Discover the 6 Best National Parks in Wisconsin

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Updated: May 28, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/scgerding
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Wisconsin is home to four of the top national parks in the country. The wildlands they protect are home to various animal and plant life. Many of these parks are near the great lakes found in the state and protect the natural shorelines. When visiting Wisconsin national parks, you may encounter several vole species, black bears, red squirrels, deer, and badgers.

According to an Ecosphere special feature entitled “Science for Our National Parks’ Second Century,” many of these lands were originally shaped by major windfalls and great fires. As settlers established themselves, mining, agriculture, and logging once again shaped the land.

1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Animals on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore include the red squirrel, short-tailed shrew, common shrew, and common deer.

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 Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Size69,372 acres
Animal to seeRed-backed voles
Attraction to seeLake Superior

The boundaries surrounding the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore extend approximately 1/4 mile into Lake Superior from the outskirts of the islands, and the shoreline of the mainland. While the Apostle Islands can only be reached through some form of water transportation since there are no roads or vehicle access to any of the 21 islands that reside within this National Lakeshore, 

There are numerous ways to gain access to the islands. Many choose to kayak or boat. However, there are also commercial services, such as water taxis and boat tours. Many visitors spend time in the water once they arrive, as recreational opportunities are plentiful around the islands. Visitors can fish, swim, boat, and paddleboard in the crystal-clear waters while taking in the views of the islands all around them.

Wildlife on the islands is both diverse and plentiful. The most common small mammal species one can find on the islands would be the red-backed vole. Other easily spotted animals on the islands include the red squirrel, short-tailed shrew, common shrew, white-footed mouse, and common deer. You may even spot a black bear or two swimming through the waters as you enter the islands.

2. Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Ice Age National Scenic Trail is home to American red squirrel, porcupine, white-tailed deer, red fox, black bear, and grey wolf.

thegreatluna8713/Shutterstock.com

Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Size1200 miles
Animal to seeAmerican Red Squirrel
Attraction to seeIce Age National Scientific Reserve

What we know today as the “Ice Age” happened in the United States nearly 15,000 years ago. The Ice Age was a period when much of the continent of North America was entirely covered by glacier ice. This was when mammoths, cave lions, and sabertooth cats roamed freely.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail, established in 1980, provides some of the most notable evidence of this time. Many river valleys, rolling hills, ridges, and lakes make up the land surrounding the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin. The trail takes up approximately 870 acres and stretches across 1200 miles of land, beginning at Potawatomi State Park and ending at Interstate State Park.

The geologically unique terrain of the Ice Age national scenic trail makes it culturally unique and visually stunning. This trail provides views of the glacial features in Wisconsin that exhibit sites of the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve. 

When visiting the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve, numerous species of mammals can be seen along the outskirts of the trail. These animals may include the American red squirrel, porcupine, white-tailed deer, red fox, black bear, and grey wolf.

3. North Country National Scenic Trail

The North Country National Scenic Trail is one of the most popular hiking and backpacking trails in the country.

Raccoon posse / Creative Commons – License

North Country National Scenic Trail
Size4,800 miles
Animal to seeBadger
Attraction to seePattison State Parks

The hills and valleys of the North Country national scenic trail showcase remnants of glaciers from 10,000 years ago. When trekking the North Country in Wisconsin, take in the shores and lakes of clear, flowing water, open prairies, and distant golden horizons that paint the land. 

The North Country National Scenic Trail is one of the most popular hiking and backpacking trails in the country. It stretches for more than 4,800 miles through eight states, beginning in Lake Sakakawea State Park in North Dakota and ending in the Appalachian Trail in Vermont. The trail passes through multiple counties and 220 miles of Wisconsin land.

The trail passes directly through Pattison State Park, which features the highest waterfalls in Wisconsin and the fourth highest east of the Rocky Mountains. The waterfall known as Big Manitou Falls is 165 feet high and can be viewed by those who wish to hike through the park. Standing at 1400 acres, Pattison State Park features a lake with a beach, a nature center, scenic trails, and camping for those who wish to stay the night.

The wildlife found on the North Country National Scenic Trail is diverse and populous. When trekking the trail, you are likely to see an abundance of badgers, coyotes, otters, elks, white-tailed deer, and perhaps even a bear or cougar along the way.

4. Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway offers over 200 miles of crystal-clear, clean water that flows through the forested landscape of Wisconsin.

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Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Size92,738 acres
Animal to seeWhite-tailed deer
Attraction to seeFairy Falls Day Use Area

What do you get when you take the Namekagon and Saint Croix rivers and put them together? The Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. The riverway offers over 200 miles of crystal-clear, clean water that flows through the forested landscape of Wisconsin. Many travelers passing through choose to boat, fish, and paddleboard along this beautiful and lush riverway. Those who choose to spend extra time in the water may be interested in traveling through the ranger-recommended stretches of the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers.

A 54-acre natural landmass located in Stillwater Township is known as the Fairy Falls Day Use Area. This land boasts deep ravines and steep bluffs surrounding Silver Creek and passes through marshland to the Saint Croix River. While this area has become deteriorated and is often dangerous to trek, the park is in the process of implementing opportunities for improving public safety and protecting the natural environment and stability of the land. Currently, there are multiple public projects focused on preserving the Fairy Falls Day Use Area for future use.

Those who choose to visit the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway are likely to come across various wildlife such as white-tailed deer, coyotes, beavers, and otters. Occasionally, some individuals in the park have also had run-ins with the mountain lions or black bears that wander through the park at certain times of the year.

5. High Cliff State Park

High Cliff State Park is located near Lake Winnebago, offering water recreation as well.

iStock.com/Ryan Musser

 High Cliff State Park
Size1,187 acres
Animal to seePorcupine
Attraction to seeLake Winnebago

High Cliff State Park covers over one thousand acres of Wisconsin land. It’s full of recreation opportunities the entire family can enjoy, and multiple chances to run into native wildlife. It’s located near Lake Winnebago, offering water recreation as well. You can fish, canoe, kayak, and more when visiting the park. You may run into beavers, deer, badgers, or porcupines.

6. Buckhorn State Park

Buckhorn State Park Wisconsin
Buckhorn State Park covers 6,990 acres of land.

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 Buckhorn State Park
Size6,990 acres
Animal to seeWolf
Attraction to seeCastle Rock Reservoir

Another popular state park in Wisconsin is Buckhorn State Park. It protects over six thousand acres of land and is home to dozens of native wildlife species. You might run into grey wolves, otters, porcupines, or beavers while adventuring through the region. It sits on a peninsula located on the Castle Rock Reservoir.

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