Wisconsin is home to brats, beer and cheese, but when it comes to vacation destinations, the Badger State has a lot to offer in recreation, amusement, outdoor activities and natural beauty. Generally, the state has an abundance of family-friendly activities, but it also offers activities to please a wide range of tastes--from boating, fishing, camping, biking and hiking in the great outdoors to water parks, shopping and fine dining.
If you have kids, the best place to vacation in Wisconsin is the Wisconsin Dells. The Dells (as it is called by the locals), is the self-proclaimed water park capital of the world. It is the amusement and tourist capital of Wisconsin--with the highlight being the several indoor and outdoor water parks that make the Dells open to the public year round. There are three water parks worth visiting if you're in the Dells: Noah's Ark, the world's largest outdoor water park; The Kalahari resort, Wisconsin's largest indoor water park; and The Wilderness, a water park that is both indoors and outdoors.
If water parks aren't your thing, the Dells also offers scenic boat tours of the area, water ski shows, live entertainment, fine dining, family dining (if you're with children) and other amusements like go-karts and mini-golf. The Dells primarily caters to families and as a destination for family vacations in the summertime.
The Dells is home to several museums and exhibits including a Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum and the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory. Also in the area is the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, approximately 12 miles south of the Wisconsin Dells.
For accommodations, there are hotels and resorts (which also have their own water parks or are near water parks) as well as bed and breakfasts, cabins and condos available for rent. For hotels, there are the standard fare of chain hotels--Holiday Inn, Best Western, Ramada Inn--and the indoor water park resorts, The Wilderness and the Kalahari.
Camping--which is a common recreation activity in the state of Wisconsin--is also an option in the Dells. There are the typical RV Parks and KOA Campgrounds available (including an RV Park modeled after Yogi Bear's Jellystone), but there is also Mirror Lake State Park, just outside of the Wisconsin Dells and Devil's Lake State Park, just six miles south of Baraboo, as camping options for your family. Both campgrounds allow RVs and tent camping at their sites as well as miles of hiking trails around both Mirror and Devil's Lakes.
While multiple lodging options are available, most people--especially if they have kids and it is wintertime--opt for the Kalahari or the Wilderness or some other indoor water park. In the summertime, it might be worth remembering camping options as the resorts and hotels fill up fast.
For more information, see the link to the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau website in the resources below.
Door County, on the northeast Wisconsin peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan has something to offer everyone, but compared to the Wisconsin Dells, is catered more for couples.
Door County has five wineries, 42 bed and breakfasts, 10 lighthouses and five state parks, and offers bike riding trails; golf courses; tours by boat, train, trolley or horseback; and charter boats for fishing on Lake Michigan.
A trip to Door County, Wisconsin is more about enjoying nature--mainly Lake Michigan and the maritime life in a land-locked state like Wisconsin.
As far as accommodations, there are hotels, resorts and condos, cabins and cottages available to rent, or campgrounds--both RV or tent sites. Most of these are good choices if you are traveling with children and your selection depends on the type of vacation you hope to have.
If it's a weekend getaway without the kids, there are plenty of bed and breakfasts to choose from in the county, with many of them in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
If you're looking for ideas on a romantic weekend getaway--or if you want more ideas on something for your family to enjoy other than spending hours at a water park, see the link provided below to the Door County Visitor Bureau website.
If you prefer a outdoorsy vacation, check out Hayward. Northern Wisconsin has thousands of lakes for fishing, camping and boating in the summertime, but Hayward and its surrounding area is the popular destination for most locals who want to head up north. As a bonus, in the winter, there are hundreds of miles available for snowmobiling.
For more information, check out the Hayward Lakes Visitors and Convention Bureau website link listed below.
The Apostle Islands
The Apostle Islands are a series of islands along Wisconsin's northern shore in Lake Superior (approximately 85 miles east of Duluth, Minnesota). The islands are a national park and offer camping, boating, hiking, fishing, kayaking and even scuba diving as several possible recreation activities.
For more information on what the Apostle Islands offer, check out the National Park Service website from the link below.
Historical day trips and other road-side attractions
There are three sites of historical importance worth visiting when vacationing in Wisconsin: Prairie du Chien, Camp Randall Stadium in Madison and Circus World.
Prairie du Chien is a city along the western border of Wisconsin and Iowa. It was the first settlement in Wisconsin, dating back to the 17th Century and is located along the Mississippi River. It is also home to Villa Louis. For more information, see the link to the Prairie du Chien visitors bureau website in the Resources section.
Camp Randall Stadium might be home to the Wisconsin Badger football team, but during the Civil War era it was used as the training ground for the Wisconsin National Guard and a gathering point before soldiers were shipped south to fight in the war. It was also used as a Union prison during the war. For more information, see the link to its website, below.
Circus World is a museum remembering the creation of both the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey's circuses in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The museum contains circus memorabilia inside, but the outside is set up much like a circus would be, including a three-ring tent in the summertime. Below is a link to a website with more information about what Circus World has to offer.
Taliesin was Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin estate located near Spring Green, Wisconsin. The estate was used as Wright's studio. There are several types of tours available of the estate and the tours are meant to provide tourists with an idea of the influences on Wright's creation(s) as well as a view of the scenery surrounding his house. For a link to the Taliesin website, see the Resources section.
Wisconsin is home to many items that appear on those "Weird Roadside Attractions" lists, and Doc Evermor's Forevertron is one of these items. The only difference between the Forevertron and a big ball of twine, or a rock inside a house, is that Doc Evermor's place is worth seeing. Located along U.S. Highway 12 in the Town of Sumpter, in between Baraboo and Sauk City, Doc Evermor takes what most of us would call junk--spare metal parts from a junkyard--and creates it into metal sculptures.
For the most part, Wisconsin is a pretty outdoorsy state. There's a lot of fishing, hunting, camping and snowmobiling. If that's not your idea of a vacation, and you're more of a city-type, give Madison a try. The state's capital is like a mini-metropolitan area, even though it only has roughly 300,000 people. It's a college town, which translates to "it's cool." There are record shops, used clothing shops, as well as your trendy clothes shopping--whether it's around the university or at any of the city's shopping centers. Madison also has a vibrant nightlife, in both the university neighborhoods downtown or in other pockets of the city and its surrounding towns.
And for the sports fanatic, there is a summer collegiate league baseball team--the Madison Mallards. If you visit in the fall or winter, there's always University of Wisconsin football, basketball or hockey to watch.
And if you're more into pro sports, Milwaukee is only an hour to the east and is home to the Brewers of MLB and the Bucks of the NBA. In addition to sports, Milwaukee also features the trendy shopping like Madison and as "Beer Town, USA" it, too, has a vibrant nightlife.
Wisconsin Dells Convention and Visitor's Bureau: http://wisdells.com/index.cfm
Door County Visitor Bureau: http://www.doorcounty.com/
Hayward Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.haywardlakes.com
Apostle Islands National Park: http://www.nps.gov/apis.
Prairie du Chien Visitor's Bureau: http://www.prairieduchien.org/visitor/history.htm
Camp Randall: http://www.uwbadgers.com/facilities/camp_randall/index_38.html
Circus World Museum: http://circusworld.wisconsinhistory.org/
Adam Crowson is a professional journalist with experience as a homeowner, parent and photographer. He has served as a copy editor and page designer at a daily newspaper since 2006, and previously worked as a reporter for a weekly newspaper. Crowson holds a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication.