An Epic Family Adventure Visiting Wisconsin State Parks

For those of us who live in Wisconsin, we understand that for 5-6 months out of the year it’s cold, snowy and dreary and when you add three little people under the age of 8 to this mix, it can make for a very long winter. What started out as a whim to get our kids outside because we were going stir crazy, has changed the way we view weekends and has led to one of our greatest family adventures to date, hiking all 46 of the Wisconsin State Parks.

On one of those cold weekend mornings in 2017, we were desperate to get everyone out of the house, so we pulled out a local map and randomly selected a close State Park that we could visit. We had gone camping in the past and weren’t total strangers to the outdoors so with low expectations we headed to our first state park Natural Bridge State Park. What we discovered that day was 1) Kids are going to get dirty, 2) Problem solving as a family could be fun when figuring out new things like hiking trails, bathroom locations, etc. but most importantly, 3) Being outside gives you a new perspective and relieves a lot of stress.

After piling three dirty kids into the mini-van and hearing no bickering, complaining, fighting, we decided to make a goal to hike every State Park in Wisconsin. That night with a large glass of wine and the resources that I had on Wisconsin State Parks, I started mapping out every state park on the map and threw caution to the wind, taped it up in our kitchen. That was more than a year ago and today we’ve completed 23 of the 46 Wisconsin State Parks.

Top Ten Things to Remember when Hiking Wisconsin State Parks

  1. Use the Pocket Ranger App to figure out what park is closest to you and take a picture of the trail you are planning to hike or grab a map from the information station. Cell reception can be spotty in some areas so it’s nice to have a visual of where you’re heading.
  2. Get your kids comfortable with going to the bathroom outside.
  3. Check out the Nature Center. Every State Park’s Nature Center is slightly different, which makes it exciting and a mandatory stop at every park.
  4. Bring a first aid kit, water and snacks even if you’re hiking in the winter.
  5. Become familiar with ticks. How to avoid them and how to remove them.
  6. Plan for hikes based on the tone of the day. On some days a .25-mile hike is all that can be accomplished and other times 2-3 miles seems like a breeze.
  7. Don’t be afraid to hike in the winter. The State Parks are empty allowing your family to discover beautiful ice sculptures, peaceful snowy vistas and frozen lakes without excess noise from cars or other people.
  8. Be prepared to want to give up just getting everyone in the car and ready for a hike. It can be exhausting thinking about what everyone may need out on a hike without our normal creature comforts. Keep a big plastic bin filled with extra towels, extra clothes, shoes, sunscreen, etc. and be prepared to make adjustments.
  9. If you have the time and resources, finish the hike eating at a local restaurant. This has been a great way for us to re-cap the day, help local business and fill up hungry bellies.
  10. Relish in the moment when you get back into your car and you realize you didn’t think about work or other stressors in your life, but you did see your child succeed in crossing a river on a log, or climbing a rocky boulder. In the end it’s all worth it.
Jackie was born in a suburb of Chicago and has lived in NYC, Maine and other states before meeting her husband who convinced her to visit and eventually move to Madison. As a "geriatric mother" who was told she could never have children due to past medical complications, her first pregnancy was uneventful, which led to two more healthy pregnancies despite all odds. While trying to balance working full-time and traveling for a large non-profit, she’s working on what to view as priority and what to let go when it comes to a healthy marriage and raising three kids. When she's not packing/unpacking suitcases and scheduling doctor appointments from airport terminals, she can be found de-compressing at the dog park with her golden retriever puppy or relaxing while trying a local brew with her husband. Her travel adventures can be found on twitter (@jackiethurnau) or on Instagram (jackieanderson5).



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