Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trekking the 414: Best Places to Hike in Milwaukee

Twice this month I've had friends of mine text me asking for my recommendations on where to go hiking around Milwaukee. MKE is home to glorious custard, loud motorcycles, the world's largest music festival Summerfest, tons of rich unique history and some phenomenal places to get outdoors. Places to escape into nature all within the grand Milwaukee County border. From a swarm of 136 excellent county parks, to nature preserves, a stunning tiny state forest and a state park right on the lakefront- they're all in the 414 and easy to get to. The Mil' has one of the most-awarded metropolitan park systems. Our parks have won an impressive portfolio of honors from best urban and freshwater beach (cough, Bradford) to even recognition for butterfly conservation efforts. We should be very proud of the this.

READ: 13 Easy Places to Go Camping Near Milwaukee

So here are five of my favorite go-to spots around Milwaukee when I'm craving some outdoor adventure. Of course, make sure to enjoy a Lakefront IPA or butter burger from Solly's after dirtying up those hiking boots.

1. Havenwoods State Forest
I blogged about this place a few months back and praised it. And gosh it constantly will continue to be praised because it's the best hidden secret of Milwaukee. Located off of Silver Spring Drive it's just minutes from I-43, Bayshore Mall and the North Shore suburbs. I love, love, love, love Havenwoods. It's beautiful everywhere you look, there are miles of hiking easy hiking trails that take you through woods and wide-open prairie fields, a small creek and a nature center. What's special about this tiny state forest, is that it's like a pure nature oasis in the middle of the urban, bustling city. We're also so  lucky to have a place like Havenwoods State Forest with such close proximity to the greater Milwaukee area. It's also free to enter and explore! If you haven't been you need to go hike hiking here.

2. Doctor's Park
Here's a county park I frequent often. Seconds away from neighboring Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is Doctor's Park. This 49 acre park is well-maintained (special thanks to an active friends group who constantly improve the park) and the perfect close-by destination for those living in Milwaukee's north shore 'burbs. Once you arrive, take a walk down the hill through a gorgeous, shaded tree-filled ravine to get to the nice sandy beach. A fun hike to do starts from the main parking lot and heads east along the edges of the big, main fields. You can easily spend half-an-hour wandering along the tree lines of the upper bluffs of this park. Keep your eyes peeled for a few paths that lead down to the lake. Ultimate fans rejoice, this is an ideal park to play Frisbee in. Access to Doctor's Park is free, check it out! Dr. Joseph Schneider, gifted the park to the City of Milwaukee in 1928 with this intent: "To my fellow citizens for recreation purposes." Spot-on, doc, spot-on.

3. Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is my top go-to spot to get my wanderlust on. This 185 acre preserve has what I think, the best hiking in Milwaukee county. It's hard to find words that describe my appreciation for this place. Growing up five-minutes away in the village of Bayside, my family would go here literally every weekend for hours and on Friday nights we'd all head to the visitor center to learn about animals and hear legendary naturalist David Stokes dress up as a bat and sing on his acoustic guitar and tell stories. Fairly confident I still have one of his cassette tapes. That's a throwback, thanks Dave. Needless to say,  I owe a ton to the SANC for introducing me to my never-diminishing passion for the outdoors. This place is so important to me. I honestly don't think I'd be working in the outdoor recreation industry today had it not been for my past and continued exposure to this place. Daily admission is $5-$8 to explore some of the 4.21 miles worth of trails that wind through protected forest, beach front along Lake Michigan, prairies, meadows, ponds, marshes, and deep ravines. A visit isn't complete without a stop at their impressive visitor center to see interpretive exhibits or attend one of the frequent Raptor Programs where you get the chance to learn and see up-close, hawks, owls, falcons, Loki the crow and maybe even an eagle!

4. Big Bay Park
Looking for an easy, quick escape from the daily buzz? This county park is it. Head to suburb of Whitefish Bay, minutes north of downtown Milwaukee. Tiny yes, but 8.7 acre Big Bay Park rewards you with some pretty stellar views of the many bays along Lake Michigan that make up northern Milwaukee county. Up top you've got some nice open grass to hang out on but the real fun is down below. Take a walk down the paved path to a small, quiet beach or have a perfect picnic on the bluffs. You can also wander out on to the stone blocks that extend about 30-40ft out into the water if you're brave and the waves aren't too wild! Sunsets here are surprisingly pleasant and you'll snag a glimpse at some cool colors. I'd also recommend catching the sunrise here on an early summer morning with a cup of strong, Colectivo or Fiddleheads coffee from just down the road. That's a solid way to start the day.

5. Lakeshore State Park
Guess what? They're actually a state park right in downtown Milwaukee. There are a few hiking trails, spots to fish, short grass prairies, launches for kayaks and canoes along with a few  slips to dock your boat.  Paved trails also allow for skating and biking and it's super easy to connec to both the Oak Leaf Trail that rides north through the county as well as the Hank Aaron State Trail that goes west. Lakeshore is a sweet place to kick-back, soak-in  the Milwaukee skyline and enjoy Lake Michigan. It's a free state park and just seconds from the Summerfest grounds and the magnificent Milwaukee Art Museum


[Updated 1/27/2017]