quite quiet and the spring-fed Chain O' Lakes are waiting for you to enjoy them. Located at N2480 Hartman Creek Rd, Waupaca, WI 54981.
5. Roche-A-Cri State Park - Friendship
Roche-A-Cri State Park, established in 1948, protects a 300-foot-high rock outcropping and Native American petroglyphs and pictographs. The name "Roche-A-Cri" comes from French words meaning "crevice in the rock." It's no easy feat, but if you're up to it, you can climb the stairs to the top of the 300 foot bluff that's at least 450 million years old. You might find buzzards at the top! Located at 1767 State Hwy 13, Friendship, WI 53934.
6. New Glarus Woods State Park - New Glarus
So many folks head here just for the brewery and never explore all the wonderful things there are to see and do around town. New Glarus Woods State Park is a 431-acre park featuring rolling hills covered by a mix of forest and prairie. The Sugar River State Trail connects to the park, making the park accessible by bike. In the winter, they hold candle-lit hikes that add an ethereal, almost spooky air to the area. Located at W5446 County Highway Nn, New Glarus, WI 53574.
7. Buckhorn State Park - Necedah
Buckhorn State Park is a 6,990-acre park southeast of Necedah. The park occupies a peninsula on Castle Rock Lake, a reservoir formed at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Yellow Rivers. You may see osprey nesting nearby. This is a totally unique park where you an see sandy areas give away to marshy ones. There's unusual wildlife and it's unlike any other state park. Located at W8450 Buckhorn Park Ave, Necedah, WI 54646.
8. Merrick State Park - Fountain City
Merrick State Park is a 322-acre Wisconsin state park on the Mississippi River north of Fountain City. Very popular with fisherman, this is a unique, marshy area that feels just a bit removed from the bigger river, but still has access to it. You'll find tons of small islands and land masses and a wide variety of wildlife. Located at S2965 WI-35, Fountain City, WI 54629.
9. Kinnickinnic State Park - River Falls
This 1,242-acre Wisconsin state park is located where the St. Croix and Kinnickinnic rivers meet. There's a large, sandy delta for boaters to picnic or camp on. The Kinnickinnic tends to be a calmer experience and the St. Croix a bit more heavily used for water recreation. Located at W11983 820th Ave, River Falls, WI 54022.
10. Mill Bluff State Park - Douglas
There are ten named bluffs in this park that's part of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, the park protects sandstone bluffs that formed as sea stacks 12,000 years ago in Glacial Lake Wisconsin. The bluffs range from 80 to 200 feet. There are 400-year-old petroglyphs to be seen and there's a spring-fed lake near the campground. Located at 15819 Funnel Rd, Camp Douglas, WI 54618
11. Nelson Dewey State Park - Cassville
Located right on the Mississippi River, this park is named for our first governor who first stepped foot in Wisconsin at this very stop, at the now famous river ferry crossing and it was once part of his estate. There's a 500-foot bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and Dewey Historical Sites nearby. Located at 12190 Co Hwy VV, Cassville, WI 53806.
What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path state park? Tell us all about it in the comments!