Instead of having a single famous park that draws in residents from around town, Milwaukee has more than 150 gorgeous parks sprinkled across the entire city.
Many of these spaces are easy to get to on foot, by bicycle or public transit, and they offer everything from playgrounds and skating rinks to beaches and beer gardens. Here are the best parks to stop by on your visit to Milwaukee.
Bordering the shores of Lake Michigan in the suburb of South Milwaukee, Grant Park might be within the city of Milwaukee – and only a 10-minute drive from the airport – but it feels like you’re in a forest. Sure, the park has the usual picnic tables, playgrounds and soccer fields (plus an 18-hole golf course), but the most unique aspect of the park is its sheer number of trees. The Seven Bridges Trail winds along bubbling brooks, past waterfalls and through forest so dense that you’ll forget you’re still in the city. The park’s beach isn’t too shabby either, with clear water, well-maintained volleyball courts, and a burger and shake concession stand during the summer.
Established in 1889, Lake Park is a waterfront wonder made up of meadow-like open areas, winding wooded paths and stunning views of Lake Michigan. Runners, walkers and cyclists will appreciate that several branches of Milwaukee’s Oak Leaf Trail network run along and through the park, which is conveniently located between downtown and the East Side, two neighborhoods with lots of attractions and fantastic dining. The park also encompasses Bradford Beach, one of the city’s most popular beaches, and it has a softball diamond, a soccer field, tennis courts and a native plant garden.
Schlitz Audubon Center
Only a 20-minute drive north of downtown is a green space so wild and verdant that you’ll be surprised to learn you’re still in Milwaukee County. The Schlitz Audubon Center, a conservation-focused organization, has half a dozen miles of trails and boardwalks through forest, wetlands and prairies, and along the Lake Michigan shoreline, some of which are wheelchair-accessible. Check the event calendar for upcoming art or meditation classes or naturalist-led talks about birds of prey in the center’s Raptor Program.
South Shore Park
Located in the trendy neighborhood of Bay View, South Shore Park is one of Milwaukee’s most popular parks. Not only does it host one of the best farmers’ markets in the city (every Saturday from June through October), but it’s also walking distance from a handful of excellent restaurants, coffee shops and specialty markets, making it a great place for a grab-and-go picnic. Another great dining option is the South Shore Terrace kitchen and beer garden, where you can dine at the picnic tables on the large patio overlooking the shores of Lake Michigan.
Henry Maier Festival Park
Though most parks conjure up images of trees, flowers and green grass, Henry Maier Festival Park is more of a concrete and metal park with a smattering of trees for good measure. This waterfront park is the home of Summerfest, the world’s largest outdoor music festival, and some of the biggest concerts and food festivals in Wisconsin. The grounds also host large ethnic and cultural festivals nearly every week in summer and fall, including Irish Fest, German Fest, Mexican Fiesta, Polish Fest, Pride Fest and Black Arts Fest.
With the distinction of being the oldest park in the Milwaukee County Parks system, Mitchell Park offers all the allures of your average park plus a whole lot more. In addition to the trees, ponds and picnic tables associated with most green spaces, Mitchell Park is also home of the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, better known as “The Domes,” a living museum made of three massive glass domes that feature plants and animals from different climates.
From the northwest section of the park, you can walk or bike along a pedestrian path to the adjacent Three Bridges Park. There, you’ll find the beginning of the Hank Aaron State Trail pedestrian path, where you can stroll or bike along wildflowers and native plant gardens.
Cathedral Square Park
Smack dab in the middle of downtown, Cathedral Square Park is one of the best parks in the city for festivals, concerts and family-fun activities. Some of the park’s signature events are Jazz in the Park (held throughout the summer), Bastille Days (every July), a Haunted Historical walking tour (September and October) and the Made in Milwaukee festival (early September) to celebrate all things local. The park also hosts a Saturday farmers’ market from June through September.
Boerner Botanical Gardens
From rose gardens to rock gardens and everything in between, Boerner Botanical Gardens is the perfect place to picnic on the lawn, relax in a gazebo with a book or stroll through an urban bog. The grounds are open year round, and each season offers its own unique appeal. Whether it’s spring wildflowers, summer roses, fall foliage or winter wonderlands, Boerner is one of the best places in the city for photography, be it serious nature shots or goofy selfies in front of the koi pond. Be sure to check its events page to learn about upcoming guided nature walks, craft classes and outdoor concerts.
In Milwaukee, few experiences top enjoying a cold beer in a stunning landscape, and Hubbard Park provides just that. The park borders the Milwaukee River and is accessible by car or via the Oak Leaf Trail pedestrian and bicycle path. Grab a seat at a riverfront picnic table or reserve a private cabana at the beer garden for a truly Wisconsin experience.
Red Arrow Park
While this small downtown park is open and accessible year round, the best time to visit Red Arrow Park is in winter. Holiday lights and decorations go up immediately after Thanksgiving and the skating rink gets into full swing. Pack warm beverages and food to picnic in the park or grab a hot chocolate or coffee at the on-site Starbucks.
You might also like:
Midwest travel ideas: 8 under-the-radar destinations to visit in America’s Heartland
300 miles of beer, brats and cheese: a Wisconsin culinary tour
The best ballpark food around the US