Yesterday as I sat pinning ideas to my travel board, I got to thinking about how many amazing places are right here in the United States. My mind always goes international to places like Ireland, Fiji, France, Brazil, etc., and as much as I’d love to see and experience these places and more throughout my life, I tend to overlook places that are right in my own backyard or even just a short road-trip away. It’s so much fun to scroll through and compile lists of all the “must-dos” for each state so that one day when I get the chance to travel more, I can make sure I don’t miss anything.
With that, I started writing down some things that I really feel like are absolute must-dos for my home state and current residence, Wisconsin! Now I know that Wisconsin doesn’t top many travel bucket lists, but it truly is a beautiful and unique state. Just as I’m sure holds true with every state, there is a little bit of everything here and something for everyone. I love Wisconsin and am proud to call it my home. Also, for your information – I am in no way an expert on the state. There is so much I haven’t yet tried and explored, though I plan to one day!
So without further ado, here are my 11 things (in no particular order) that you can’t miss in America’s Dairyland!
1. Spend a day (or at least a few hours) exploring Devil’s Lake State Park
Devil’s Lake is a 360 acre lake nestled in the rolling hills of Baraboo, Wisconsin. The lake is the crown jewel of the approximately 9,200 acre state park. Hiking trails, two sand beaches, canoe & kayak rentals, and rock climbing offer hours of fun and exploration. Not to mention, pretty awesome workouts as well. I had to scale a whole hillside (felt like mountainside) of quartzite bluffs to get to this view! I’ve only visited in the summer, but I’ve heard it’s beautiful anytime of year and have always wanted to go in the fall as well. Granted, summer is probably the best time to visit because you can enjoy the lake. Definitely a great way to cool off and recharge after some intense hikes in the hot sun! Tip: The park gets very busy during the summer months, especially on weekends. I’ve found that it’s best to arrive at the park by or before 9 a.m., otherwise you will have to park way away from either beach, or worse, get turned away.
2. Get some custard
It’s pretty much an unofficial rite of passage to the state. It truly blows my mind when people say they don’t know what custard is, even though I know that few states outside of Wisconsin sell it. Best thing ever. Creamy, thick and delicious beyond words, custard is a favorite summer, well actually year-round treat of Wisconsinites. You can’t go wrong with any variation whether you are a chocolate or vanilla fan, prefer cones or sundaes. Although, I will say that my personal favorite is just plain vanilla in a waffle cone! My favorite local custard joints are Oscar’s, Kopp’s and Le Ducs. Try some, you’ll thank me!
3. Explore Downtown Milwaukee
While it’s not the official capitol of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is probably the most well known city in the state and for good reason. There is so much to explore in this bustling city on Lake Michigan. Awesome restaurants, museums, parks, beaches and more! I usually enjoy day trips to Milwaukee since I live only about half an hour west, but it’s also a destination that can entertain anyone for days. A few of my favorites include the Public Market, Historic Third Ward, and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
4. Make a splash in the Wisconsin Dells
Ask yourself this. How could you not have a blast in a place known as the “waterpark capital of the world”? Exactly. You absolutely cannot go to Wisconsin without spending at least a day in the Dells. The Dells boasts more than twenty indoor and outdoor waterparks spread out over 70 acres. That’s a lot of water! My personal favorite is either the Kalahari or Noah’s Ark. Between wave pools, waterslides, kiddie areas and hot tubs, you can’t not have a great time! Especially since there are also tons of restaurants and other fun attractions. Also, no trip to the Wisconsin Dells is complete without a visit to Downtown Dells. Here you’ll find quirky shops, a riverwalk, original Ducks tours on the Wisconsin river, mini-golf and even a rollercoaster. Hard to spend more than a few hours here, but still a must-do!
5. Check out Lake Michigan
Whether you want to simply get some views, walk along the water, swim or get out on a boat, there are countless beaches and parks along the Lake Michigan coast that allow you to spend some time down at the water. One of my favorite places to access the lake is Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in northern Milwaukee. Some of the most beautiful stretches of Lake Michigan I have found.
6. Visit Miller Park & Lambeau Field
You don’t necessarily have to be a huge sports fan to enjoy these famous venues. Miller Park, home of the Brewers, is found in Milwaukee while Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, is found in Green Bay. Whether you can catch a game or not, even touring these venues is a great experience. I’ve been to a few games at Miller Park and though I’m not a huge fan of baseball, tailgating beforehand and cheering on the team from up in the stands is a lot of fun. Sadly, I haven’t yet attended a Packer game there, but I did have the opportunity to stop by Lambeau Field on my way home from up north about a year and a half ago. Even though it was too late in the evening to go in and see the field, walking around the stadium was impressive and a neat experience.
7. Go wild at the Milwaukee County Zoo
If you enjoy animals, you can’t go wrong at the Milwaukee County Zoo. This is my favorite zoo of all time (keep in mind I haven’t been to tons of zoos) and have been going here ever since I was little. This 200 acre zoo is home to more than 2,500 animals and represents over 300 species. You can see nearly every animal you can imagine here, as well as enjoy some good food, ride a safari train, sky tram or carousel, feed a giraffe, and see a show or two. A really fun way to spend a few hours, especially if you have little ones in tow!
8. Pick some apples at Elegant Farmer
If you happen to be in Southeastern Wisconsin between early September and late October, make sure to head over to Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago. Hands down my favorite place to spend a few hours in the fall! Hop on a tractor-pulled hayride out to the orchards or pumpkin patch, test your navigation skills in the corn maze, then walk around inside the little market to check out some samples and delicious artisan products. You can even grab some lunch or make your own caramel apple. Also, make sure not to leave without grabbing a few of their fresh made cider donuts and apple cider. Can’t miss the donut shack, you start to smell it right after you buy your orchard tickets!
9. Take in the fall colors in Door County
Though it is beautiful year-round, I find Door County to be the most beautiful in October. You know, when the air is cool and the leaves are vibrant shades of red, orange and yellow. Described as the Cape Cod of Wisconsin, Door County (the Wisconsin thumb) is a beautiful peninsular getaway destination with a handful of state parks, restaurants and lake access, not to mention breathtaking views. Don’t miss exploring Peninsula State Park, grabbing some amazing pizza at Wild Tomato, seeing sea caves at Cave Point County Park, tasting some wine at one of numerous vineyards throughout the peninsula and driving through the cute little towns of Fish Creek & Ephraim.
10. Shop ’til you drop at Bayshore Town Center
Just north of Milwaukee, you’ll find this amazing outdoor mall and hub of restaurants and bars. Though it is most enjoyable to explore in nice weather, it’s an awesome way to spend some money any time of year. Even if you’re watching your wallet, Bayshore is a lot of fun to simply walk around in and window shop.
11. Head up to the North Woods
Especially if you’re visiting in the summer, you need to venture up to northern Wisconsin. Doesn’t matter where in actually, because anywhere up here is where Wisconsin really shines. This is where Wisconsinites escape to in the summers to enjoy the hundreds of lakes and lush forests. If you can, rent a cabin on the lake and just enjoy the water. Tubing is a blast, as well as wakeboarding or waterskiing if you know how (I don’t). You can also rent a boat, kayak or paddleboard and make the most out of being on the water. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous up here and the sunsets are to die for. I’ve only been up as far as Rhinelander, but really want to make it up to Hayward where I hear it gets even more beautiful.
And there you have it! 11 things you absolutely cannot miss in Wisconsin, though there is so much more. I could list 100 things if I wanted because Wisconsin is beautiful and there is lots to explore. Honestly, there is so much I haven’t even seen and done yet and I’ll be sharing my Wisconsin bucket list soon as well as travel guides to a few places in the state!
Ever been to Wisconsin? What did you enjoy? Did I miss anything?
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!