High Cliff State Park sign

High Cliff State Park

Ah, the Niagara Escarpment! If you visit Door County and take any sort of tour or hike there, for example, in Peninsula State Park, you’re sure to hear or read about it. But what exactly is it?

It’s a High Cliff.

And thus, the name of High Cliff State Park, a park which sits right on the escarpment along the northeastern shore of Lake Winnebago.

To give you a better idea of what the escarpment is (in Wisconsin), look at this map which is the best I’ve found showing this geologic feature. It’s the jagged, dark, broken line.

Niagara Escarpment
Niagara Escarpment

Butterfly Pond Trail

We visited High Cliff a few years ago before I started this website, but I can’t find the pictures from that hike. We walked most of the Red Bird Trail on that occasion. This time we had our granddaughter hiking with us, so we took the shorter Butterfly Pond Trail instead.

Butterfly Pond Trail sign

One place to access the Butterfly Trail is near the main office, so we parked there. On the way to the trail loop (which is partly the main road), we saw these purple martin houses. They were in use…by purple martins, I think.

Purple martin houses

The entire Butterfly Pond trail is paved for easy access. Along the way are a few educational plaques.

Fish plaque
Cleaners plaque
Pollinators plaque

Butterfly Pond itself is sort of two connected bodies of water with a trail (of the same name) circling each. There’s a bridge that you cross to go over the connector stream, if you can call it that.

Bridge over pond

We only hiked the eastern loop that has an obvious pond inside. I’m not sure how much water is actually visible in the other loop.

Butterfly Pond

You can fish in the pond from the lookout platform (see railing above). If you don’t have your own fishing equipment, the park can apparently provide you with some. We didn’t want to fish, so I don’t know how accessible the equipment actually is.

Fishing pole sign

In the distance you can see that platform from the opposite side of the pond.

Opposite side of Butterfly Pond

Near the vantage point above, there is this bat house. We didn’t see any bats this day.

Bat house

There were some very nice benches along this short (0.4 miles) route – much better than the usual wooden seats we normally see.

Stone bench
Granite bench

In addition to the individual sponsors of the benches, maybe these sponsors had something to do with them too.

Park sponsors

We didn’t see much in the way of butterflies on this trail, but there were lots of milkweed plants in one area that should attract them sooner or later.

Milkweed by Butterfly Pond

High Cliff Beach

The beach area at High Cliff isn’t anything special, but then neither is trying to swim in Lake Winnebago most of the time.

High Cliff beach
Lake Winnebago from the beach

There is a rather nice bathhouse nearby. I didn’t check out the inside though.

Bathhouse, not bat house

Red Bird

There is some playground equipment near the beach, but we didn’t take time to experience it. Instead, we went up the road to the Red Bird area and found another good playground area. Unfortunately there’s not much shade nearby in the middle of the day. Some parts were too hot to use.

Playground by Red Bird

That playground is very close to the start of the Red Bird trail.

Red Bird Trail

That, in turn, is close to the statue of Red Bird.

Red Bird statue
Red Bird

And this is what you can see of Lake Winnebago from that location.

Red Bird plaque
Lake Winnebago from Red Bird area

Lookout Tower

I recall that the last time we were at High Cliff the lookout tower was closed. Fortunately it was open this day.

Lookout Tower

Here is a nice view of almost the whole northern shore of Lake Winnebago from atop the tower (64 steps up) which is atop the Niagara Escarpment. You can’t really make it out in this shot, but that’s the cities of Neenah and Menasha across the way.

Lake Winnebago from lookout tower

High Cliff State Park has been quite popular with the local folks for a long time. Growing up in nearby Appleton, I can still remember people mentioning going there fairly often.

It seems to be just as popular today. There were many other visitors while we were there. I think you would likely find something to enjoy there as well.


Nearest City

Sherwood, Wisconsin (adjacent)

Nearest Emergency Facility

Appleton, Wisconsin (10 miles)


6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, year-round


Vehicle admission sticker required

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