A little fresh air and exercise goes a long way, especially this time of year. Fall hiking is a peaceful and colorful experience that will delight the senses.
We rounded up 17 autumn hiking destinations with trails easy enough to bring the kids along, and beautiful enough to impress the whole family. We always recommend looking at a trail map before you head out.
1. Bender Park
4503 E. Ryan Rd.
Oak Creek, WI 53154
To access this hidden gem, head east on Ryan Road and don’t stop until you reach Lake Michigan. Park in the lot near the lake to access the easy walking trail that follows the shore, heading north. The trail loops back around with great views of the water.
During warmer months, check out the small swimming beach and walkable pier. Check the park map for more hiking paths.
2. Doctors Park
1870 E. Fox Ln.
Fox Point, WI 53217
The northern counterpart to Bender Park is Doctors Park. Located on the border of Fox Point and Bayside, it consists of 49 acres on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.
Park in the main lot by the playground, and take the path on the east side of the lot. It’s all downhill and tree-covered on the way down to Tietjen Beach, and you’re rewarded with beautiful rocks and driftwood on the secluded shore.
Turn your visit into a day trip by stopping by the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center next door.
6141 N. Hopkins St.
Milwaukee, WI 53209
Located right in the middle of the city, Havenwoods is huge, clocking in at 237 acres. This makes it a great place not only for hiking, but also for biking.
Don’t miss the gardens and arboretum just north of the Nature Center and parking lot. For little kids and short attention spans, this might be all you accomplish while you’re there! There’s plenty of space to wander around through forests, prairie, and wetland. The 120-foot bridge is less than half a mile from the Nature Center, heading west.
1130 N. 60th St.
Milwaukee, WI 53208
Hawthorn Glen is near the border of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, and it offers the perfect length loop for little legs. There are postings along the way so you can learn about the history and wildlife around you. There are stairs to climb at the back of the property for a good view, and a fun hill for the kids to roll down. There’s also a small playground and sandbox.
5. Hubbard Park
3565 N. Morris Blvd.
Shorewood, WI 53211
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 paved and non-paved trails, and you can explore at your own difficulty level.
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.
1020 Beach Park Ln.
Sheboygan, WI 53081
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, through pine trees and wildlife. ⠀
The Creeping Juniper Nature Trail starts and ends at the nature center; it 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 (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. ⠀
7. Lake Park
2975 N. Lake Park Rd.
Milwaukee, WI 53211
Truly beautiful in any season, the paved winding paths of historic Lake Park will bring you gorgeous lake vistas, rocky ravines, impressive statues, and the charming North Point Lighthouse. And it’s all tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Milwaukee lakefront.
500 N. Harbor Dr.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Lakeshore State Park is an urban oasis located in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, adjacent to the Summerfest Grounds and Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin. In addition to the paved paths, there is a small beach and a link to the Hank Aaron State Trail. The park is 22 acres!
Families with young kids will love the accessible paved paths, and you’ll all enjoy the unobstructed views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline.
You’ll walk among short-grass prairie, flowering plants like butterfly weed, purple coneflower and native grasses. If you linger near the rocky shores, you may see some snapping and painted turtles or bullfrogs laying out in the sun.
W329 N846 County Rd C
Delafield, WI 53018
While the observation tower remains closed at this Delafield destination, there’s still plenty of wildlife to see, and lots of kid-friendly hiking options.
We recommend Plantation Path, a one-mile, blacktopped, accessible trail through a prairie and wooded area. The Butterfly Garden, the crown jewel of Lapham Peak State Park, is located just east of this path. Check the map before you go!
An annual park sticker is required.
511 High Bluff Dr.
Grafton, WI 53024
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.
NOTE: 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.
2145 W. Brown Deer Rd.
Milwaukee, WI 53217
The Lynden Sculpture Garden offers a collection of more than 50 monumental sculptures sited across 40 acres of park, lake and woodland. Free social distance walking is now available.
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 and hide inside magical trees, and find frogs and turtles galore. Remember to enjoy the sculptures with your eyes only. Don’t climb on them!
The Sculpture Garden is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed on Thursdays).⠀
8200 W. County Line Rd.
Mequon, WI 53097
Mequon Nature Preserve rests on over 444 acres, and it offers five miles of trails, an observation tower, and an observation platform.
There are three parking lots to start from; it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book. To climb the observation tower, park in the parking lot on Swan Road 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.
S14 W28167 Madison St.
Waukesha, WI 53188
Even for the littlest feet, Retzer Nature Center’s “Adventure Trail” is filled with majestic pines and picnic tables, and it’s 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.⠀
From mid-September through the end of October, you can enjoy a fun, self-guided walk around Scarecrow Lane. Scarecrows made by nature center visits are put on display on the Blue Trail, which you’ll find on the west end of the Learning Center building, near the Children’s Garden, with a loop to the Retzer pond (woodchipped trails with some sloped terrain).
1500 E. Riverside Pl.
Milwaukee, WI 53211
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 made 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.)
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.) An arboretum can be defined as a “living museum of trees,” and this one is home to 70 trees indigenous to southeastern Wisconsin.
Take the Walk of 3 Billion Years, a walking path marked with rock sculptures as high as 7 feet 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.
100 Hawthorne Ave.
South Milwaukee, WI 53172
Set along the shores of Lake Michigan, the babbling brooks, Lannon stone paths, foot bridges, and huge beech trees make this hiking location 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 it’s only a half-mile. To access it, find the stairway to the left of the Covered Bridge entrance, and take the stairs down.
1111 E. Brown Deer Rd.
Bayside, WI 53217
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.
The center offers a variety of guided hikes throughout the year. This autumn, don’t miss the Family Fall Colors Hike on Oct. 9. Best suited for children ages 5-8, this program allows families to explore the forests and prairies, climb the 60-foot observation tower, and play some games while they learn why leaves change colors, how plants and animals prepare for winter, and why plants need to move their seeds!
Note: Masks are optional when you’re outdoors, but they’re required inside the Visitor Center and Nature Preschool.
9701 W. College Ave.
Franklin, WI 53132
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.
Explore over five miles of nature trails through woodland, wetland, prairie and oak savanna on 220 acres of protected land in Whitnall Park.
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.⠀
Just outside the Visitor Center, you’ll discover labeled gardens featuring prairie, woodland and other plant varieties; a natural play space for kids with a log cabin playhouse; and an accessible deck over Mallard Lake.
Wehr Nature Center is also featured in “10 Nature Centers Around Milwaukee“.
Note: Masks are required inside the Visitor Center.