Lion's Den Trail Loop

Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Wisconsin

Trip Date: Saturday, September 2nd, 2017
Last Updated: Monday, September 11th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 3 miles roundtrip
Time 1 hour
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible Yes

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

There is a reason this hike is so popular. Only half an hour from Milwaukee, Lion's Den Gorge offers pristine nature on bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan accessible via short easy trails. Despite the number of people on the trail, I had my closest encounter with a family of deer yet (and if you've read my site, you know I hike a lot) -- no pictures though, I didn't want to scare them away with sudden movements. Everyone looking for a hike near Milwaukee should try this trail.

Dogs are allowed on leash. This is an excellent family friendly hike: it's short, flat, and scenic with lake access for your kids to play on the beach. If you need an accessible route, take the Lion's Den Trail there and back rather than doing a complete loop; this trail is flat with boardwalk and crushed limestone segments. In addition, both the Gorge Vista and Lake Vista are accessible. Winter use of the trail isn't directly specified, but the brochure lists cross country skiing as an activity in Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve and shows a picture of the bridge pictured further down the page covered in snow.

The trail begins as a boardwalk through a lovely forested marsh area -- see the picture below. Continue following signs for the Lion's Den Trail, turning left at the first intersection, then right at the next. You will eventually arrive at a kiosk with the accessible Lake Vista directly ahead and the Lion's Den Trail continuing on the left. I opted to save the Bluff Trail for the return trip (best for last); turn left if you want to do the same, otherwise continue straight to the Bluff Trail.

Little yellow and orange flowers line the boardwalk on the Lion's Den Trail

Little yellow and orange flowers line the boardwalk on the Lion's Den Trail
View full size

This next section is straight, flat, and lined with trees. If you don't think you can hike the entire distance to the gorge, there are several trails on the right that take you to the Bluff Trail, allowing you to do a shorter loop. Shortly after the trail starts to bend to the right, you have the option to do the Gorge Loop, which provides a change of scenery (although it's nothing noteworthy, just some dense forest next to a big hill into the gorge). If you take the Gorge Loop, you can also do the Cedar Loop, a tiny trail that takes you slightly downhill and makes you say to yourself, "Well, I suppose these must be cedars," then back uphill to the Gorge Loop. Both the Gorge Loop and the Lion's Den Trail end at the same place with a set of stairs down into the gorge and the bridge pictured below leading to the Gorge Vista.
The bridge to the Gorge Vista

The bridge to the Gorge Vista
View full size

The aforementioned stairs lead into the gorge and to the beach on Lake Michigan. Remember that you still have to climb back up those stairs and hike all the way back to the parking lot if you choose to go to the beach. At the bottom of the stairs, you will cross the beautiful bridge pictured below then head right to the beach. As shown in the second picture below, the views are nice and the beach is a combination of sandy and rocky (head a little further north to Kohler-Andrae State Park for gorgeous sandy beaches).
The bridge over the creek at the bottom of Lion's Den Gorge

The bridge over the creek at the bottom of Lion's Den Gorge
View full size

Looking north at the shoreline of Lake Michigan

Looking north at the shoreline of Lake Michigan
View full size

The views of Lake Michigan ahead are the best part of this hike. The Bluff Trail meanders through forest, and the occasional break in the trees gives you flowery meadows and views of the lake like pictured below. About halfway through the return trip, turn right to go to the Bluff Vista -- this and the Lake Vista are the two best places for 180 degree views of the lake (and one of those is pictured at the top of this page, I can't remember which).
Goldenrods blooming along the Bluff Trail

Goldenrods blooming along the Bluff Trail
View full size

Purple flowers high above Lake Michigan

Purple flowers high above Lake Michigan
View full size

The Bluff Trail ends at the Lake Vista. Follow the Lion's Den Trail back to the parking lot. This hike is the perfect way to spend some time outdoors and enjoy beautiful nature without having to travel deep into the wilderness. Be sure to add this to your Milwaukee travel itinerary, or if you're a local check it out this weekend if you've never been before! Let me know what you think in the comments section below and use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram.

Directions

From Milwaukee, take Interstate 43 north. Exit at Wisconsin Highway 60/County Road Q in Grafton and turn right. Turn left onto County Road C, then turn right on High Bluff Drive. Continue on High Bluff Drive until you reach the park.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! This is a popular trail and the small lot fills up fast, so be sure to get here early. There is additional parking along the road into the park if the lot is full. There are port-a-potties (one accessible) in the lot.

External Links

Nearby Hikes

Kohler Dunes Cordwalk

Kohler-Andrae State Park, Wisconsin
★★★★★(5/5)

Moraine Ridge Trail Loop

Kettle Moraine State Forest - Lapham Peak Unit, Wisconsin
★★★★☆(4/5)

Ice Age Trail to Gibraltar Rock

Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area, Wisconsin
★★★★★(5/5)

Pierce Lake Loop

Rock Cut State Park, Illinois
★★★☆☆(3/5)

Comments