Guide to the best outdoor activities Milwaukee has to offer everyone, including year-round and summer events in Milwaukee
So, you’re going to be staying in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and don’t want to be stuck indoors all the time?
Well, you’re in luck because there are so many fantastic outdoor activities in Milwaukee that you’ll be spoiled for choice.
To help you get the most of the outdoor activities in Milwaukee I’ve prepared this Milwaukee recreation guide to help you along the way.
All that’s left for you to do is to get outdoors in Milwaukee and have some fun!
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Table of Contents
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➳ Book vacation rentals in Wisconsin with VRBO
✔ Book tours in Wisconsin with Viator
☘ Get the best discounted outdoor gear (outlet) at REI.com
$ Get Wisconsin hiking guides and maps at REI.com
✎ Never leave without travel insurance. I get mine at SafetyWing. It is easy to set up, cheap, and reliable.
Overview: Top 5 Outdoor Activities in Milwaukee
- Kayak on the Milwaukee River
- Visit Mitchell Park Domes
- Explore Lakeshore State Park
- Have a day at the beach
- Cycle through the city
Where to Stay in Milwaukee
|aloft Hotel Milwaukee Downtown ****||The Pfister Hotel ****|
|Hilton Milwaukee City Center ****||Grand Geneva Resort and Spa ****|
Check out my guide on where to stay in Milwaukee for a breakdown of the best neighborhoods for your travel style and even more accommodation recommendations.
If you prefer to stay in a vacation rental, you can also check out my guide on the best AirBNBs in Milwaukee.
1. Kayak on the Milwaukee River
If you’re looking for outdoor Milwaukee activities with a twist, then kayaking along the river is certainly one of the most unique things to do in Milwaukee.
As with all cities of a certain size, downtown Milwaukee can certainly get congested.
Not only is taking to the river in a kayak one of the best outdoor activities in Wisconsin it also gets you away from the crowds, offering a very different take on city life.
Kayaking on the Milwaukee River provides a completely different perspective on the city.
While you can see the crowds on land, you’ll be surprised at exactly how tranquil it all is out there on the water.
It’s an almost otherworldly experience to be part of the city yet somehow removed from the chaos.
You’ll find rental places down by the river where you can also rent out canoe and paddle boards.
Tandem kayaks are available for those with kids, making this one of the finest family activities in Milwaukee.
2. Eat outdoors
With everything the city has to offer, Milwaukee is one of the best places for romantic getaways in Wisconsin.
And if you’re looking for unique date ideas in Milwaukee, then why not try dining outdoors?
But Milwaukee gets cold in the winter, surely that can only be done in the summer months?
Absolutely not! For outdoor dining, Milwaukee has options to indulge all year round.
In the summer months, one of the best activities in Milwaukee is to get out into the sunshine and take in the fresh air on a beautiful restaurant patio.
You’ll find fantastic outdoor dining options for this all over the city.
In the winter months, look for the flame symbol outside a restaurant.
This indicates they have outdoor dining patios equipped with fire pits, heaters, or other methods to keep you warm while eating.
Dining outdoors is very popular so if you have a specific restaurant in mind that you really want to visit, then make sure to book in advance so that you avoid disappointment.
3. Take to the waters of Lake Michigan
In a state packed with stunning lakes, the magnificent Lake Michigan is undoubtedly one of the best lakes in Wisconsin.
And if you’re staying in Milwaukee, then luck is with you as the city is located right on the banks of the mighty lake.
And what better way to get to know the lake than to take to the water?
At the lakeside, you can hire a number of different vessels such as Retro Boats, Donut Boats and Classic Cruisers in which you and the family can take to the water.
If you are aged 34 then all you need is a driver’s license to captain the craft, but under 34s need to complete an online safety exam.
Boat MKE is a good place to start if this appeals to you.
Views from out on the lake are truly breathtaking, offering an entirely new perspective on the city.
This is truly one of the best outdoor activities in Milwaukee.
4. Hike along the Scuppernong Trail System
If a spot of strenuous exercise is your thing, then you’re in luck as one of the best outdoor activities near Milwaukee provides just that.
The magnificent Scuppernong Trail System is located a mere 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee and features many of the top hiking trails in Wisconsin.
And in a state packed with incredible hiking trails, that’s high praise indeed.
Located in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest near the sleepy village of Eagle, the Scuppernong Trail System has some of the best Southern Wisconsin hiking trails you could possibly hope for.
A section of the famous Ice Age Trail is incorporated into the excellent trail system here. In addition to this, you’ll discover a number of other routes.
The routes are handily color coded, allowing you to find something for all ability levels.
You’ll find Red, Orange, Green and Observation Loops.
The trails run for between 2.5 and 5 miles, so get your boots on!
In addition to the Scuppernong Trail System, this neck of the woods has other fantastic options for exploring the great Milwaukee outdoors.
Southern Kettle Moraine is also home to some of the finest mountain bike trails in Wisconsin.
There are two primary trail systems (named John Muir and Emma Carlin), with several smaller connecting trails that join the two together at several points along the way.
This allows you to tailor your route to suit your ability level.
As it is located just 35 miles southwest of downtown Milwaukee, the Scuppernong Trail System offers one of the fantastic outdoor activities near Milwaukee.
It’s so close to town that you can easily do it as a day trip.
5. Celebrate Halloween at Boo at the Zoo
Halloween in Wisconsin is an extra-fun time for the whole family.
The city makes a massive effort at this time of year, putting on a whole plethora of ghoulish outdoor activities to take part in.
One of the best things to do in Milwaukee in October outdoors is the annual Boo at the Zoo event.
This event is held at the Milwaukee Zoo and is a great activity for all the family.
If you have kids, then don’t miss this one as they’ll absolutely love it!
The Boo at the Zoo event goes on all the way through the Halloween festivities and features an entire range of magnificent activities.
You can take a ride on the North Shore Bank Safari Train (turned Halloween-themed ride at night), a haystack maze, plus trick and treating.
Whatever you do though, don’t miss the magnificent light display that illuminates all areas of the zoo.
6. Visit Mitchell Park Domes
The Mitchell Park Domes are actually a conservatory located in Mitchell Park, and one of the most
The Domes (as they’re referred to locally) are filled with plants from around the world.
There are three enormous domes, each containing a different climate. You’ll discover the Desert, Tropical, and Floral Show Domes.
In the Desert Dome, you’ll find flora from Africa, Madagascar, South America, and North America. This dome is also home to Steve, a resident bearded dragon.
As you may imagine, the Tropical Dome houses a rainforest climate and is home to 1,200 species of the exotic plants found in the jungles of the world.
The Floral Show Dome is reserved for unique, themed floral shows.
Check the Mitchell Park Domes website for their calendar, as these ever changing events are staged five times a year.
The domes even host a fantastic light display in the evening.
7. Have fun at the Wisconsin State Fair
One of the best outdoor events in Milwaukee is the magnificent Wisconsin State Fair.
This annual event is held at the Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee.
This is one of the premiere summer events in Milwaukee so if you’re there in August, make sure not to miss it.
This long-running fair actually began in 1851 but moved to its current site in 1892, where it has been held ever since.
The fair lasts for eleven days and there’s so much to explore here that a one-day visit would only scratch the surface.
The focus of the fair is actually agricultural exhibits. However, there’s so much more to do here.
There are rides and attractions, and over 30 free stages featuring a wide range of entertainment such as music, comedy and interactive, educational shows for families.
Don’t worry if you’re not visiting in August as the fairgrounds here are open year-round, hosting a series of expeditions.
8. Ice skate in Red Arrow Park
As far as fun things to do in Milwaukee with kids go, they don’t come much more fun than ice skating in Red Arrow Park.
Milwaukee is a year-round destination and the locals here are always prepared for the cold (and it does get very cold!), so there’s always lots of great things to do in winter in Milwaukee, and this is one of them.
Red Arrow Park is right in the heart of downtown and offers fun outdoor things to do in Wisconsin all year round.
If you’re lucky enough to be here in the winter, then ice skating is undoubtedly one of the best outdoor family activities Milwaukee has to offer.
You don’t have to worry about equipment as ice skates, skater aides and ice sleds are all available to hire, so dive straight in and enjoy one of the most fun things to do in Wisconsin in winter.
9. See some TV and movie locations
If you’re looking for an interesting and fun way to spend a day in the city, then one of the most fun outdoor things to do in Milwaukee is to visit the locations of some of the many movies and TV shows that were filmed in the city.
There have been so many movies set in Wisconsin and with Milwaukee being a characterful and picturesque city, it is easy to see why it provided the backdrop to many of them.
The city’s industrial heritage, historical architecture and the magnificent Lake Michigan make Milwaukee a movie maker’s dream location.
Google will show you exactly how many movies and TV shows have been based here (clue: it’s loads!).
If you’re with kids, one of the most fun activities in Milwaukee is visiting the places where scenes from movies and TV series were filmed.
Kids will love identifying the sights they’ve previously seen on film.
10. Hit the road to Door County
If you’re lucky enough to be spending the fall in Wisconsin, then downtown Milwaukee is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive away from sensational Door County.
Therefore, if you want to see those magnificent fall colors in Wisconsin in full effect, this can easily be done as a day trip.
Even if you’re not visiting in the fall, Door Country is a truly magnificent place and no visit to Wisconsin is complete without at least spending some time here.
So, if you’re looking for cool weekend trips in Wisconsin look no further!
Baileys Harbor, Sturgeon Bay, Sister Bay, and Ephraim are just some of the must-see locations here.
Should you be here in October, try to get to the Sister Bay Fall Festival for one of the best fall activities in Wisconsin.
Known as the Granddaddy of Wisconsin fall festivals, you’ll find an arts and crafts fair, live entertainment and a joyous parade.
11. Have a day at the beach
The city may not be immediately associated with being a beach type of place, but don’t be fooled!
One of the most fun outdoor things to do in Milwaukee is a day out at North Beach in Racine, a mere 40-minute drive from downtown.
North Beach is a great place, with many of the best outdoor activities Milwaukee has to offer.
You’ll find all the usual beach activities such as volleyball and even Zumba and live music during the summer (and let’s face it, you’re hardly going to be hitting the beach during a harsh Wisconsin winter).
Set along the shore of the mighty Lake Michigan, the powdery sand and calm waters provide a fantastic setting for a family day out.
Once you’ve exhausted yourself with all the lakefront activities Milwaukee can provide, you can refuel at one of the numerous food concessions here that offer a broad range of fare to suit all the family.
12. Spend a day at Six Flags Great America Amusement Park
If you’re seeking exciting outdoor activities in Milwaukee, then head to Six Flags Great America Amusement Park.
Less than an hour from the city’s borders, this spectacular (and huge!) amusement park that provides a great day out for all the family.
This high-octane park features some of the downright scariest rides you’re even likely to encounter.
Don’t miss out on American Eagle, the world’s tallest and fastest racing wooden coaster, no less.
Other frankly quite frightening rides to look out for include Demon, Batman, Goliath, MaxxForce, Raging Bull, and Viper.
From the names alone, you can probably see a pattern forming here; these are certainly not for the faint of heart.
You may (or may not!) be pleased to learn that it’s not all mega-scary thrill rides.
There are rides here to suit all ages, so if you’re seeking things to do in Milwaukee with kids then it’s a magnificent option.
13. Cycle through the city
As the city is incredibly cycle friendly, with some of the best cycle trails in the country, one of the great outdoor activities in Milwaukee is to take to two wheels and go out cycling.
The trails weave through the city, allowing you to visit many local neighborhoods and attractions without having to risk the evermore congested roads.
Without a doubt, one of the absolutely finest cycle trails you’ll want to explore is that which runs alongside the magnificent Lake Michigan.
The 6-mile Lakefront Trail is incredibly popular as it takes in many of the city’s finest attractions, including the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Summerfest grounds, and Discovery World (a science and technology museum where most exhibits are interactive).
If you want to get active and take to two wheels, you’ll find several bike hire companies throughout the city, though the largest concentration is by the lakeside.
14. Explore Lakeshore State Park
One of the most popular Milwaukee outdoor activities amongst the locals is to spend a day relaxing in Lakeshore State Park.
This excellent park is located on the shores of Lake Michigan in the heart of downtown Milwaukee.
The downtown location ensures the small park is close to the Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World and Summerfest site.
If you want to enjoy the beauty of Milwaukee outdoors, then the landscaping, lake, and wildlife here make it a great place to do this.
This urban oasis provides outstanding recreational opportunities.
For example, you’ll find the marvelous bike path that connects to the famed Hank Aaron Trail to the south and Oak Leaf trail to the north.
Additionally, there are also excellent opportunities for running, fishing, and boating, among other fun Milwaukee outdoor activities.
Lakeshore State Park is free to enter and is open all year-round from 06:00 to 22:00.
15. Go surfing (seriously!!!)
One of the most unusual outdoor activities in Milwaukee is surfing. Yes, you heard that right.
Milwaukee may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of riding the waves on a surfboard, but the sport is home to a rapidly expanding freshwater surfing scene.
You may be even more surprised to learn that Milwaukee has a vibrant surfing scene.
Not only that, but due to the wind and waves being at their strongest at that time of year, it’s actually the winter months that are the most popular time to partake in this activity.
The city’s surfing scene centers around Atwater Beach.
Even if you don’t fancy trying your hand at surfing, this is a great beach at which to spend the day.
There are steep (really steep) steps that lead down to the small beach, which offers the beach a sense of solitude and respite from the city.
As you will have noticed by this point in the article, there are so many fantastic outdoor activities in Milwaukee that you’ll have difficulty fitting them all into your trip.
I’ve tried to include a variety of activities to suit a wide range of tastes, with strenuous activities, high-octane thrills, cultural activities, kids’ events and sensational sightseeing opportunities, among others.
The only thing left for you to do is get packing!
Short FAQ About Outdoor Activities in Milwaukee, WI
What are the best outdoor activities in Milwaukee?
There are many great outdoor activities Milwaukee has to offer. But some of the best ones are kayaking on the Milwaukee River, visiting the beautiful Mitchell Park Domes, and exploring Lakeshore State Park.
Is there anything fun to do in Milwaukee outdoors?
Yes, absolutely! There are many fun things to do outdoors in Milwaukee. And if you’re able to go slightly further afield, there are even more amazing outdoor activities near Milwaukee.
What types of outdoor activities are popular in Milwaukee?
Some of the most popular outdoor activities in Milwaukee are kayaking, cycling, outdoor dining and hiking.
Before You Go: Top Tips for your Trip
- You’ll snap tons of photos and I love to take my GoPro in order to shoot even in extreme situations.
- Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and hiking sandals when traveling to warm countries. Consider trying some of these eco-friendly vegan hiking boots.
- Sunscreen is key! I always take with me my eco-friendly sunscreen by Thinksport.
- I always carry a light rain jacket, just in case. Pack smart with these organic cotton clothing companies.
- Be environmentally friendly and get one of these awesome backpacks made from recycled materials.
- Get in the mindset with these amazing wilderness survival books.
- Travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel is protected against all odds with HeyMondo.
Hola! I am Paulina, a fervent travelette who crossed the Atlantic Ocean by Boat HitchHiking. On my blog, you’ll find all the tips to make the most of your holiday. Get ready to enjoy outdoor and sustainable travel like hiking, cycling or sailing. Let’s hit the road together!