It’s a known fact that Milwaukee has great food and great beer. What may not be common knowledge is the fact that Milwaukee has miles and miles of outdoor trails. If you wanted to, you could run all over this city – or walk if that’s your preference. On my last visit, I spent a few hours wandering the streets, seeking out prime running spots close to my hotel. I didn’t have to roam far, the jogging routes were everywhere. Another bonus, there are a number of great restaurants and breweries along the way, you can easily reward yourself with some delicious local food and craft beers.
The list of viable running trails in Milwaukee is long, and I won’t be able to list all of them here. However, I will highlight some great ones I stumbled upon and a couple others a little further away from downtown you might want to check out if you have time.
Oak Leaf Trail
When I lived in Milwaukee, Oak Leaf Trail was probably the only running trail with which I was familiar. (This was before I got into running.) The trail weaves through a good portion of Milwaukee County, and you can decide how far along the route you want to go and which branch you want to take. I prefer to stay along the lake, taking in the skyline views while the lake breeze cools me off. If you’re staying downtown, you can pick up the trail in Juneau Park or at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Head north through Veterans Park, along Lincoln Memorial Drive and past McKinley Beach and Bradford Beach. This route is just over two miles one way, making for a solid 4.5-mile run.
Lakeshore State Park
If you head south from the Milwaukee Art Museum, you’ll reach Lakeshore State Park. This peninsula stretches out onto Lake Michigan, creating a picturesque walkway between the Summerfest grounds and Discovery World. You can run the loop path around the park, which is just under a mile, and then head back over to the museum. Or, you can run part of the loop and continue onto the south side of the peninsula, around the Summerfest grounds and underneath the Hoan Bridge that crosses the Kinnickinnic River.
Milwaukee River Walk
The Milwaukee River is lined on both sides by a scenic river walk path. Hop on this trail for a quick tour of downtown. You can meet up with the river walk pretty much anywhere along the water. However, I recommend starting on the north side, close to Milwaukee School of Engineering’s (MSOE) campus. Head south along the water through the heart of downtown and then end with a quick jog through the Historic Third Ward to get a glimpse of one of Milwaukee’s hippest and most treasured neighborhoods. This run is just under two miles, perfect for those looking for a fast, scenic workout.
Hank Aaron State Trail
On the southwest side of the city is the Hank Aaron State Trail. It follows the Menomonee River (for the most part) past some famous Milwaukee attractions, including the Harley-Davidson Museum and Potawatomi Casino. If you’re staying downtown, you’ll need to make your way over to 6th St. and head south past the highway and over one branch of the river. You can take the trail around the Harley Museum, and then east along the water for as long as your heart desires. The trail stretches pretty far, so it’s your call on the distance you want to run. If you follow the route highlighted on the map, you’re in for a little less than a 3-mile workout.
The great thing about these trails is they almost all intersect. If you wanted to do a longer run, you could easily jog along one path and then continue onto one of the others. For example, the Lakeshore State Park run could be combined with the Milwaukee Riverwalk run or the Oak Leaf Trail run. It’s all up to you!
Milwaukee’s urban running trails pass by a number of great restaurants and cafes. When your sweat session is complete, it’s time to refuel.
If you opt to take a run along the river and into the Historic Third Ward, reward your efforts with a stop at Milwaukee’s Public Market. You can pick up some award winning cheeses from West Allis Cheese and Sausage Shoppe; fresh seafood at St. Paul Fish Company; or cookies and pastries from C. Adam’s Bakery. If the weather’s nice, grab a spot on the rooftop of Cafe Benelux, serving favorites from the Benelux region of Belgium. It’s the perfect spot for a hearty brunch or a casual dinner. Across the street is the Wicked Hop, another local favorite serving lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
If you choose the Hank Aaron Trail, you have to make a stop at the original Sobelman’s. I first fell in love with the greasy, savory cheeseburgers when I was in college, and now every time I return to Milwaukee, I try to make at least one visit. While Sobelman’s is known for its burgers, it’s probably most famous for its bloody mary’s. The classic is topped with signature garnishes, including pickles, olives, celery, sausage and cheese – this is usually the one I order. If you want to go more outside the box, try the Masterpiece, which has all the usual garnishes, but is also topped with a colby-jack slider. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, order the Bloody Beast, which has an entire fried chicken on top.
The Oak Leaf Trail skirts by many Milwaukee neighborhoods, filled with delicious eateries to enjoy. If you want to stay close to the water, make a stop at Colectivo Coffee’s lakefront cafe. Housed in the old Milwaukee River Flushing Station, the coffee shop features a spacious outdoor patio where you can nosh on a chorizo burrito or falafel burger. And don’t leave without trying a cup – or two – of their hand-roasted coffees.
Now the fun part. Because the best reason to run is to enjoy a beer afterwards. At least that’s my philosophy. Milwaukee has no shortage of incredible craft breweries, many of which are located just steps from the running trail. One of the longest-running, and best-known is Lakefront Brewery. (Go a little further north on the riverwalk trail, and you’ll shoot right by it.) The brewery is located on the Milwaukee River in what was once the old Electric Railway and Light Company’s power plant. Today, it houses Lakefront’s beer production and bottling operations, a large tasting room, and a water-adjacent patio. If you go, be sure to sign up for their famous tour. For $10, you get a guided tour through the brewery, a souvenir pint glass, four 6 ounce pours of beer, and a glimpse at a Milwaukee beer landmark.
If you veer left at McKinley Park and take another branch of the Oak Leaf Trail, you’ll pass right by Good City Brewing Company. One of the newer establishments in town, Good City has already created quite a stir in the community. In fact, they’re planning to expand with more event space and a rooftop deck. What better way to reward your run than sipping on a chilled IPA while basking in the sun?
Take a quick detour off the Hank Aaron State Trail and grab a pint or two at Third Space Brewing. Another newbie to the Milwaukee beer scene, Third Space is committed to the craft beer revival taking place in the city right now. You can grab a seat in the tasting room, or out on the patio if the weather is nice. If you’re looking to change up your workout routine, check Third Space’s upcoming events. The brewery hosts yoga and barre classes right in the brew house – accompanied by some pours, of course.
Numerous brew pubs are sprinkled throughout downtown, many of them lining the running trails. You can stop at any local bar and order a pint of New Glarus Spotted Cow. The brewery, located in the small town of New Glarus, Wisconsin, ranks in the top 20 craft brewing companies based on sales volume (it was no. 16 in 2016 according to the Brewers Association), and yet it’s only distributed in Wisconsin! If you truly want to drink a beer you can’t get anywhere else, then be sure to order one of New Glarus’ brews.
If you’re planning a visit to the Brew City, you can maintain your fitness routine and still enjoy everything the culinary and craft beer scene. The running trails in Milwaukee are abundant, the food plentiful and the beer free flowing.
Do you have a favorite Milwaukee trail, restaurant or brewery? Tell me about it!