Trail running is on the rise in the USA, and for good reason! Running on softer paths like packed dirt and crushed gravel tends to be a little easier on the body, and the immersion in nature is a great way to clear your mind. Luckily, Milwaukee has some awesome hidden gems and is incredibly close to the Kettle Moraine State Forest and the Ice Age Trail. If you’ve been thinking about trying out trail running, read on for your next new favorite spot!
Milwaukee River Trails
The river trails are the best way to run a little dirt without having to leave the city. The trails run along the Milwaukee River between Hampton Avenue (Shorewood) and North Avenue (Riverwest/Eastside), and can offer anywhere from 3-8 miles of runnable packed dirt and crushed gravel paths. Since the trail runs along the Milwaukee River, there are multiple places to access it on both the east and west sides, and you can loop in the paved Oak Leaf trail for additional mileage.
First Timers: Park near Riverside High School on Locust Street, and access the Oak Leaf Trail heading north. On the OLT, just north of the Locust Street bridge, there is a trailhead on the left side of the paved trail. Take the trail north to the Capitol Drive bridge, then ascend the stairs up to the street. Cross the river to the west side, then head back down the trail on the other side of the bridge. Head south on the trail down to the Locust Street bridge, climb back up to street level, and cross the bridge back to Riverside High for about 3.5 miles of urban trails!
Scuppernong is one of my favorite spots to run trails! The trails are well-groomed but still technical, and they’re a little wider than normal, so you can easily run with a buddy and still have conversation. The main trail system has three loops that branch off the same trailhead, next to the new Tom Bunk memorial shelter. The green loop (4.9 miles) is the most difficult, as there are a few more hills and some sections with more technical footing. The orange (4.1 miles) and red (2.3 miles) loops are considered intermediate — they’re still hilly, but not quite so much as the green loop.
Locals Only Tip: Link up with the Ice Age Trail for some added mileage and a few more hills! You can get on the trail from the green or orange loops, or follow the yellow IAT blaze markers out of the main parking lot.
Lapham Peak … a Twofer
Ask anyone in Milwaukee where to run trails and 95% of them will tell you to go to Lapham Peak, according to my very non-scientific study. Really though, it’s a super fun spot with lots of hills and with more than 20 miles of trails, you have plenty of options to get your miles in. Located just west of Milwaukee near Delafield, it’s a pretty quick drive, and I consider it a “twofer” (as in, two for one) because you can run at Lapham Peak itself, OR you can cross the highway and tromp around the prairie (or both, because America.) A quick rule: runners and hikers are not allowed on most of the trails when they’re snow covered as it’s open to cross-country skiers.
Lapham Peak Proper: Pull into the Evergreen Lot off of Highway C. Almost all of the trails are accessible from this lot, so pick one and head out! If you’d like a challenge, the black loop is my favorite at about 6 miles and some really killer hills. Make sure you put your hands in the air and yell “Wheeee!” as you go down the Big Slide hill! Other trail options are anywhere from 2-5 miles and are well-marked with colorful signposts.
Lapham Peak Prairie: Off of the Evergreen lot, you can cross the highway to the Prairie. The trails on this side aren’t as hilly, and there’s less tree cover. The main Prairie Path trail is about 4.5 miles long and weaves all around the property, even connecting to the Ice Age Trail and the paved Paul Sandgren Recreational Trail.
Best of Both Worlds: Warm up by running the Prairie Path trail, then cross the highway and join up with the black loop for a little more than 10 miles of gorgeous scenery and lung-burning hills.
Home of the ever-popular Ice Age Trail 50, the Nordic trailhead is another beautiful section of the Kettle Moraine State Forest with miles and miles to explore. Just west of Milwaukee, these trails feature gently rolling hills, wide open prairie pathways, and even a couple of hidden lakes. This is another trailhead that features several loops of varying lengths (from 1.5-9 miles), and also links up to the nearby Ice Age Trail. The blue loop is the longest trail at this site at just over 9 miles; and if you’re considering doing the Ice Age 50k, this loop comprises the last 18 miles of that race!
Locals Only Tip: Stop by the La Grange General Store on your way back home and try their delicious peanut butter bites as a post-run treat!
Thanks to the ladies of the Trail Sisters in Waukesha, WI for the help with the beautiful pictures! If you’re looking for locals to run with, reach out via facebook!