Backpacking in Wisconsin: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Backpacking in Wisconsin: A sunny trail through the woods

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Wisconsin is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the state’s stunning natural beauty. Known for its lush forests, pristine lakes, and rolling hills, Wisconsin offers a wide range of landscapes for outdoor adventurers to explore.

From the picturesque Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which traverses the state for over 1,000 miles, to the rugged and remote trails of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin has no shortage of incredible backpacking opportunities.

In this guide, we’ll share essential tips and the TOP 5 multi-day trails to tackle in Wisconsin. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker looking for a new challenge or a beginner eager to embark on your first wilderness adventure, the Badger State has something for everyone.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Wisconsin

  • What to expect: Over 12,000 miles of diverse hiking trails that wind through forests, prairies, along rivers and lakes, over hills and valleys, and across farmland. Terrain varies from rugged and rocky to flat and sandy. Well-traveled trails are mostly single track and wide enough for one person while less used trails can become overgrown and narrow.
  • Essential gear: Wisconsin weather can be unpredictable, so it’s important to have versatile gear. Pack light and breathable layers, such as moisture-wicking shirts, fleece jackets, and rain shells, to adjust to different temperatures. Don’t forget insect repellent. It’s crucial to have a navigation device like a compass or GPS, along with detailed maps, to navigate the winding trails.
  • Wildlife: Wisconsin’s wilderness is home to various wildlife, including bears, timber rattlesnakes, coyotes, wolves, skunks, raccoons, and snapping turtles, which can pose threats to backpackers. Additionally, the state is home to several tick species, including the deer tick, which can transmit Lyme disease.
  • Wild camping: You can camp in various places around Wisconsin, but there are rules to follow. In national and state forests and areas managed by the DNR, you can camp anywhere if you’re at least 100 feet from water and 50 feet from a road or trail. However, in certain wilderness areas, you must camp in specific spots with permits. Some public lands may have specific camping zones or might not allow camping at all. If you’re on private land, you need the owner’s permission to camp.
  • Best times to go are from spring to fall. Late spring and early fall provide moderate weather with fewer insects. Summer offers long days but can be hot and humid. Early fall showcases colorful foliage. Winter hiking is possible in the south but limited in the north. It’s advisable to avoid early spring due to muddy trails.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in Wisconsin

Here are the best multi-day backpacking trails in Wisconsin:

1. IAT: St. Croix Falls to Gandy Dancer

A scenic view of lush green trees lining a river under a clear blue sky with white clouds at Wisconsin Interstate State Park

Length: 27.5 mi / 44.3 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 1597 ft / 487 m
Location: Dresser
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 9200 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Take on the challenging 27.5-mile point-to-point trail near Dresser, Wisconsin, perfect for a secluded backpacking or hiking experience from May through October. This well-marked trail features diverse landscapes, from rocky terrain to prairie-like sections, road crossings, and well-maintained gravel paths. Be prepared with sturdy shoes and a towel for creek crossings. Enjoy the beautiful campsite and relatively bug-free environment along the way.

2. Ahnapee State Trail

A serene scene featuring a solitary tree standing beside a tranquil body of water at Cave Point County Park in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Length: 41.2 mi / 66.3 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 636 ft / 194 m
Location: Sturgeon Bay
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 10 600 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Explore the 41.2-mile point-to-point trail near Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, a moderately challenging route perfect for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking year-round. This secluded, well-maintained old railway bed features a smooth surface lined with vibrant flora and fragrant honeysuckle. Consider camping at the convenient Timber Trail Campground along the way.

3. IAT: Monches to Kettle Morraine State Forest

A quaint little house sits atop a grassy hill, bathed in the golden light of the setting sun at Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin

Length: 44.5 mi / 71.6 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 2404 ft / 733 m
Location: Hartland
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 11 200 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Explore the scenic 44.5-mile point-to-point trail near Hartland, Wisconsin, a moderately challenging, well-maintained route suitable for all skill levels. Perfect for backpacking, camping, and family hikes, this trail offers vibrant colors and lush greenery. Watch for natural trip hazards and bugs, and enjoy moments of solitude during quieter times.

4. Hidden Lakes

Haymeadow Flowage, a picturesque Wisconsin State Natural Area #482 located in Forest County, showcases the natural beauty of the region

Joshua Mayer, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 14.7 mi / 23.6 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 938 ft / 286 m
Location: Nicolet National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Discover the secluded 14.7-mile Hidden Lakes Trail loop near Three Lakes, Wisconsin, perfect for backpacking, camping, and hiking from April through October. This moderately challenging route offers scenic vistas of small lakes, old-growth hemlocks, and a chance to camp overnight by a remote lake. The trail is easy to follow, with some hilly sections and spotty cell signal. 

5. Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Devils Lake, surrounded by vibrant fall foliage, is a stunning autumn landscape in Devils Lake State Park near Baraboo, Wisconsin

Picture by: herreid

Length: 14.7 mi / 23.6 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 1922 ft / 586 m
Location: Devil’s Lake State Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 4800 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Discover this challenging 14.7-mile loop trail near Merrimac, Wisconsin, best enjoyed from May to October. With an average completion time of 6 hours 12 minutes, this popular trail offers backpacking and hiking opportunities with moments of solitude. Be prepared for climbing, slippery rocks, and a technical descent from East Bluff to Grottos Trail.

Annual Weather Averages

Wisconsin has a temperate climate with distinct seasons:

  • Spring (March to May): Cool temperatures (40°F to 60°F) with potential rain and muddy trails.
  • Summer (June to August): Warm temperatures (70°F to 85°F), occasional thunderstorms, and high humidity.
  • Fall (September to November): Cooler temperatures (50°F to 70°F) with spectacular fall foliage. Rapid evening temperature drops require layers.
  • Winter (December to February): Cold temperatures (20°F to 30°F) with snow. Winter sports are popular. Specialized gear is needed for winter backpacking.

Before you pick your gear and start your trip, check out the typical weather for Wisconsin (Madison):

High °F283245597079828072594532
Low °F141728394959636153423019
Rain/Snow (D*)4469111111119765
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if Wisconsin is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guides for Iowa and Minnesota.


Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Wisconsin?

Campfires are generally allowed while backpacking in Wisconsin, but there are some restrictions. Fires must be in a fire ring or pit and kept small. Fires are not allowed during high fire danger times. Backpackers should check with the land manager about specific campfire rules for the area they plan to visit.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Wisconsin?

When you come across animals while backpacking in Wisconsin, it’s crucial to stay safe. Keep your distance, avoid provoking them, and make noise so they know you’re there. Never approach or feed wild animals. If you see black bears, back away slowly without making direct eye contact, and make yourself look big. For wolves, stay calm, don’t run, and try scaring them away by yelling or throwing rocks. Leave snakes alone and give them space.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Wisconsin?

Venture into Wisconsin’s captivating wilderness for a backpacking adventure immersed in nature, but don’t forget to plan and prepare. Before following winding trails through pristine forests, acquire a detailed map of the terrain and inform others of your intended route. Pack bright, visible apparel and sturdy boots for maneuvering on uneven ground. Bring along whistle, flashlight, first-aid supplies, food storage bags and plenty of water to stay safe if you become lost. Make noise and keep food sealed to avoid unwanted bear encounters. With adequate provisions and preventative precautions taken, you can fully embrace the call of the wild while backpacking across Wisconsin and revel in the scenic natural splendor it has to offer.

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Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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