4 Beautiful Wisconsin National Parks to Visit

Published:
May 20, 2024

Sarah Shelton

Contributor:
Sarah Shelton

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Wisconsin is home to 2 beautiful national park sites and 2 national trails. These Wisconsin National Parks are full of outdoor recreation areas and home to many national treasures that you will want to see with your family.

wisconsin national park showing a rock cave called the "garage" with water in front and trees above
The “Garage”, Apostle National Lakeshore, Credit: NPS

Wisconsin National Parks to Visit

Wisconsin isn’t just known for its cheese! If you are planning a visit to Wisconsin you will be blown away by how beautiful this state is. When it is not snowing and freezing cold, there are some beautiful places to explore with your family.

The National Parks and National Trails in Wisconsin are absolutely stunning and full of natural wonders. They are a must visit for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. You can even visit many of these in the winter months if you are brave enough to bear the extreme temperatures.

Scroll down to the bottom of this post to grab a field trip journal pack from our store. This field trip journal is a great thing to bring with you when you visit one of the national parks. 

National Parks in Wisconsin

There are two officially designated national park sites in Wisconsin: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway.

1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – This is the most famous National Park in the state of Wisconsin. The Apostle Islands is a large coastal park located in Lake Superior on the northeastern tip of the Bayfield Peninsula in Northern Wisconsin.

This Great Lake has freezing cold temperatures, heavy fog and rough waters. Many visitors only come to the park in the summer months as it is too cold and dangerous along the water to get to the islands. There are 21 islands and shoreline areas to explore.

History of the park

These islands have a history that goes back to the Ojibwe people also known as the Chippewa who lived on the land and Lake Superior.

  • 17th Century – In the 17th century, European explorers and fur traders began showing up to trade furs with the Ojibwe.
  • The Lighthouse Act of 1789 – This provided government funds for the construction of lighthouses due to the dangerous dangerous waters and multiple shipwrecks. Many of theses historic lighthouses still stand today.
  • 19th Century – In the 19th century, timber was harvested from the dense forests and it was full of logging and commercial activities.
  • 20th Century – Logging declined and tourism and recreational opportunities drew many visitors here.
  • September 26, 1970 – The Apostle Islands became a National Lakeshore to be protected by the government and to be enjoyed by the public.

Things To Do

This park is open year-round, though it can be a challenge to visit it in the extreme cold winter months when everything is frozen over.

  • The best time of year to visit is in the summer when everything is easily accessible.
  • Take a kayak or canoe to explore the geological formation of the famous sandstone sea caves.
  • Visit the ice caves (if they are open). They are breathtaking, but depending on the weather they may not be accessible.
  • Take a chartered boat or ferry for outdoor activities like bike riding and hiking on the many hiking trails.
  • There are scenic boat tours around the many different islands which will give you some amazing views of the rocky shoreline.
  • Visit the historic lighthouses. (There are nine of them!)
  • There are 2 visitor centers to visit
  • Go fishing by shore or boat.
  • Camping – There are campsites that come with picnic tables, fire rings and food resistant lockers for black bears. There is even primitive camping sites for those that want to brave the wilderness areas.
  • Rock Climbing and backcountry hiking to the scenic overlooks.

If you are not able to visit this national park in person, there are some amazing virtual tours that you can take from the comfort of your home.

Visit the Park Virtually – Join park rangers on a virtual hike at Julian Bay and visit the oldest lighthouse on the island: Raspberry Island Lighthouse.

2. St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway – This is the largest scenic river way located east of the Mississippi River. It is full of forests, deep gorges and rock formations with a picturesque landscape. It is completely free for your family to visit and there are no entrance fees.

History of the Park

The St. Croix River has evidence of human occupation from over 10,000 years ago. There are Historic American Indian archeological sites and remains of logging camps when from the European people that came to trade furs along the rivers.

In the 1960s, a group of citizens and conservationists formed the St. Croix River Association to push legislation to protect the river.

On October 2, 1968 the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was established as a unit of the National Park Service.

Things to Do

  • Paddle along the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers in over 200 miles of clean, fresh water.
  • It is a great place to fish in a kayak, canoe, or boat on the edge of the scenic rivers.
  • HIking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Geocaching
  • Join park rangers for fun ranger led programs in various locations throughout this national park.
  • Hike along the two rivers and stop for lunch at the many picnic areas available.
  • Take scenic drives throughout the park to see the rivers and the landscape.
  • If you are adventurous, your family may enjoy the primitive camping that is available along the shorelines.

National Affiliated Scenic Trails in Wisconsin

There are two national scenic trails in Wisconsin that are managed by the National Park Service. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail and North Country Scenic Trail are considered National Park Sites since they are managed by the NPS.

horseshoe lake shows looking through a couple of trees to the lake and trees with fall colors surrounding it
Horseshoe Lake, Credit: NPS

3. Ice Age National Scenic Trail

lce Age National Scenic Trail – This is a 1,200 mile long hiking trail that runs through: Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. The trail winds through many different types of landscapes that were sculptured by ancient glaciers of the Ice Age period.

History of the trail

During the Ice Age, much of North America lay underneath a huge glacier. Evidence of this glacier is found right here in Wisconsin on the the Ice Age Trail!

  • 1958 – Led by a group of conservationists wanting to preserve the terminal moraines left over the the Ice Age glacier, they rallied the Wisconsin Legislature to pass the Ice Age Trail Law. This helped to map out, plan and build the trail.
  • 1980 – The Ice Age National Scenic Trail was designated as a unit of the National Park Service protecting and preserving the land the trail runs through.

Things To Do

Visit the Ice Age Trail website. There are interactive maps, hiking challenges to join, and a page for Kids Activities and Games.

You can download a digital scavenger hunt and games and activities for hiking group leaders. You can even checkout a hiking backpack from a local library outfitted specifically for your trail hike!

Other fun things to do at this scenic trail:

  • Hiking and backpacking
  • Cross country skiing
  • Snowshoeing in the winter
  • Horseback riding on the trails
  • Mountain biking
  • Geocaching
  • Wildlife viewing and bird watching
  • Volunteering – You can volunteer to clean, maintain and repair parts of the trail on volunteer work days and group events.
  • Visit the interpretive centers to learn about the the glacial history and geology of Wisconsin that are located along the trail.

4. North Country National Scenic Trail

North Country National Scenic Trail – This trail runs through 8 states in the United States: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin. It runs 4,600 miles from New York to North Dakota.

This trail passes through many historic sites, towns, forts and battlefields from the American Revolution. It travels through many national and state parks as well.

In Wisconsin, the trail goes through forests, prairies, and wetlands, offering hikers a chance to explore the state’s natural beauty through various landscapes. It is known as one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world!

History

On October 2, 1968, President Johnson signed into law the National Trails System Act. This act helped to create 8 scenic trails in the United States.

On March 5, 1980 The North Country National Scenic Trail was authorized and added to the National Trails System.

The trail is still currently under development, and new sections are being added and connected to this day.

Things to Do

  • Hiking – There is day hiking or multi day backpacking and camping that you can do along the trail.
  • Wild life viewing and bird watching
  • Fishing near lakes, rivers and streams.
  • Trail running
  • Geocaching
  • Nature Study
  • Photography

Fun Learning Resources

The fun and learning doesn’t have to stop after your visit. We found a few resources to expand the learning, create family fun time and have you prepared for an easy souvenir anytime you explore a national park:

National Parks Map Poster with over 700 USA sites – Explore more parks and other fascinating destinations with this map. Use it as an education tool and mark where you’ve been with the easy tracker feature.

Trekking the National Parks Board Game – Grab this award-winning family game to remember the trip, explore other parks or decide which one to visit next.

National Park Water Bottle with Stickers – Are your kids always asking for a souvenir everywhere you visit? This water bottle will allow them to stay hydrated on the trips plus the stickers can be the souvenir they want.

Field Trip Journal Pack – And finally, grab this notebooking pack from our store to have your children journal and draw their favorite memories from visit. Then simply add it to their school year portfolio pack.

More FIeld Trip and Fun Activities

Homeschooling should be more than school at home. If you’re looking for more field trip ideas and fun activities to add to your lessons or get away from the desk then check out these options to spark your imagination:

More Field Trips
Movie Ideas
Fun Coloring Pages

Product Image

Field Trip Journal Pack

Turn your fun field trips into school portfolio work with this 14 page notebooking pack. Go explore, have fun & know they’re learning!

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