Saturday, August 1, 2015

Milwaukee's Best Parks

I'm often asked where the best parks in Milwaukee are located, and it's a tough question because usually I think it's wherever I've been most recently...and we spend a great deal of time in the parks.  I found this list compiled by USA Today, and it has a lot of good suggestions, but definitely not put together by someone who lives here.  Milwaukee's A List had some parks I like, but many are not even in Milwaukee.

Since 2015 is more than half way gone, I decided to make the tough decisions and list a dozen parks I think you definitely should go to this year.  Call it your Milwaukee parks bucket list. In order to make the list, they had to be located within the county limits and have multiple activities available. If you manage to visit every one, you'll sample the best of what our parks have to offer and leave with a good idea of why I love calling Milwaukee home.  You can enjoy this city so much on so little money.  I've included links to maps but you should get a Milwaukee county parks map with an Oak Leaf Discovery Tour passport to fully see the parks system and find your way around.  You can get these at the Park People website.

So here they are in no particular order.  Feel free to tell me which park is your favorite in the comments.  You may not agree with me, and that's OK. I love hearing about what you enjoy in the parks.


Atwater- This Shorewood park used to be somewhat of a secret, because the beach area is below street level and you can't see it unless you're on foot or biking on the trail.  During summer there are lifeguards. There's a new accessible ship themed playground for kids in the upper park and some large interesting play structures for people of all ages at the lower beach. Funding has been approved for an extended boardwalk in the future.  This is a great place to watch the sun rise. There's a ramp to the bottom but for fitness enthusiasts, take the stairs.

Klode- Located along the beach at Whitefish Bay, this park has play structures and sand in the area next to the tennis courts.  Closer to the beach, there are steps or a ramp that take you down to a small swimming area.  This park is a favorite for photographers because of the large white rocks off shore.  Like to practice skipping rocks?  This is the place for you. In winter ice formations from the wave action line up on the shore, and you can climb or slide on them.

Estabrook- A county park with a beer garden at the top of the river.  You can listen to authentic German music while you eat a pretzel larger than your head. Trails for biking (the Oak Leaf trail) and walking (Milwaukee River Parkway) can be accessed here. It has a skateboard park, soccer fields, baseball diamond, and lots of green space for picnics. You can play disc golf if you bring your own discs.  Fish in the river or at the lagoon. In spring you'll find trillium and a magnitude of migrating birds.  In fall, the colors of the trees are stunning, and you can watch salmon jumping up river.

Lake- a historic park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same man who did New York's Central Park. This is a favorite spot for weddings because of the gorgeous white steps facing the lake. There's a small golf course, a lighthouse, waterfall, the last remaining burial mound in the area, and lions'  bridges which are said to be haunted. This is another park on the Oak Leaf Trail system. You can enjoy a summer concert, play tennis, or watch the kids at the play area.  In winter put on your ice skates and take a few spins around the rink. Eat brunch at Lake Park Bistro and then walk through the park to enjoy the views and people watching. There's a very active friends group you can connect with for yoga, birdwatching, and many other activities.

Whitnall- This is a HUGE piece of park land that has wooded areas, as well as grassy knolls. You'll find Wehr Nature Center and Boerner Botanical Garden within its boundaries.  Golfers enjoy the course during summer, while the golf concession area opens for winter sports like cross country ski rental.  There's a nice sledding hill not too far from where the Door County Sled dogs like to give rides during snowy weather. Hike along the trails to see migrating birds, owls, wild flowers, and find a waterfall.

Humboldt- a favorite place for outdoor concerts, festivals, and movies because of the large band shell. You'll find food trucks here on summer nights and a lovely beer garden complete with horse shoes. This is one of the six original parks in Milwaukee, so you'll find mature groves of trees and a lagoon with waterfowl and fishing.  There are playgrounds and a wading pool for the kiddies.

Bradford Beach- Considered the main swimming beach in downtown Milwaukee, this area has lifeguards and volleyball, along with a large concession. Lots of money goes towards keeping birds away and cleaning the sand so that you have a positive experience. Rent a kayak, stand up paddle board, or just play in the water. North Point Custard is just next door so you can find a juicy hamburger and cheese curds when you need your Wisconsin foodie fix. Walk a bit further south and you'll find a large workout gym area.  This park connects to the other lakefront parks by a concrete path.  During winter, you can join the January 1 polar bear plunge here or enjoy the ice canoes formed by wave action. Definitely a good place for people who enjoy sunrises.

Grant- This is another very large park that really has a lot going on.  You can golf, disc golf, hike the trails with lots of natural vegetation, enjoy the views from the bluffs or hike through Seven Bridges ravine to get beach access.  You'll find a beach concession with swimming, tennis courts, and several playgrounds. Beautiful any time of the year, this is a favorite with everyone who has ever visited.

Veterans- Perhaps one of the loveliest spots to fly a kite or take a segway tour, this park is mostly known for the vendors and the events hosted here.  This is the place to make your own fun. If you want to spend a couple hours with visiting guests, head to the lagoon where you can rent a pedal boat, stand up paddle board, or kayak. Then find a bike, rollerblades, or segways near the Kite Shop at Milwaukee Bike & Skate. Want a sailing lesson? The Milwaukee Community Sailing Center is here too. You'll have great views of the lake, the cityscape, and the Milwaukee art museum.

Washington- Another of the Olmsted parks in Milwaukee, this used to be a zoo, though you won't see caged animals here now.  It boasts one of the coolest historic pavilions where you can enjoy a summer concert on a Wednesday evening.  There's a bike polo court and a series of pocket parks.  An urban ecology center hosts a variety of activities like maple syrup making, and has a rental closet for everything an outdoor lover could want: skates, sleds, camping gear, skis, and much more. You can buy fresh produce and an abundance of home made goods at the Saturday morning farmers market June through October.

Greenfield- Boasting one of the coolest aquatic centers, Cool Waters is located in this park. You'll find a nice lagoon, playgrounds, golf, and even a waterfall.  In fall, there's a spectacular wooded area that turns a bright yellow.

Jacobus- This might be considered an outlier among parks but I choose it because of its natural vegetation.  In spring you can take a hike and see a variety of native flowers.  There is a playground with a wading pool for the kids.

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