20 Great Hikes Within an Hour’s Drive of Milwaukee

Boots or sneakers? Fanny pack or trekking pack? Lake or river? Forest or Prairie? No matter what stripe your stroll, we’ve got everything you need to get out into Wisconsin’s natural bounty.


When Does a Walk Become a Hike?

Circles are to ovals as hikes are to walks. As in all hikes are walks, but not all walks are hikes. Parsing a walk is relatively easy; it’s defined by the action, moving from one place to another on foot (without having both feet off the ground at once – that would be a run). You can walk around the block, on a treadmill or even in a mall. A hike, on the other hand, is a bit more nuanced. It’s the action of walking, yes, but it incorporates some degree of wilderness environment and a “long distance” – both of which are subjective. To the casual explorer, a paved path around a lake could be sufficient for a hike, but a wilderness expeditioner might require a more strenuous or rugged route. Among these pages, you’ll find over 40 hikes and walks in this spectrum to help you explore this great state’s great outdoors. We focused on the trails within an hour’s drive of Milwaukee – though there are some further afield, too. Happy trails! 

1. Grant Park Seven Bridges Trail


Length: 2 mi.
Type: Loop
Elevation Gain: 88 ft.
Cost: None

Actually, there are 10 bridges here, and many of them are nearly 100 years old. Beyond the park’s namesake spans, the path offers craggy cliffside views, dense forests and a stop at the sandy shore of Lake Michigan. Looking for a bigger adventure? Add to your trek by connecting to the Oak Leaf Trail.

Grant Park Seven Bridges Trail; Photo by Kat Schleicher

2. Wehr Nature Center Lake Loop and Grasslands


Length: 2.6 mi.
Type: Loop
Elevation Gain: 124 ft.
Cost: None

The showstopper here is a waterfall that cascades into the Root River. Watch for cranes, which hang out near the bottom. The rest of the route is an easy, scenic lap around Whitnall Park’s Mallard Lake. 

3. Scout Lake


Length: 1.7 mi.
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: 85 ft.
Cost: None

This flat, paved loop around a lily-pad-covered suburban lake is a convenient way to get your steps in, though off-roading it into the nearby woods is also an option. Watch as fishermen cast their lines from the public pier. 

4. Kettle Moraine State Forest Lapham Peak Unit


Length: 1-7 mi. 
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: Up to 744 ft.
Cost: State parks sticker 

Roll up and down the hills left behind by the last glacial retreat with the winding, rugged Moraine Ridge trail. You’ll get a pretty amazing view of Lake Country if you stop to climb the 45-foot observation tower, which sits atop the highest point in Waukesha County. Or shorten the loop and do just the paved Plantation Path, which is about 1.8 miles and ADA accessible. This chunk of the trail flows through a pine plantation, prairie and butterfly garden, making it a great route for bringing the kiddos.

Ice Age Trail Lapham Peak Segment; Photo by Cameron Gillie, courtesy of Ice Age Trail Alliance

5. County Grounds Park


Length: Up 3.6 mi.
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: 118 ft.
Cost: None

After parking, you have a choice: the open prairie, replete with wildflowers and long views, or the quietude and towering oaks and maples of Sanctuary Woods. The latter features ruins related to the long-gone Milwaukee County Hospital for the Insane, including a gorge staircase and a somber burial ground. Follow the detailed interactive map at bit.ly/GroundsHist to learn about the history while you hike, and come before noon on weekends to meet many doggos. 

6. Bender Park Perimeter Loop


Length: 3.7 mi.
Type: Loop
Elevation Gain: 177 ft.
Cost: None

This Oak Creek gem might be better known for its boat launch and beaches, but it’s a haven for hikers, too. This trail offers a gradual climb that leads to some rewarding blufftop overlooks with fantastic views of the lake. Make a note to stop by in spring to see the apple blossoms in bloom. 

7. Kettle Moraine Northern Unit Summit Trail


Length: 1 mi.
Type: Lollipop
Elevation Gain: 173 ft.
Cost: State parks sticker 

It’s rare to hear the words “mountain” and “summit” in the description of a Wisco trail, but this hike boasts both. While Dundee Mountain is more of a hill than an alp, the trail is properly steep. The peak marks the third-highest point in the Kettle Moraine, with commensurate views. Add to the journey by listening to the audio tour available at bit.ly/SummitAudio

8. Kettle Moraine Southern Unit Scuppernong Trails


Length: 2.3-4.9 mi.
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: Varies
Cost: State parks sticker 

Choose your own adventure with these color-coordinated trails. The red loop is the shortest and gentlest, with rolling hills nestled among the pine plantation and hardwood forest. For a more technical and strenuous hike, try the orange or green loops, which are longer and steeper as they guide you deeper into the forest. 

9. Retzer Nature Center 


Length: 0.25-2.6 mi.
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: Varies
Cost: None

With paved, wheelchair-friendly paths on the center’s Discovery Trail, as well as braille signage, this is one of the most accessible, kid-friendly ways to get out in nature. Throughout the trail there are “exploration stations” that teach about animal tracks, insects, nests and more. 

10. Geneva Lake Shore Path


Length: 21 mi.
Type: Loop
Elevation Gain: 465 ft.
Cost: None

When Europeans first settled around Geneva Lake, they established that the first 20 feet of shoreline would be public land. Property owners tried to reverse that over the years, but the footpath all the way around the 5,400-acre lake has endured, allowing walkers to ogle the beachy scenery and luxe mansions along the mixed-surface route.

11. Schlitz Audubon Nature Center


Length: Up to 6 mi.
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: Up to 213 ft.
Cost: $8 adults, $5 ages 3-17, free for members

Frogs, turtles and a whole lot of birds are just some of the wildlife you’ll find at this wilderness sanctuary. Go for the trails, which loop around wetlands, restored prairies, ravines, bluffs and the Lake Michigan shoreline. Stay for the educational programming, like a chance to meet birds of prey including bald eagles, hawks and owls.

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center; Photo by Kat Schleicher

12. Bong Recreation Area Blue Trail


Length: 4.2 mi.
Type: Lollipop
Elevation Gain: 167 ft.
Cost: State parks sticker 

A boardwalk surrounded by cattails leads you to a picturesque prairie known for its abundance of wildflowers. Then, you’ll pass through a woodland before hitting the dam that impounds Wolf Lake; watch for beavers at work. 

13. Kettle Moraine Pike Lake Unit 


Length: 0.6-4.8 mi.
Type: Loop
Elevation Gain: Varies
Cost: State parks sticker 

After exploring any of the nine hiking trails in this heavily forested section of the Kettle Moraine, take a dip in the park’s namesake lake. If you’re there with kids, don’t miss the half-mile Astronomy Trail, which uses signs spaced out to scale to represent the different planets in the solar system. 

14. Aztalan State Park 


Length: 1.8 mi.
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: 101 ft.
Cost: State parks sticker 

The tranquil Crawfish River was the main water resource for a Woodland Native American town more than 1,000 years ago. The people who settled Aztalan between 1000 and 1300 built large, flat-topped pyramidal mounds and a stockade around their village; both elements have been partially reconstructed throughout the park. Pick up a map to brush up on the archaeological history as you weave through the mowed trails. 

15. Nashotah Park Trails


Length: Up to 3.3 mi.
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: Varies
Cost: Pass required, bit.ly/WaukeshaParks

Journey through a cedar glade, an oak savannah and a floating leaf marsh at one (or more) of this Waukesha County park’s nine loop trails. Keep your ears open, because this park is known for its variety of songbirds. 

16. Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area


Length: Up to 2.3 mi.
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: Varies
Cost: None

Start at the Education and Visitor Center, where you can pick up a birding checklist and get a quick lesson on the marsh’s history and inhabitants. The boardwalk will lead you to a variety of loop hikes showing off the wetland’s ecosystem. Bring your binoculars, because there are a whole lot of birds you’ll want to check off your list.

Horicon Marsh; Photo by Katie Wheeler

17. Riveredge Nature Center Red Loop Trails


Length: 3.3 mi.
Type: Loops
Elevation Gain: 147 ft.
Cost: Adults $5, ages 4-13 $2, families $15

This tranquil wildlife sanctuary is known for its efforts to restore the sturgeon population in the upper Milwaukee River, but it is also home to 10 miles of hiking trails. This loop will give you a good idea of what the grounds have to offer, with stops along the river, through the forest and more ecosystems. There’s a lot of wildlife here and more than 600 plant species to discover. 

18. Kohler-Andrae State Park Dunes Cordwalk


Length: 2 mi.
Type: Out and back
Elevation Gain: 88 ft.
Cost: State parks sticker 

The cordwalk (which is like a boardwalk, except over dry ground) stretches across the extra fine sand at this stretch of the Lake Michigan shoreline, leading to mounting, delicate dunes. Whitetail deer are often prancing in the sand. The trail passes through a white pine forest and over wetlands as well. 


And we’re not just talking temperature on these blistering July days. It’s actually trending! The number of U.S. hikers jumped 18% to almost 60 million from 2020 to 2022, according to the Outdoor Foundation nonprofit. 

A Hike I Love

19. Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve


Nick Gordon; Illustration by Sophie Yufa

Length: 2.1 mi
Type: Lollipop
Elevation Gain: 147 ft.
Cost: None

Wetlands, a cedar grove, a lakeside bluff and a 60-foot bridge over the breathtaking namesake gorge – that’s what awaits you at this 73-acre nature preserve. The trails guide you through the forests along Lake Michigan to striking vistas and end with a boardwalk over the wetlands. “On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Milwaukee skyline,” Gordon says. 

20. Harrington Beach State Park – Quarry Lake Trail


Sara Bernaski; Illustration by Sophie Yufa

Length: 1 mi.
Type: Loop
Elevation Gain: 15 ft.
Cost: State parks sticker

The trail winds through towering cedars, wraps around Quarry Lake and past a waterfall over the limestone ledges to the crystal-clear Lake Michigan below. “The trail is accessible for people with disabilities and for those looking for a flat, relatively smooth surface,” Bernaski says.


Buy a state parks vehicle admission sticker on site or online at bit.ly/WIPark Sticker. Most daily passes are $8, annual $28.

Trail Terms

Consider this your hiking 101 glossary.

  • Backcountry trail: These hikes are not marked or paved. In some cases, you will need a special permit. 
  • Backpacking: Hiking for multiple days with all of your gear (tent, food, etc.) in your pack
  • Day hike: A short hike that can be completed in a single day
  • Thru-hiking: Hiking a long-distance trail (typically 600-plus miles, like the Ice Age or Continental Divide) end-to-end in one trek
  • Section hiking: A way to approach longer hikes in smaller chunks, rather than one go
  • Loop: A trail that starts and ends in the same spot, but does not require the hiker to retrace their steps. 
  • Out-and-back: A trail that starts and ends in the same spot, requiring the hiker to retrace their steps. Typically, the turnaround point has a landmark like a waterfall or lake.
  • Lollipop: A trail that starts with an out-and-back but leads to a loop
  • Elevation gain: An important metric for calculating the difficulty of a hike, it measures the total climb in elevation (including ups and downs) along a route. Our guide’s figures are approximate and use alltrails.com as a source.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s July issue.

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Alli Watters is the digital and culture editor at Milwaukee Magazine. That means that in addition to running this website, she covers art, entertainment, style, home and more for the magazine. It also means she doesn't sleep much.