A little fresh air and exercise goes a long way during a global pandemic. We rounded up 12 hikes that are easy enough to bring the kids along, and beautiful enough to impress the whole family.
We always recommend packing sunscreen, bug spray, water, and plenty of snacks.
Don’t forget to practice social distancing and bring your mask for those times you have to be in close contact with others.
See also: “10 Nature Centers Around Milwaukee“
1. Bender Park
Photo Credit: @runforbeersteve
Park in the lot near the lake to access the easy walking trail along Lake Michigan, heading North. The trail loops back around with great views of the water. There is also a small swimming beach! Check the park map for more hiking paths.
2. Doctor’s Park
Park in the main lot by the playground, and take the path on the east side of the lot leading down to the beach. It’s all downhill and tree-covered on the way there, and you’re rewarded with beautiful rocks and driftwood at Tietjen beach.
3. Hubbard Park
Located right on the Milwaukee River and along the Oak Leaf Trail, it feels like you’re a million miles from the city.
There are lots of paved trails, and non-paved trails, and you can explore at your own difficulty level. It’s really just a nice place to relax and take in the sights and sounds of nature.
You can bike there, or park in the lot on N. Morris Blvd. and E. Menlo Blvd. From there, you’ll enter the park through a short tunnel (kids love it).
There are bathrooms near the beer garden up the path, just north of the entrance to the park.
One of the last remaining nature preserves along Lake Michigan, Kohler-Andrae State Park is a 45 minute drive from Milwaukee. It offers hikes along sandy beaches and rolling sand dunes, and through pine trees and wildlife. ⠀
The Creeping Juniper Nature Trail starts and ends at the nature center and will immerse you among the sand dunes. ⠀
Other short hikes include the Black River Marsh Boardwalk, just a quarter mile hike through wetland, and the Fishing Pond Trail, another quarter mile hike with a flat surface for strollers and plenty of resting spots. ⠀
The one-mile Woodland Dunes Nature Trail is also stroller accessible, and it starts and ends at the playground. ⠀
Check online to see if restrooms and buildings are currently open or not.
5. Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve
Photo credit: @cmcavallo
This nature preserve in Grafton is home to one of the last remaining stretches of undeveloped bluff land along the Lake Michigan shoreline. The views are stunning!
The park is 73 acres with plenty of hiking trails, boardwalks through wetlands, picnic areas, and restrooms.
The trails are relatively stroller-friendly, but you’ll have to ditch the stroller to take the stairway down to walk along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Be very careful on the trails because the cliffs and bluffs are very steep. It’s best to put babies and toddlers in a carrier.
Free social distance walking is now open at the Lynden Sculpture Garden. Visit the bright polka dotted cows grazing along the pond (“Des Vaches: Mo, Ni, Que” by Swiss artist Samuel Buri),
run around in the wide open spaces, explore magical trees the kids can hide inside of, and find frogs and turtles galore.
Remember to enjoy the sculptures with your eyes only. Don’t climb on them!
The 40 acre space makes it easy to keep a safe distance from others. The hours are 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m, and they are closed on Thursday.⠀
Mequon Nature Preserve, with over 444 acres, five miles of trails, an observation tower, and an observation platform.
There are three parking lots to start from, like a choose-your-own-adventure book. To climb the observation tower, park in the parking lot on Swan Rd. and follow the trail around Pat’s Pond.
For good wildlife watching, park near the Pieper Power Education Center, and find the Observation Platform along the Streich Family Wetlands.
8. Retzer Nature Center
Even for the littlest feet, Retzer Nature Center’s “Adventure Trail” is filled with majestic pines, picnic tables, and is very short. You can also explore “Vista Trail” where you’ll get a good view of Waukesha, and the “Nature Trail” where there are boardwalks and babbling brooks.⠀
Photo credit: @claudiomke
Park at the Urban Ecology Center and take a peek at the pond outside the entrance with a people-powered fountain. Then, discover outdoor sculptures and murals (an archway make of iron and steel, a set of sculptures called “Walk like a River” behind the UEC building, a giant concrete frog and raccoon, and a large student-made mural across from the building). Then, explore the forest and walking paths west of the footbridge. You can also play on the Habitat Playgarden with a sandbox, spider web, & otter slides. (Located at the northeast corner of Riverside Park.)
Or you can check out the huge stone archway at the entrance of the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum. (You can see the archway from the entrance of the UEC building if you look southwest.) Take a Walk of 3 Billion years, a walking path marked with rock sculptures as high as seven feel tall that tell the geological past of Wisconsin. Starting at the building, go west until you see the first cairn made of 340-million-year-old stone at the gravel drive that leads to the warehouse. Follow the winding path until you find the ninth and final stone structure that’s made from rock over 3 billion years old.
Set along the shores of Lake Michigan, the babbling brooks, lannon stone paths, foot bridges, and huge beech trees makes it feel like an enchanted forest.
The trail starts at the Covered Bridge entrance. Find it by entering off of Lake Drive. The main loop will take you down to the beach and back, and is just half a mile total. To access it, find the stairway to the left of the Covered Bridge entrance, and take the stairs down.
11. Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
Mystery Lake at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is turtle and toad paradise!⠀It’s a short hike from the Nature Center, but bring a map because it can be tricky to find your first time. Schlitz Audubon Nature Center is now taking trail reservations on their website.
Yep, this waterfall is right here in Milwaukee County. You’ll find it at Wehr Nature Center in Franklin. Take the Lake Loop, which runs along the shoreline of Mallard Lake and right to this waterfall into the Root River.
You can also explore the short and flat “Family Friendly Trail” which will take you through beautiful woodlands. You’ll see lots of birds, and you may even come face to face with a wild turkey.⠀