Lake Park Bridge - Flowers Lake Park by Eddee Daniel

Milwaukee's Olmsted Parks


Many people know about Central Park in New York City.  But did you realize that Central Park’s famed landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted was also active in Milwaukee? The Cream City is home to three Olmsted parks and one Olmsted boulevard. During your visit to Milwaukee, we hope you’ll get to know these great spaces. Read on for more information. 


The organization is proud to partner with hundreds of conservancies, friends groups, scholars, professionals and interested individuals throughout the country – and across the globe.

System of Parks  


Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned a system of parks in Milwaukee that would showcase key parts of the landscape.  Lake Park is on the shores of Lake Michigan and offers vistas toward the water. It connects to Riverside Park, located on the Milwaukee River, via a tree-lined boulevard, known as Newberry Boulevard, which in the early 20th century went all the way to the river.  

Washington Park is west of both Lake and Riverside Parks; it was originally outside the city limits.  This park offers rolling terrain that in its early days, at its highest point, offered glimpses of Lake Michigan. Of the three parks, Lake Park most closely retains its original form and intent. 

Lake Park Lake Park by Virginia Small

Lake Park


The 138-acre Lake Park features rustic bridges, winding paths, waterfalls, lake bluffs and natural ravines. Olmsted designed the park around the North Point Lighthouse, a steel-and-iron edifice that helped guide ships on Lake Michigan. The lighthouse has since been refurbished and opened as a museum.  

Beloved park features— such as the Pavilion (1903) which includes a popular French restaurant, Ravine Road footbridge (1905) and grand staircase (1907)— have been added to Olmsted’s original design.  Also famous are the Lion Bridges constructed in the late 19th century by Oscar Sanne.  

In 1993, Lake Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its connection to Olmsted and its intact Native American burial mound.  The first recorded inhabitants of the Milwaukee area were the Menominee, Fox, Mascouten, Sauk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe (all Algic/Algonquian peoples) and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago).  A plaque marks the burial mound.

A special thank you goes out to Lake Park Friends, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the preservation and enjoyment of Lake Park, to sponsor educational, recreational and cultural events in the park, and to raise funds for the restoration and enhancement of the park in the spirit of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Riverside Park Riverside Park by Phil Schultz

Riverside Park


Riverside Park, originally known as River Park, was designed in 1891 by Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot. Bordering the Milwaukee River, the 24-acre property was uniquely T-shaped. The Chicago and North Western Railway ran directly through the park, splitting it into two sections. A tunnel underpass was created to allow passage below the railway line. Today the tracks have become part of the Oak Leaf Trail. 

The original Olmsted designs proposed several winding carriage roads and paths, but they were never realized. In better days, the park housed a two-story pavilion with steps leading down to the river.  Lights illuminated the paths at night and some of the ornate fixtures remain in place, though no longer functional.   Adjoining the park is the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum, a “living museum of trees” with 70 trees indigenous to Southeastern Wisconsin. 

The eastern side of the park has been converted to athletic fields so much of the original Olmsted design has been lost.    

The park retains 15 acres of woodland and riparian habitat on the east bank of the Milwaukee River.  It houses a habitat-themed playground and a green building operated by the Urban Ecology Center -- home to live animals and informational exhibits.

a woman with binoculars birding in a park

Washington Park


Originally called West Park, Washington Park was designed by Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot beginning in 1891-92. Located just outside the city’s limits, the 128.5-acre park was soon incorporated into the swiftly developing city. Olmsted had anticipated that the park would help attract new development to the area. 

A series of circular roads and walkways looped through the park’s rolling terrain. Olmsted’s pastoral design also included the strategic planting of thousands of trees and shrubs, an ample picnic area and a wooden gazebo for musical events. The design’s focal point was a seven-acre lagoon and aquatic garden. By the early 1900s, the park’s lagoon became Milwaukee’s most popular location for ice skating.  Today, people can rent boats and fish in the lagoon.    

Over the years, many features were added to the park including a boathouse, a mile-long horse-racing track, grandstands, stables and a zoo. These are no longer extant. Later additions include basketball and tennis courts, aquatic facilities, playgrounds and other modern amenities.   

An imposing Goethe-Schiller monument was erected in 1908. This monument overlooks the 1938 Art Deco Bandshell, known as the Emil Blatz Temple of Music.  The Blatz Bandshell has featured many famous artists including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jeanette MacDonald. 

In 2007, the Washington Park Urban Ecology Center (UEC) opened a center in the park to serve neighborhood schools with its Neighborhood Environmental Education Project.  UEC is currently building a new facility on the lagoon, expected to open in late 2024.  

Washington Park is a Milwaukee County Historic Landmark (2023).  Efforts are underway to renew and revitalize this great historic park. 


The Olmsted Trail


Explore the many stops along the Olmsted Trail! In Milwaukee, Lake Park is a prime example of Olmsted's philosophy, with its sweeping views of Lake Michigan and serene pathways that invite visitors to unwind amidst natural beauty. Further west, Washington Park beckons with its expansive lawns, wooded areas and picturesque lagoons, providing a tranquil retreat within the city. Journeying north to the Village of Kohler, visitors can encounter river wildlife, a private sanctuary designed in collaboration with the Olmsted brothers, where carefully curated landscapes seamlessly blend with natural surroundings, offering a serene escape for residents and guests alike. Each stop along the Olmsted Trail exemplifies Olmsted's commitment to integrating natural beauty with urban life, creating spaces that nurture both the spirit and the community. Find more parks to explore through the Olmsted Trails map!


Discover Events in the Olmsted Parks