Kadish Park, Skyline Music Series

6 Milwaukee Parks with the Best Prospects

Prospects are high points that offer expansive views. Universally valued, they long served as lookouts for protecting turf.

Renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted favored prospects so much that he would create them in landscapes if they did not occur naturally (and he considered Prospect Park in Brooklyn his best work).

Hilly Milwaukee offers many prospects. There are more of them within local parks than one could easily count. Nonetheless, a few stand out.

Juneau Park

East of Prospect Avenue from Mason Street to Juneau Avenue in Downtown Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s earliest designed park features stunning lakefront views from a high bluff, including of iconic landmarks most visible from the south end. Another breath-taking vista is from a plaza with a monumental bronze sculpture of Solomon Juneau, a Milwaukee founder and its first mayor. Juneau Park Friends now hosts “Poetry in the Park” at that hallowed site on second Tuesdays from June to September.  The season ends September 12 and features one-act plays produced by Renaissance Theater Works’ “Brink” program.

This view of Lake Michigan frames a distant breakwater, often accented by white-sailed boats, and can be enjoyed from benches and picnic tables.

Juneau Park, overlooking Lake Michigan harbor; courtesy of Sandy Duffy, Juneau Park Friends
Poetry in the Park, Juneau Park
“Poetry in the Park” event at Juneau Park, 2017; photo courtesy of Sandy Duffy, Juneau Park Friends

O’Donnell Park

Bordered by Wisconsin Avenue, Prospect Avenue, Mason Street, Lincoln Memorial Drive and Michigan Avenue in Downtown Milwaukee

Dating to 1870, Juneau Park originally extended further south — to what is now the North Garden Plaza of O’Donnell Park. (Ultimately, the entire lakefront, including Juneau, was reshaped by lake in-filling, which staved off bluff erosion and created more parkland.) O’Donnell’s 360-degree panoramic vistas showcase the lakefront, Downtown’s skyline, Mark Di Suvero’s bright-orange “The Calling” sculpture and Santiago Calatrava’s soaring addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), which is accessible by a bridge. Seating in the well-shaded upper garden offers more intimate views, including of the Eero Saarinen-designed War Memorial.

photo courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks

MAM is poised to assume stewardship of O’Donnell Park and its structures for Milwaukee County. One welcome prospect of this arrangement would be to transform an erratically-open restaurant in the public pavilion at the corner of Wisconsin and Prospect into an affordable café with all-day service. An appealing gathering place there could help East Wisconsin Avenue come alive in all seasons and make the most of incomparable vistas from the pavilion and park.

Kadish Park

Bordering North and Reservoir avenues, Bremen Street and the Oak Leaf Trail, and near Booth Street, in Riverwest

A performance stage was recently nestled into a hillside in this city-owned park that boasts phenomenal views of Downtown and the Milwaukee River. The nonprofit Children’s Outing Association (COA) hosts the free summertime Skyline Music Series on Tuesday nights, which draw big crowds for high-energy bands. It’s a glorious place to watch the effects of changing light at dusk.

Photo courtesy of COA
Skyline Music Series in Kadish Park

Three Bridges Park

Just east of Miller Park, roughly between the 35th and 27th Street Viaducts and along the southern bank of the Menomonee River

This four-year-old park was created by the Urban Ecology Center and Menomonee Valley Partners on 24 acres of an abandoned railyard owned by the City of Milwaukee. Former brownfields were mounded with soil and transformed with swaths of native plants.

View of Downtown Milwaukee from Three Bridges Park in the Menomonee Valley

This linear park provides two miles of biking and walking trails and river access for fishing and canoeing. One bridge connects through Mitchell Park (on Layton Boulevard) and overlooks the Menomonee Valley. One can be accessed from Canal Street or at 37th and Pierce Streets (next to the Urban Ecology Center). The third bridge is at 33rd Street, just off Roundhouse Road.

Cortesy of Urban Ecology Center
View of the Menomonee River within Three Bridges Park

The Hank Aaron State Trail, which links Milwaukee’s lakefront to Waukesha County, intersects the park. Walkers and cyclists can enjoy varied prospects along the way, including of the Menomonee River. These reclaimed greenways highlight Milwaukee’s ongoing regeneration.

The Hank Aaron State Trail passes through Three Bridges Park in the Menomonee Valley
Trails within Three Bridges Park

Lake Park

Bordered by Wahl Avenue, Lake Drive, North Avenue, Kenwood Boulevard and Lincoln Memorial Drive on Milwaukee’s East Side

Olmsted himself chose Lake Park as one of three Milwaukee sites he would design in 1892 — in part because of its spectacular vantage points of Lake Michigan. Of course, trees planted to help stabilize its bluffs have since closed in once-open views.

Lake Park view of Lake Michigan, courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks
Lake Michigan in winter, viewed from a bluff in Lake Park; photo courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks

Three key areas offer expansive vistas: from the Grand Staircase beneath the park’s pavilion (which houses Lake Park Bistro, a high-end French restaurant); from the Lion Bridges south of the pavilion, which also also provide views of the ravines below; and a stretch south of the bridges along Wahl Avenue. The last includes abundant benches.

Photo courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks
Lion Bridge in Lake Park; photo courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks
Photo courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks
Lake Park, view of Lake Michigan from a bluff; photo courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks

Grant Park

Bordered by College Avenue, Lake Drive and Hawthorn Avenue, with the Oak Creek Parkway and Oak Leaf Trail traversing the park in South Milwaukee

This Milwaukee County park also overlooks Lake Michigan, but its legendary attraction is a journey with ever-changing wooded vistas along the Seven Bridges Trail. Rugged natural ravines lead to a sandy beach; you can see where you’re heading as well as well as where you’ve already traveled. It’s easy to lose count of the bridges, and the total has actually swelled to ten over time. The 381-acre park was built by Depression-era work-relief crews and epitomizes rustic design motifs that characterize Milwaukee County’s park system.

Grant Park’s Seven Bridges Trail. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks
Courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks
View of Lake Michigan from Grant Park’s Seven Bridges Trail; photo courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks