5 Wisconsin State Park System Hidden Gem Properties

Kortnee Hass

September 22, 2021

Whether you’re a Wisconsinite or joining us from out of state, here are five state parks that you need to add to your Wisconsin bucket list. Find yourself experiencing the Wisconsin outdoors in every corner of the state; each found in a different region, these five parks showcase some of Wisconsin’s best features, from waterfalls to bluffs to crystal-clear lakes and more. Enjoy a variety of recreational activities with options to be enjoyed year-round. Take a look at these five state parks and let us know which you’ll be heading to next time you’re in town.

Governor Thompson State Park

Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR

Lace up your hiking boots and grab your swimsuit because Governor Thompson State Park has something for the whole family. From hiking to biking and all the way to fishing, the over 2,800 acres of wooded area at the park provides a niche for all activities. With over a dozen hiking trails winding throughout the park, you might have a hard time choosing just one! Thankfully you can enjoy them year-round by throwing on your skis and grabbing your poles in the winter months as well. There’s nearly 20 miles of trails found within the park, including six miles of shoreline on the Caldron Falls Flowage. Take a bike ride on the Nighthawk trail if you want a view of the flowage, maybe take the long way around with a scenic hike on the Forest View trail if you want to see all the park has to offer. If the falls entice you to get your feet wet, you’ll find the Peshtigo River adjacent to the park, perfect spot for fly-fishing or canoeing. Or if you have a family member who’d rather set up a chair and relax in the sun, there’s a space for that, too, with a wonderful picnic and beach area on Woods Lake. So load up the car and navigate to Crivitz because there’s a spot for everyone at Governor Thompson State Park. 

Point Beach State Forest

Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR

Take a trip to Two Rivers, WI and trek along one of the many hiking trails located in Point Beach State Forest, including an 8-mile section of the famous Ice Age Trail that runs through the park. Whether you’re on foot, skis, snowshoes, bike, horseback or snowmobile, there’s a trail for all preferences: find the trail that’s right for you by checking out the Point Beach State Forest trail map. But don’t forget your State Trail Pass as it is required for many of these alternative travel methods. Too many trails you want to try and not enough hours in the day? Make it a weekend adventure! Reserve a campsite for your solo trip or experience the outdoors as a family with an option that suits your style: reserve one of the two large group rustic cabins near the lake or rough it in a tent at one of the large group campsites. And don’t worry about leaving your dog alone for the weekend, bring them along and treat them to one of the designated pet beach areas just south of the campgrounds! If you’re looking for a scenic spot to commemorate this weekend adventure with a great photo, take a short walk along the shore just south of the pet beach to the Rawley Point Lighthouse. This Instagrammable lighthouse is one of the largest and brightest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, as well as a stunning photo op. 

Hartman Creek

Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR

Link up with some friends and head over to the Chain O’ Lakes in Waupaca, WI for a scenic paddle at Hartman Creek State Park. Launch your kayak or canoe from the boat landing off Knight Lane on Manomin Lake and paddle your way into the crystal-clear waters of Marl Lake. These beautiful blue-green waters will leave you breathless and wondering how you never knew about this peaceful Wisconsin gem. If you’re looking for a different way to enjoy a quiet afternoon on the water, try your hand at fishing by checking out basic fishing equipment free of charge at the park office, available for people of all ages. While you’re at the office, make sure to visit the historic Hellestad House located just south of the office near the parking lot on Allen Lake. You can also enjoy the park by horseback! The park’s bridle trails are only a few years old and offer nearly 7 miles of scenic trail through forest, prairie and along Allen Creek. Whichever way you choose to enjoy Hartman Creek State Park, you’ll find yourself planning a trip back as soon as you drive away.  

Wyalusing State Park

Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR

If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, look no further. Wyalusing State Park is situated on the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers meaning visitors have the option to camp along 500-foot bluffs, canoe the rivers and/or hike along the extensive trails showcasing unique land features, like the Little and Big Sand Caves. With a variety of trail types, there is something for every type of hiker. The Sugar Maple Nature Trail is a self-guided plant ecology trail that ends at the Pictured Rock Cave waterfall. For the experienced skier, Turkey Hollow Trail offers a challenging hilly route during the winter months. Wyalusing is one of the oldest state parks in Wisconsin, and provides a variety of nature markers along the Sentinel Ridge Loop describing the history of the area. This loop is accessible to those using wheelchairs and other mobility devices and features a stunning view of the Mississippi River. No matter what kind of hiker you are, you’ll find a hike that matches your style. Make sure to send a friendly wave across the Mississippi River to your Minnesotan friends just across the state border. 

Pattison State Park

Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR

Bask in the glory of Wisconsin’s tallest waterfall and the fourth highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains at Pattison State Park. Big Manitou Falls is 165 feet high and twin Little Manitou Falls is 31 feet high. Both of these waterfalls are just a short half-mile hike from their trailhead, so you can tackle both must-see spots in one day. Or you could take the extra time to soak in the stunning geology of Big Manitou Falls with a self-guided geology walk. For some of the best views, follow the hiking trails that wind along the Black Forest River, which feeds both of the park’s waterfalls. This is a great location for overnight trips with over 60 different campsites varying from regular family campsites, to electric hookups and even a few backpacking sites. This 1,400-acre park also offers a lake with a beach, and spectacular fall color to make it the perfect fall trip for the whole family to enjoy.

If any of these state parks just made it onto your Wisconsin bucket list, get yourself a Wisconsin State Park System vehicle admission sticker right now and wield it like your ticket to adventure! Every time you hop in your vehicle you’ll be reminded of past adventures and you’ll be ready for the next. Been to all of these already? Visit the Find A Park page to locate the right park for your next trip or find an available campsite for your next weekend off! Which park stood out to you the most? Let us know in the comments!

Kylie Compe: Digital Content Specialist for Discover Mediaworks. A true born and bred Wisconsinite with a never ending thirst for adventure and craft beer.

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