Where can you walk across 1.1-billion year-old rock, see a waterfall as tall as Niagara, or stroll along a romantic beach…all within an hour or so drive of one another?

Try Northwest Wisconsin. Now before you dismiss Wisconsin as nothing but dairy farms and foam cheesehead factories, the state actually offers backpackers and day hikers alike a number of great trails to enjoy. Here are some of my favorite Wisconsin hikes which are detailed in my new book.

Two major national park units sit in Northwest Wisconsin. The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway follows more than 250 miles of the St. Croix River and a tributary, offering trails that trace historic portages, cross ancient river gorges, and parallel Class I trout streams. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore boasts sea caves, primitive camping experiences on remote islands, and gorgeous sunsets over the world’s largest body of freshwater, Lake Superior.

Three must-do trails in Northwest Wisconsin include:

  • Doughboys’ Nature Trail – The Copper Falls State Park trail features multiple waterfalls and rapids over lava rock at the confluence of two rivers. Granite boulders left here by ice age glaciers, after dragging them down from Canada, dot the 1.7-mile loop trail. A plethora of hardwoods – aspen, basswood, hemlock, ironwood, paper birch, red oak, red pine, sugar maple, white pine, and yellow birch – cover the park, making for impressive autumn walks.
  • Morgan Falls-St. Peters Dome Trail – In the Chequamegon National Forest, this 3.6-mile round trip hike leads first to an 80-foot waterfall and then an impressive vista on St. Peters Dome with views 20 miles around. The dome is a massive hunk of red granite that began to form underground some 1.2 billion years ago and since has been exposed. A number of rare ferns also can be found along the trail.
  • Summit Trail – The short hike at Wisconsin Interstate State Park near St. Croix Falls offers fantastic views of the Dalles of the St. Croix gorge, carved by glacial floodwaters during the last ice age. The gorge consists of basalt laid there 500 million years before dinosaurs walked the planet and neat rock formations, including the Old Man of the Dalles. Adjoining short trails lead to deep potholes that the swirling floods literally drilled out of solid rock.
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Bay View Trail follows the Lake Superior shoreline in Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands.

Honorable mention goes to two trails:

  • Bay View Trail – Taking the trail along with a beach boardwalk and a self-guided interpretive trail afford hikers a 5-mile round trip on Madeline Island, providing great views of Lake Superior, which is blue during the day and fire red at sunset. A ferry boat runs from Bayfield to the island.
  • Big Manitou Falls Overlooks Trail – While the trail in Pattison State Park is a standard walk through the woods, it helps set up the spectacular sight at the destination: a 168-foot waterfall. Though not as wide, it is as tall as Niagara Falls and the fourth highest east of the Rocky Mountains.


For those wishing to take backpacking excursions, look into these trails:

  • Gandy Dancer Trail – Several old railroad beds have been converted to hiking trails in the state, including this 98-mile route running from the pristine St. Croix River to Lake Superior
  • Ice Age National Scenic Trail – The 1200-mile trail roughly parallels what once the southern edge of the glacier covering much of the state some eight millennia ago.
  • North Country National Scenic Trail – The longest continuous section of the seven-state trail runs through northern Wisconsin, including over the remnants of an ancient mountain range that once stood as tall as the Alps.
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Summit Trail in Wisconsin Interstate State Park offers views of the Dalles of the St. Croix river gorge that cuts through 1.1-billion-year-old basalt.

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