YOU DON’T NEED TO TRAVEL far to get a full-on nature experience. Whether you’re looking for a family outing or a solo challenge, we’ve got the destination that will suit your needs, all within an hour’s drive from Downtown MKE.
This stand-alone section of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, just east of Hartford, has trails ranging from easy nature paths up to a combined 4.3-mile loop of the entire park. There’s a playground and boardwalk near the lake’s swimming area. Climb the observation tower for a sweeping view all the way to Holy Hill. Hike a short stretch of the Ice Age Trail or follow the Astronomy Trail, which gives perspective on the distances between planets.
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With gorgeous vistas of Lake Michigan, this oft-overlooked park near Grafton packs a lot of beauty into a small area. To hike the entire park puts 2.2 miles behind your boots, and along the way you’ll trek the top of the lakeside bluff, wind through a cedar grove, cross the namesake gorge on a 60-foot bridge, and descend stairs to the beach where the gorge creek trickles into Lake Michigan. A wetlands viewing platform is a bonus.
Geneva Lake has long drawn the well-heeled for resorts and summer homes, but those same views can be yours along a 21-mile lakeside footpath. A 7-mile segment departing from the public beach in the town of Lake Geneva takes you through flower gardens and hidden copses in the backyards of some of the finest homes, including the 1888 Queen Anne-style Black Point Estate, open to the public.
Much of the rustic Ice Age Trail seems miles from civilization. This segment begins just west of the intersection of county roads Q and E north of Hartland, and heads south on a rolling trail over forested moraines in the Charles Schurz Forest. The second half descends to the marshy banks of the Oconomowoc River. One-way with a shuttle, this is 3.4 miles to Merton; double that for an out-and-back.
Named for Milwaukee lawyer and “father of the Ice Age Trail” Raymond Zillmer, this trail system offers a lot of rise and fall within the Kettle Moraine State Forest’s Northern Unit and includes a couple scenic overlooks and even a water-filled kettle. The 5.4-mile Yellow Loop, the largest of three, circles the entire park. As an alternative to the trailhead, you can start from a spur trail in the parking lot of the Ice Age Visitor Center northwest of Campbellsport.
Many trails – not all – allow leashed dogs, but this Waukesha County park set aside 18 of its 444 acres as an enclosed, off-leash dog exercise area divided into large- and small-breed sections. A dog watering station is also available. Snap that leash back on, and you and your pup have access to nine loop trails through field, forest and wetland, the longest 3.3 miles.