Hiking in the Great Lakes area provides beauty, serenity, a and challenge. Because you aren’t dealing with mountain peaks and confined to trails, you could literally be hiking over the entire terrain of the area which can be quite challenging. The elements can be unpredictable, especially if you go in the spring or fall, but the rewards are immense. Some of the most underrated hikes are in the Great Lakes and particularly in Wisconsin.
Grab a backpack, a good map, some hiking boots, and your favorite hat, and hit the trails. You have lots to choose from. I did not even include Door County hiking on this list, which is great in it’s own right.
Here are five of what we consider to be the finest hikes in all of Wisconsin. We tried to vary it a bit and include hikes ranging from overnight trails to backcountry to hikes that the whole family can handle in an afternoon.
Devil’s Lake East Bluff Trail
This 4.5 mile trail is located in Devil’s State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin, an area in the Southwest / South Central part of the state that is surprisingly rugged and hilly. Devil’s Lake Park has some of the best hiking (about 30 miles of trails) in all of Wisconsin, but this particular trail is thought to be one of the most difficult and one of the most rewarding.
On this particular hike, you will pass two of the most famous rock formations in Devil’s Park – the Devil’s Doorway and the Balanced Rock – as you navigate your way to the peak on the five hundred foot tall bluff that provides you with a bird’s eye view of the lake below. Rock climbing is popular at Devil’s Lake, one of the premier rock destinations in this part of the country.
You will also get see the Elephant Cave while you are hiking the trail and you will get to enjoy the miniature forest on the bedrock glade. The trees there are shorter than the one that surround the little forest and the scenic beauty of this little hide-away is unfathomable. Plan to pause and have a picnic or take some good pictures in this area.
You just might want to carry a cheap pair of ice cleats with you if you go hiking the east trail in the early spring, late fall, or winter. While the beautiful purple rock known as the ‘Baraboo Quartzite’ is pretty, it is also extremely slippery. When there is a little bit of ice or even a sprinkling of water on those rocks, they become quite treacherous. We also like a pair of leather gloves, just in case you find yourself scrambling on rocks.
Rock Island State Park
Door County, Wisconsin, is the home to many wonderful towns, views, and hiking trails, but one of the most memorable hikes is the trail that takes you to the Pottawatomie Light, the oldest light station in Wisconsin. Catch it on a clear day and the views from several vistas will be outstanding.
This 6 mile hike leads you to the restored lighthouse and once you are there, volunteers will give you a guided tour free of charge.
From this trail you can also see St. Martin Island and are within walking distance of one of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the county. These beaches are usually not very crowded and this makes the trail a perfect place to go for a hike with your significant other.
In order to get to the Pottawatomie Light trail, you have to cross Death’s Door at Northport in the Milwaukee area, which is located at the tip of the Door County Peninsula. You will board the Washington Island ferry to the Rock Island ferry landing and then board the Rock Island ferry which will take you to Rock Island.
This hike is not difficult and can be managed by both young and old. The experienced hiker will find the trail to be a walk in the park, but the beauty of the area and the serenity of the sandy beaches will ensure the hike is enjoyable for anyone.
The North Country National Scenic Trail
The Wisconsin section of this hiking trail is 209 miles long and extends through Bayfield County, Douglas County, Ashland County, and Iron County. The entire trail is close to 4,000 miles in length and crisscrosses seven of the northern states.
Crossing the western border of Wisconsin at Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park, it takes you across large tracks of northern forests and provides you with magnificent views of natural scenic beauty such as the Saint Croix River and the infamous Brule River.
As you continue along, the trail also goes through the quaint town of Mellen and then traverses the high ridges of the scenic forest along the edges of the Bad River located in the Copper Falls State Park region. The leg that goes through the Chequamegon forest is a highlight, and as you venture further east, the hike becomes more strenuous. As you approach Lake Superior, it can be rugged, with rock outcroppings and many streams and waterfalls. Take it all in, but be prepared with a way to filter water and perhaps bring some waterproof hiking boots for fording shallow streams.
Timm’s Hill Trail
Timm’s Hill Trail is situated in the middle of Wisconsin near the small town of Ogema. It makes the connection between Timm’s Hill and the Ice Age Trail. This one is ten miles long and in that distance you will cross bucolic meadows, marshes and thick forests. You could say that this trail offers a little bit of every kind of natural beauty to take in. It is comprised of grass and hard packed dirt and is considered to be moderately difficult to traverse, so a beginning hiker may find the trail a bit tough.
The peak of Timm’s Hill Trail is only 1,951 feet high, but it is the highest point in the state of Wisconsin. The spectacular view will make you think you are at the top of the world. In addition, you should climb up into one of the observation towers to get the full impact of the beauty surrounding you. There is a newer tower that is almost fifty feet high with easy to climb steps and there also is an older tower that is made of steel (it is an old radio tower) that is seventy-two feet high. You ascend to the top of this tower via a ladder on the side. For your climbing safety, a vertical cable stops every twenty feet so that you can tie a climbing harness off.
You should also be on the lookout for bald eagles because they are plentiful in this area, and at this height you will get to see them in close proximity as they soar through the skies in all their majestic glory.
Hidden Lakes Trail
No Wisconsin hiking bucket list can be complete without a trip to the Hidden Lakes Trail. This is a 13 mile trail that starts at the halfway mark of the Franklin Nature Trail which is located in the Franklin Lake Campground. The nearest town is Eagle River, but while you are on the hike, you will pass Butternut Lake and the Luna-White Deer Campground.
Along the way there are several small lakes and beautiful stands of old Hemlock trees.
You can opt to stay at one of the many campsites that have been established along the trail (our preference, if you want to carry-in a small tent), but you also are able to set camp up on the shores of any of the beautiful little lakes if you wish.
The Hidden Lake Trail is absolutely nature at its finest. This is an enjoyable hike for people who are looking for an easy trail, but it’s great for the more experienced hiker as well.