|Distance||4 miles roundtrip|
|Best Seasons||Spring, Summer, Fall|
- Rare dunes environment
- Lake Michigan views
- Miles of sandy beachfront
Out of the five hikes I did during a Labor Day weekend trip to Milwaukee, this was my favorite. My personal love of boardwalks and sand dunes aside, the scenery here is unbeatable and the hike is memorable. Even though this is not a loop trail and you have to hike past the same place twice, the landscape is so unique and beautiful you won't mind seeing it again. The cordwalk extends across the entirety of the Kohler Dunes (named for the founder of the well-known faucet company after the company donated this land to the state) which is a Wisconsin State Natural Area, a designation given to places with unique, rare, or endangered plants and animals.
Now, what exactly is a cordwalk? As you can see in the picture at the top of the page, it looks almost the same thing as a boardwalk except the boards are strung together with a long steel cable (the cord) that is then staked into the sand, rather than the boards being nailed together and cemented into the ground. This flexible design is perfect for the sandy environment that constantly changes with the wind and rain.
Dogs are permitted on leash as long as they do not stray from the cordwalk, and they are prohibited on the Creeping Juniper Nature Trail that connects to the cordwalk. Pets are allowed at the beach north of the Sanderling Nature Centerly only. This pet area map shows where you may bring your dog. While most young kids aren't up for a 4 mile hike up and down dunes, you can easily shorten the hike to make it family friendly: the northern section of cordwalk between the northernmost parking lot and the nature center is a 1 mile roundtrip hike and the Creeping Juniper Nature Trail is a 0.5 mile loop. This trail is not maintained in winter. I went on the Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend, and the park was much less crowded than you'd expect for somewhere with such a nice sandy beach. You will encounter others on the hike, but if you are patient it is easy to take pictures of the dunes without a group of strangers in them.
Navigation is simple on this trail, just follow the boards under your feet and don't go anywhere the cordwalk doesn't. Trampling the fragile grasses that grow on the dunes is highly visible and recovery takes a long time -- you will see many places where others have ventured on their own during this hike. There are also several locations with official cordwalk side trails (little spurs pictured on the map) that climb to the top of a dune to give you a better view (like the one pictured below), so there is no need to do so on your own.
From Milwaukee, head north on Interstate 43 towards Sheboygan. Take the exit for County Road V, turn right, then turn right again. Follow this road straight into the park and pay your fee at the park office. Take the first left and park in the lot.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
If you have Wisconsin license plates on your vehicle, parking is $8 for the day or $28 for an annual pass valid at all Wisconsin State Parks and Forests. If you are from out of state, parking is $11 for the day or $38 for an annual pass (you recoup your cost after just 4 visits!). See details here. There are multiple access points for the Kohler Dunes Cordwalk, so if the lot mentioned in the directions above is full, park at the Sanderling Nature Center in the middle of the dunes or the lots at the southern end of the dunes.