Roche-A-Cris State Park. (Photo via Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)
Roche-A-Cris State Park. (Photo via Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

These off-the-beaten path state parks offer unique, eye-catching nature views and even a historic lead-shot tower.

Summer is slowly waning, so now is the time to go outdoors, get some exercise, and take in what nature has to offer. While some of Wisconsin’s more popular state parks, like Devil’s Lake, tend to get all the love, here are some hidden gems across the state. 

Natural Bridge State Park

Visitors to Natural Bridge State Park in Sauk County can see a stunning creation of wind and water erosion: Wisconsin’s largest natural sandstone arch, standing at 25 feet wide and 15 feet high, with the top of the bridge reaching 35 feet off the ground. At the base of the sandstone bridge is a rock shelter 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep once used by Paleo-indians between 9,000 and 8,000 B.C.E.

Natural Bridge State Park. (Photo via Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Roche-A-Cris State Park

Roche-A-Cris, which means “screaming rock” in French, is also the name of the park’s famous 300-foot high outcropping. Located just north of Friendship, Wisconsin, hikers can take a stairway to the top of Roche-A-Cris to take in the spectacular views and see Native American petroglyphs and pictographs carved into its cliffs.

Tower Hill State Park

This park is a fun recommendation for history buffs. Tower Hill State Park, just southeast of Spring Green, hosts a restored shot tower and melting house where visitors can learn how lead shot was made in the 1800s. The park is also known for its challenging trails and panoramic views. 

Tower Hill State Park. (Photo via Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Nelson Dewey State Park

Another one for history lovers! Nelson Dewey State Park features the home of Wisconsin’s first governor, Nelson Dewey ,as well as the Stonefield Historic Site, a re-creation of life in a 19th century agricultural community. Stonefield has been closed due to COVID-19 but is scheduled to re-open in August. The park also has Indian mounds on site and offers spectacular views of the Mississippi River, which it overlooks from 500-foot bluffs.

Newport State Park

Calling all stargazers! Newport State Park’s location near the end of the Door County peninsula received International Dark Sky park status due to its remarkably dark skies, making it an ideal destination on starry nights. The park also has a completely accessible trail, called the Fern Trail, where visitors are guided with engaging panels that can also be accessed through a Discovery Pen for those who are visually impaired. 

Newport State Park. (Photo via Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Brule River State Forest

Those who want to really go up north, the Brule River State Forest near Iron River is about as “up north” as you can get. Famous for its fishing, the Brule River is home to brook, brown, and rainbow trout, as well as Coho and Chinook salmon. The river is also famous for its two personalities; upstream it’s a slow-moving bog fed by numerous springs, but once it crosses the Copper Range, the river falls 328 feet in the 18 miles it takes to get to Lake Superior.

Brule River State Forest. (Photo via Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)