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It doesn’t matter if you’re going for a short weekend trip or an extended stay, Wisconsin has got plenty to explore. You might be surprised to learn that the Badger State offers plenty of alluring outdoor attractions as well as small-town gems and family-friendly favorites.
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Osceola, located along the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway is best known for its falls. Cascade Falls is actually located right in the middle of town, and it’s also the reason the town sprang up, supporting its brewery and mill. Originally settled in 1844, its collection of downtown buildings date back to 1880, forming its core and contributing to its charm. Check out the waterfall and then take a stroll downtown to visit the shops and historic buildings before taking a more in-depth look at the history by embarking on a ride with the Osceola & St. Crois Valley Railway. The train with vintage cars takes passengers on a 20-mile journey along the sandstone bluffs of the St. Croix River.
The state capital is often ranked among America’s top towns for biking, scenic surroundings and beer. Home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it offers a college town feel with lots of things to do. State Street, located in the heart of downtown, is a pedestrian zone lined with restaurants, bars and shops, and by hopping on the Lakeshore path which follows Lake Mendota, you can enjoy a peaceful, scenic spot like Picnic Point in just minutes. Of course, being in a state that’s synonymous with brewing beer, Madison also offers a number of outstanding breweries and pubs.
Considered “The Waterpark Capital of the World,” Wisconsin Dells is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Midwest. What was once just a summertime hotspot has become a treasured year-round destination, thanks to the explosion of indoor water parks and family-friendly resorts. The area is also famous for the steep, scenic bluffs along the rivers that make for outstanding cruising. Among the many theme parks, the Dells boasts are Mt. Olympus Water plus Theme Park and Noah’s Ark Waterpark, which offers a practically overwhelming array of aquatic rides including two wave pools, a surfing simulator and 51 slides. Scorpion’s Tail, a favorite with those looking for heart-pounding thrills in the water, propels riders down a nearly vertical slide into an inclined loop.
This small town with a history of commercial fishing and lumbering is located on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. It serves as the main gateway for visitors to the scenic Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and offers the opportunity to enjoy kayaking and sailing on the largest of the Great Lakes. While it’s home to just a few hundred people, you’ll find numerous specialty shops, art galleries and two museums: the Bayfield Heritage Museum and the Bayfield Maritime Museum. Many come during the first weekend of October to experience its highlight of the year, the annual Apple Fest. The Apostle Islands attract water sports enthusiasts, hikers and wildlife watchers – Stockton Island hosts one of the greatest concentrations of black bears on the continent, though they can be found throughout the islands.
This Lake Superior port town, located on the lake’s western tip, is home to a number of attractions, and also makes a great place to stay for those who plan to explore Pattison State Park nearby. Home to Big Manitou Falls, a 165-foot-high waterfall considered the tallest in the state, Native Americans believed that the voice of the Great Spirit could be heard from the falls. In town, you’ll find interesting museums like the Richard I. Bong Museum which tells the store of America’s “Ace of Aces” during the Second World War. Fairlawn Mansion, built during the early years of Superior, is home to the Douglas County Historical Society, and live music is offered at several downtown taverns, including Shooters Saloon and Thirsty’s.
Door County is considered one of Wisconsin’s most beautiful areas. Framed by 300 miles of scenic shoreline between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, it’s sometimes referred to as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” With its small-town charm, friendly people and homey restaurants, Egg Harbor is considered a must-visit in Door County. Enjoy a variety of water sports, including kayaking and paddleboarding as well as visiting one of the many scenic parks. You’ll also find a number of golf courses, interesting shops, spas, a peaceful lake shoreline, and a beautiful stone church.
Also known as “America’s Little Switzerland,” New Glarus is famous for its Swiss architecture and cuisine. It also hosts a craft brewery and some fantastic outdoor festivals like the Beer, Bacon and Cheese Festival, Heidi Festival and Blues, Brews and Food Truck Festival, all held in June, and August’s Swiss Volksfest. Its popular fall festivals include Oktoberfest and Harvest Fest, hosted at the Swiss Historical Village, which also serves as a museum. The town is filled with old-world charms, like Swiss-style chalets, Swiss bakeries, and the requisite flower boxes, while Swiss flags fly alongside American flags. Visitors can also take a free, self-guided tour of the New Glarus Brewing Co. which features a gift shop and beer depot.
Located in southwestern Wisconsin, the state’s third oldest city was once a lead and zinc mining community. Miners from Cornwall, England were among the first to settle here, and their homes and businesses have been well-preserved, many of which pre-date statehood. A number of restaurants here are known for serving up Cornish specialties like pasties and the historic district also features the oldest depot in Wisconsin, built in 1856. Today, it serves as the Railroad Museum. Visitors can also enjoy speaking with artists and artisans in galleries and studies and shopping for antiques. The Walker House sits next to the place where Europeans first discovered and mined mineral ore. The restored stone hotel hosts nine rooms, art galleries and a Cornish-style pub.
Baileys Harbor draws many visitors to its fairy-tale-like Boynton Chapel. Completed in 1947, it was constructed in 12th-century Norwegian style, modeled after a church in Lillehammer. The inside is covered in frescoes and ornate wood carvings. Another reason to head here is the Cana Island Lighthouse – walk the 100 steps to the top and you’ll be rewarded with amazing views, and by walking the rock-ledge shore, you can capture a postcard-perfect photo of the 1870s lighthouse. Afterward, come back and sample some of the more than 300 fine wines and delicious Italian tapas at Stone’s Throw Winery’s Vino!Vino!.
Wisconsin’s biggest city, located on Lake Michigan’s southwestern shore, is famous for its brewing traditions. While it may be known for beer giants like Pabst, its craft brew culture has turned it into the ideal natural setting for imbibing and brewery tours, including the highly acclaimed Lakefront Brewery, the company that created the first organic beer. If you aren’t into beer, you’ll find lots more to choose from, including the chance to enjoy the outdoors in Kettle Moraine State Forest, a vast park home to the thousand-mile Ice Age Trail, or the Milwaukee County Zoo, Miller Park and the Milwaukee Riverwalk. And, even if you don’t care a thing about motorbikes, the Harley-Davidson Museum is well worth a visit with its relics, antique models and fascinating displays. The company saved a sample of every model they ever made, keeping them in pristine, museum condition.