Wisconsin State Parks – can we still go hiking?


Red-Winged Blackbird at the Horicon Marsh

Peter Laning, Writer, Podcaster

#SaferAtHome is the law of the land right now and many Wisconsinites are wondering what it means for Wisconsin’s Parks.  Are they open?  Closed?  If they are open, how can I keep myself and my family safe? 

Under the #SaferAtHome order issued by Governor Tony Evers, outdoor activity is deemed essential and as such the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has waived all entrance fees to State Parks, Trails, and Forests.  However, many new changes are also in effect at DNR properties.  In a statement posted across their social media platforms on Thursday, April 9, the DNR announced that, “Due to unprecedented crowds, littering and vandalism, the following Wisconsin State Parks are now closed effective Friday, April 10 for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency:  These parks, located mostly in southeastern Wisconsin, are as follows: 

  • NORTHEAST REGION – High Cliff State Park 
  • SOUTHEAST REGION – Big Foot Beach State Park, Harrington Beach State Park, Havenwoods State Forest, Kohler-Andrae State Park, Kettle Moraine State Forest Lapham Peak, Loew Lake, Mukwonago River, Northern Unit, Pike Lake, Southern Unit, Lakeshore State Park, and Richard Bong State Recreational Area 
  • SOUTH CENTRAL REGION – Aztalan State Park, Belmont Mound State Park, Blue Mound State Park, Cadiz Springs State Recreational Area, Capital Springs State Recreational Area, Cross Plains State Park, Devil’s Lake State Park, Fenley State Recreational Area, Governor Dodge State Park, Governor Nelson State Park, Lake Kegonsa State Park, Lower Wisconsin Riverway, Mackenzie Center, Mirror Lake State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, Nelson Dewey State Park, New Glarus Woods State Park, Rocky Arbor State Park, Sauk Prairie State Recreational Area, Tower Hill State Park, Wyalusing State Park, and Yellowstone Lake State Park, Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area, Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area and Dells of the Wisconsin State Natural Area.” 

This announcement follows previous orders that all state campgrounds (individual, group, and indoor), playgrounds, and observation towers would be closed to the public until April 30.   

If you do end up going out, the DNR recommends that you remain in your local neighborhood/community and follow what they call “Walleye Distancing” practices – that is, maintaining a distance of at least three 24-inch walleye (or 6 feet) from other hikers.  And, as an (almost) lifelong Scout and as somebody who advocates strongly for conservation effortsI also have a few recommendations to follow if you decide to go out and hike. 

  • Tell somebody you trust before leaving – Tell them where you are going and when you expect to return.  That way, if something happens, they can tell authorities where you were headed. 
  • Check the weather forecast – This is vital as weather conditions can change quickly and without warning. 
  • Bring somebody with you – In Scouting, we call this the “buddy system.”  Bringing a family member (or anyone else who lives with you) along will help pass the time and ensures you have assistance if the need arises. 
  • Wear appropriate clothing – This might seem obvious, but having the appropriate clothing can prevent any adverse health effects that can be experienced while hiking (blisters, heatstroke, dehydration, etc.). “Appropriate clothing” may include a rain jacket, sweatshirt, hiking shoes or boots (tennis shoes are also fine), and a hat and/or sunglasses. 
  • Bring extra clothes – Extra socks, rain jacket, sweatshirt, dry shoes (if you have them), hat, sunglasses. 
  • Bring a supply of water – Even if the sky is overcast, dehydration can set in quickly.  Once you start feeling thirsty, dehydration has already begun.  One or more reusable bottles is the best thing to have along! 
  • Bring snacks – It’s better to be safe than sorry.  This will help keep your energy up, no matter where you end up hiking.  If you get hungry, a sandwich, fruit, or energy bars are the way to go – try to avoid chips, candy, and soda (they will drain your energy and could lead to rapid dehydration). 
  • Have a first-aid kit handy – You never know what will happen out on the trails.  Be sure to include band-aids, alcohol wipes, gauze, gloves, etc.  
  • Have a whistle with you – In case you get lost, three short blasts on a whistle will alert other hikers to your situation. 
  • Be wary of time – Time flies when you’re having fun.  It is important to judge your time correctly or risk walking back in the dark.  If that turns out to be the case, have a flashlight with you. 
  • Bring a camera along – Many of Wisconsin’s State Parks were selected as such for their natural beauty.  You won’t want to forget it.   
  • Clean up after yourself – Any hikers who come along behind you will not be wanting to pick up your trash.  If you carry it in, carry it out.  And as an added bonus, if you see trash on the trails, pick that up too (maybe bring a garbage bag along)! 
  • Practice social distancing – If you encounter other hikers, give them the right of way and be sure to have at least 6 feet (or three walleye) between you. 

However you decide to get to your exercise in (or clear your mind!), always be sure to check for closures before heading out.  And remember, to have the best experience possible, take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints.   


For the most up to date information on event cancellations, building closures, and more at DNR properties, visit the DNR website or follow @WIDNR on Facebook, @wi_dnr on Instagram, or @WDNR on Twitter.