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Did You Know…?

  • Wisconsin produces 350-plus varieties of cheese, more than any other state.
  • The Kickapoo River is called the world’s crookedest river.
  • The state’s 1.3 million dairy cows supply milk for 42M people, butter for 68M, cheese for 86M.
  • Liberace and Orson Welles were born in Wisconsin; Houdini spent his childhood there.
  • The ice cream sundae was created in Two Rivers in 1881.

The idealized America

In many ways, this north central state represents an idealized America with its lakes and forests, smaller cities and northern European heritage. Its geography — which includes shorelines on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior — provides the stage for plenty of outdoor activity, particularly the water-based kind.

This farm state is noted for its dairy operations and the natural extension of that, cheese making. It is noted as well for its beers. On top of that, Sheboygan claims the title bratwurst capital of America.

Translation: There is plenty to do, see and eat in the Badger State.  Tourists come to this part of the upper Midwest for outdoor recreation, for unsullied natural scenery and for manageable cities and towns that offer physical charms, culture and friendly hosts.

The Wisconsin Dells along the Wisconsin River has the most famous scenery in the state. It is a spectacular 15-mile stretch of river flanked by sandstone cliffs rising as much as 100 feet above the river’s rushing waters. Its natural appeal combines with the area’s several water theme parks and other attractions to create an ideal lure for families.

Lake Geneva, the town on Geneva Lake, is the state’s other best-known tourist destination. Early in the 20th century, the resort became a favorite for Chicagoans, and it was President Calvin Coolidge’s summer retreat.

But the hands of Mother Nature and mankind offer other choices: Door County, that peninsula bound on one side by Green Bay and the other by Lake Michigan; the Wisconsin Northwoods, a stretch of forests, lakes and rivers reaching across the northern third of the state touching both the state’s Great Lakes shorelines, and scenic byways including the Great Mississippi River Road National Scenic Byway showing off quaint river towns with their festivals, parks and historic town centers.

Not to be overlooked, two cities stand out on the tourist map, Madison and Milwaukee, which between them offer performing arts, fine dining, sports teams, museums, festivals — and access to still more recreational opportunities.

No wonder then that summer season is prime time in Wisconsin, especially for water sports and fishing.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go biking and make yours a themed trip. Fall foliage is a seasonal choice, but other themes include the Frank Lloyd Wright Tour and the Cheese Country Trail.
  • Go dogsledding. Learn to drive a team of Siberian huskies.
  • Go canoeing or kayaking in a town called Two Rivers, one of Wisconsin’s several charming harbor towns facing Lake Michigan. Those scenic harbor towns include Milwaukee.
  • Take a guided tour of an Al Capone hideaway in northern Wisconsin. Called the Hideout, the lakeside home in Couderay features machine-gun portals, a gun tower and walls that are 18 inches thick. Also, museum displays include a re-creation of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
  • Attend Milwaukee’s annual Indian Summer powwow in the fall. Or choose from other powwows in the state.
  • Spend the night on the World War II submarine at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc. Before you leave town, tour the Natural Ovens Bakery.

Things to do for Centrics

  • If you are a sports fan, time your trip to see the Green Bay Packers play football. It’s big-time sports in a small U.S. city with lots of tradition and enthusiasm. Then, go to the theater in Green Bay!!
  • Build part of a trip around the theater, the outdoor kind. Wisconsin is home to three nationally known outdoor production sites: American Players Theatre in Spring Green; Peninsula Players Theatre in Fish Creek, and Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua.
  • Go cross-country skiing. The state has more than 700 miles of groomed trails for the purpose. Or, choose downhill skiing. Wisconsin is third in the nation for the number of ski areas (36) for downhill-skiing enthusiasts.
  • This is irresistible: Visit a cheese factory. There are at least 45 for tourists to choose from.  Also, take cooking classes. One place to start is the Demonstration Kitchen at the Shops at Woodlake. Up to 40 people can interact with chefs as they prepare a featured dish.
  • Take your pick, winery or brewery? You can visit plenty of either from a selection of around 70, with a good mix of each.  If you like a little history with your wine, put the Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac on your list. Now a National Historic Site, the winery and vineyard were established before the Civil War by the Hungarian Count Haraszthy, who later became known as the “father of California wine making.”
  • Here are some fun, even corny, ideas for entertainment. Attend Sun Prairie’s August Sweet Corn Festival, one of the largest in the nation. Or, on Labor Day weekend, attend the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw in Sauk Prairie. Another September alternative is the U.S. Watermelon Seed-Spitting and Speed-Eating Championships in Pardeeville.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Visit the Dane County Farmers’ Market held on Capitol Square in Madison from April through November. It is the largest such market in the U.S.
  • Take a self-guided walking tour in Port Washington on Lake Michigan, past and into many historic buildings, or along the first man-made harbor in North America. The downtown, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has the largest collection of pre-Civil War buildings in Wisconsin. Port Washington also hosts the world’s largest one-day, outdoor fish fry every July.
  • Look for eagles in Sauk City and Prairie du Sac, which are home to North America’s largest population of wintering eagles.
  • Ringling Brothers Circus (and others) maintained winter quarters in Baraboo. Take a look at the Circus World Museum here and see performances in the summer. Near Baraboo, in North Freedom, the Mid-Continent Railway Museum offers 45-minute rides on an old-fashioned train.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the classic “Little House” books, was born in Pepin County. Visit the Little House Wayside, which features a replica of her childhood log cabin, and the Pepin Historical Museum.
  • Amuse yourself at the Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb (and taste a hot horseradish mustard, called Hit and Run for a reason) or the Outagamie Museum in Appleton with its section on a former resident known as Houdini.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Wisconsin Department of Tourism at