Pike Lake State Forest is an oasis within the city sprawl. The park is located about 30 minutes north of downtown Milwaukee. It is also about thirty minutes from Miller Park, The Harley- Davidson Museum, Potowatomie Casino, State Fair Park, The Calatrava Milwaukee Art Museum, Summerfest, and all the other attractions to be found in Milwaukee. However, there is enough to see and do right in the park to make it worthwhile of being a destination of its own.
I have the privilege of spending one months each summer in Pike Lake State Forest. I am a campground host and each June you can find me and my dog, Cromwell on site 22 in the campground. This is and has been our favorite state park for many years even before we began hosting at the campground. Our home, in Milwaukee is a short drive, so we come to the park often in all seasons.
The main feature is Pike Lake which is the 446-acre lake. The lake is actually a kettle which was formed by the melting of the receding glaciers 20,000 years ago. Today this spring fed lake supports a naturally breeding Walleye population along with some trophy size Northern Pike and Small Mouth Bass. The lake is also popular for small sail boats, kayaking, and canoeing. The park has a launch area on the south side of the beach for carry in kayaks and canoes. There is a public launch for your fishing boat on the other side of the lake on Lake Drive.
The beach at Pike Lake State Forest is more than 500 feet long. Since Pike lake was formed by the glaciers, the swimming area has a very gentle drop off so even toddlers have plenty of water in which to play. You will find several hundred picnic tables, I know I have mowed around them, and many BBQ grills along the beach area. There are also two shelters each with a fireplace and large grilling pits. Next to the parking area is a playground with swings for the children.
Adjoining the beach picnic area on the south side is an activity field where you can play baseball, Frisbee, fly kites, or stroll along its edges and enjoy the variety of wildflowers. Along the lake there are several openings where anglers try their luck at shore fishing. You can take the “red trail” from this field and it will lead you to an area where your dog can swim in the lake.
To the north of the beach is an accessible trail. This half mile trail winds through the forest, a bog, and along the lake and has several benches to sit and enjoy nature. There is also an accessible fishing site on this trail.
Pike Lake State Forest has almost five miles of hiking trails. Part of the “Brown Trail” is a continuation of the Ice Age Trail, which is a thousand-mile trail entirely within Wisconsin starting at Door County and ending in NW Wisconsin.
Another favorite is the Astronomy trail. This is a half mile trail with signs set up for each feature within our solar system. The distance between the signs is a representation of how far the actual distance is in the solar system. You can get a quiz sheet from the camp host or forest office and try and answer the questions as you hike the trail. This trail was rehabbed with new signs in 2010 and yes it still includes Pluto.
The Black Forest Nature Trail is a self guided nature trail which is almost a mile long where you will encounter most of the flowers, trees, and fauna to be found in the park. Some of the trail is steep but even the little ones can make it through. There are markers along the trail to help you learn about the nature surrounding you.
A visit to Pike Lake is not complete without a hike to the tower. The second highest point in SE Wisconsin is Powder Hill, which is a kame and on top of this kame is a sixty-foot observation tower. From the top you can view the surrounding towns, and farmlands. This is a wonderful place to take in the fall colors when the trees put on their annual display.
If you climb up the path to the right of the observation tower you will come out on a clearing overlooking the eastern edge of the park and on clear days you can see all the way to Lake Michigan. This is my favorite view in the park and is not on the maps so only you and I know about it now.
Pike Lake State Forest has 32 camp sites, and 30 of these are reservable through Reserve America. Sites five through 26 are wooded and sites 27 though 32 are open. There are eleven electric sites. All sites are large and mostly private. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit. There are flush toilets with showers and handicap accessible bathrooms.
I recommend site five as the best tent site, site 15 as the best pop-up site, and site 31 as the best large rig site. The best quick walk to the bathroom site is site 20. Regardless of which site you take, you’ll love this campground. The sites are spotless and you will encounter the best ranger force in the State of Wisconsin.
There are several hiking paths adjoining the campground and the tower is close by. My favorite destination is the swing by the pond which is just a short hike away. Ask your camp host for directions since this one is not on the maps.
The campground is open from early May through the third weekend in October. The park, however is open throughout the year. There are many winter activities to enjoy, from hiking, and snow shoeing, to cross country skiing on the groomed trails.
Regardless of the season or the reason you choose to visit Pike Lake State Forest you will not be disappointed. Pike Lake State Forest is located 3 miles west of US Highway 41 on State Highway 60. For more information you can call 262-670-3400. And don’t forget if its June stop by site 21 and say hello.