Port Washington Harbor Walk

Port Washington Lighthouse and Breakwater


The picturesque maritime city of Port Washington is nestled between its north and south bluffs at the mouth of Sauk Creek. Framed in view by a 19th-century main street, the Gothic bell tower and spire of St. Mary's Catholic Church rises over the city. A few blocks east of this postcard scene keelboats and yachts are berthed in the deepwater slips of Port Washington Marina awaiting the sunrise over Great Lake Michigan.

The central feature of Port Washington, its Lake Michigan harbor, is a series of parks, marinas, and breakwaters that are today predominantly used for recreation. Interconnected public walkways stretching from South Beach to North Beach bring walkers through every part of this historic harbor on a journey spanning 3-miles linear (6-miles out-and-back).

Along this route, walkers will encounter South Beach, an estuary and wildlife preserve, the new Coal Dock Park, Sauk Creek, Rotary Park, the historic inner harbor, the marina, the north pier breakwater and pierhead lighthouse, Veterans Memorial Park, and the North Beach. 

Hiking Trails at Governor Dodge State Park


dirt footpath over stream from historic stone spring house

Set into the dramatic hills of Southwest Wisconsin's driftless area, Governor Dodge is among the state's most popular state parks. On hot summer weekends, the parking lots at each of its two beach areas are frequently overflowing. Governor Dodge offers family camping at two campgrounds, a group camp, six backpacking sites, eleven horse camping sites, two lakes, two beaches, a waterfall, cave, and 40+ miles of networked trails for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing ... all on 5350 acres of parkland.

Hiking trails at Governor Dodge run the gamut of scenic offerings, difficulty, and length. There seem to be innumerable iterations of loop options available as almost all of the trails are interconnected into a vast network. Two-day backpacking trips are also possible to assemble from these interconnected trails with the added bonus that almost any trip plan can be configured into a loop route.

In this article, I'll provide an overview of a few of the key day hikes and provide a recommendation for a full day hike and an overnight backpacking route.  

Walking the Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton WI


Pheasant Branch Conservancy Middleton WI
Pheasant Branch Conservancy Middleton WI

The Pheasant Branch Conservancy is a 550-acre green oasis in Middleton Wisconsin. Dane County Parks manages 160 acres in a partnership with the Wisconsin DNR while the city of Middleton manages the remaining acreage. The combined area serves to protect a vital wetland and watershed for the Pheasant Branch Creek and springs that store and supply water feeding into Lake Mendota and the chain of Madison's four lakes.

Six total miles of multi-use trails ring the conservancy property and are popular for walking, jogging, and biking. The mainline trail is a 3-mile loop that is paved with asphalt, crushed stone, and extensive boardwalks. Across Century Ave from the Conservancy, the trails connect to the Pheasant Branch Bike Trail which heads out past Middleton High School and connects to the 11-mile long US Highway 12 bike trail which runs alongside the highway towards Waunakee.

Devil's Lake Hiking Trails

Looking towards Lake Wisconsin from the East Bluff Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

Devil's Lake State Park was recently ranked the #5 best state park in the United States by USA Today. It draws 3 million visitors annually, more than all but the top 4 national parks. There are many things to do at this recreational hub including camping, swimming, boating, scuba diving, rock climbing, and mountain biking ... but hiking is the top activity at Devil's Lake.

Some of the best and most challenging hiking trails in Wisconsin and the Midwest are at Devil's Lake. In the post below you'll find a directory and summary of each trail along with a link to articles with more details and images of the trails. So, let the challenge begin, can you hike all of them?

Steinke Basin Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

Hiking through the Steinke Basin at Devil's Lake State Park


The Steinke Basin Trail is 2.6-mile easy hiking loop. It covers ground through open prairie, hardwood forest, and through a pine plantation. This easy loop trail is family friendly and is accessed from the Steinke Basin parking lot on County Road DL. Steinke Basin is a multi-use trail that is popular year-round with hikers, mountain bikers, and cross-country skiers.

Johnson Moraine Loop Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

Johnson Moraine at Devil's Lake State Park


The Johnson Moraine Trail is a 3.5-mile easy loop trail at Devil's Lake State Park. It crosses through the Ice Age Campground and can be accessed from the Steinke Basin Parking Lot. Portions of this trail are multi-use and are used for mountain biking, hiking, and cross-country skiing. A portion of the Johnson Moraine Trail is also a leg of the Devil's Lake Segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. 

Upland Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

Hiking along the Upland Trail at Devil's Lake State Park


The Upland Trail at Devil's Lake is a wide multi-use trail that runs 2.8-miles between the Steinke Basin parking lot and East Woods Trail. This trail is very easy, flat, and shaded. It is popular with hikers, trail runners, bikers, and cross-country skiers. Portions of the Upland Trail are part of the Devil's Lake Segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

CCC Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

CCC Trail at Devil's Lake State Park


The CCC Trail at Devil's Lake is a brief and difficult climb on the South Face of the East Bluff. It begins at the CCC parking lot or can be reached from the South Shore via the Grottos Trail. It is used by rock climbers to access some of Devil's Lake State Park's best climbing locations and where climbing lessons take place. The CCC trail connects directly to the East Bluff Trail and Upland Trail at a three-way intersection. 

Potholes Trail at Devil's Lake State Park


Potholes Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

The Potholes Trail is a difficult vertical climb in the talus slope on the South Face of the East Bluff at Devil's Lake State Park. This brief .3-mile trail connects between the Grottos Trail and the East Bluff Trail near Devil's Doorway. Along the route, you will encounter many rock features including glacial potholes. This is one of the best trails at Devil's Lake and one I highly recommend.

Roznos Meadow Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

Roznos Meadow at Devil's Lake State Park

One of Devil's Lake State Park's best hiking trails and least well known is the Roznos Meadow Trail. This 2.5-mile easy to moderate linear footpath covers gentle terrain of natural prairies before ascending the East Bluff to meet the Upland Trail. The Roznos Meadow trail is also a part of the Ice Age Trail Devil's Lake Segment. It is most often reached from a trailhead off Highway 113.


Devil's Doorway Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

Devil's Doorway Rock Formation at Devil's Lake State Park


Devil's Doorway is the most recognized rock feature in Wisconsin. This feature is reached via a short moderate-level footpath that loops off the East Bluff Trail on the South Face. The trail is short, but reaching the Devil's Doorway Trail requires hiking up the East Bluff from one of the difficult trails or taking a long hike on the easier Uplands Trail.

Grottos and Group Camp Trails at Devil's Lake State Park

Grottos Trail at Devil's Lake State Park


The Grottos Trail connects the Devil's Lake South Shore to trailheads for the Balanced Rock, Potholes, and CCC trails. It is a very easy two-track woodland route that crosses through the Devil's Lake Oak Forest State Natural Area. Connected to the Grottos Trail is the Group Camp Trail which routes to the Group Camp and CCC parking area. Combined these two trails add up to a 1 1/2 mile loop trail.

East Bluff Woods Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

Stream along the Devil's Lake East Bluff Woodlands Trail


The East Bluff Woods Trail is a network of access roads and hiking trails on the East Bluff of Devil's Lake State Park. The network of spurs and linear footpaths adds up to 3-miles total. From the North Shore, the East Bluff Woods Trail rises 500ft over 1.5 miles to meet up with the Balanced Rock and East Bluff trails. This trail also connects to the Devil's Doorway, Potholes, and Upland Woods trails.

Balanced Rock Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

Devils Lake Balanced Rock Trail


Balanced Rock has become an enduring symbol of Devil's Lake State Park. It is a piece of the East Bluff that cracked off, tumbled, and landed just-so on another rock so as to be balanced on a pedestal.

The Balanced Rock feature can be found on the Balanced Rock Trail - a difficult mountaineering rated climb through a talus slope from the South Shore. This brief .4-mile trail is among the most difficult hiking trail climbs in the State of Wisconsin - and is also one of the state's most popular trails.

The length of the Balance Rock Trail is certified as a portion of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail - Devil's Lake Segment.

Tumbled Rocks Trail at Devil's Lake State Park

Tumbled Rocks Trail
Tumbled Rocks Trail

The Tumbled Rocks Trail is Devil's Lake's most popular trail. It is an easy 1.6-mile linear trail that cuts through a boulder field (or talus slope) along the shoreline of Devil's Lake. This trail is paved in asphalt and makes a great excursion for everyone in the family.

Walking Governor's Island in Madison WI

Governor's Island in Madison Wisconsin
Governor's Island in Madison Wisconsin

Governor's Island is a 60-acre green space in Madison's Lake Mendota. A 3/4 mile easy and paved walking path circumnavigates the island. The Island is reached via a man-made land bridge from Mendota Mental Health Institute on Madison's north side. This space is a popular fishing and kayaking location. It's one of Madison's hidden gems.

Hiking Morton Forest County Park

Morton Forest County Park in Mazomanie WI
Morton Forest County Park in Mazomanie WI

Morton Forest is a Dane County Park featuring approximately 4 miles of networked hiking trails. The terrain is steep and hilly and trails take hikers to hilltops with broad views of driftless area valleys.

Governor Nelson State Park Hiking Trails

Picnic Area at Governor Nelson State Park
Picnic Area at Governor Nelson State Park

Across Lake Mendota, the State Capitol rises above the thriving city of Madison. Governor Nelson State Park inhabits the quiet northwestern side of the lake. The park's main draw is its beach, but the park also offers an 8-mile network of walking trails through woodlands and restored prairies. These wide trails are perhaps most popular in winter when they become groomed cross-country ski trails. In other months, these hiking trails combine to offer easy family-accessible hiking and trail running. 

Hiking the Spring Green Preserve


prickly pear cactus is native to Wisconsin and grows at the Spring Green Preserve
prickly pear cactus is native to Wisconsin and grows at the Spring Green Preserve

Belying the name Spring Green, the Spring Green Preserve and State Natural Area is a rare slice of arid desert ecosystem in southwest Wisconsin. Indeed, the prickly pear cactus, three awn grass, lizards, snakes, and shifting sand dunes are native to this sandy prairie with a southern exposure.

A 1.6-mile hiking trail cuts through this sundrenched prairie and then into shaded black oak barrens as the trail climbs a massive bluff. The trail is an ambitious climb for hikers of better-than-moderate athletic fitness, but the beginning of the trail, where the prickly pear cactus communities are found, is accessible to hikers of all fitness. The round trip mileage on this out-n-back is 3.2 miles. 

Hiking the Ice Age Trail Straight River Segment

Ice Age Trail Straight Lake Segment
Ice Age Trail Straight Lake Segment


The Straight River Trail is an easy 3.3-mile linear segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Much of the trail crosses private properties. The trail route includes scenic vistas of Long Lake and the Straight River. There is a disperse campsite available for distance hikers on Long Lake and one on Rainbow Lake at the parking area off 95th street. This trail connects directly to the Pine Lake Segment and via 1/4 mile of road walking to the Straight Lake Segment.