Wisconsin

8 Best Places For Weekend Getaways in Wisconsin

From a popular resort area and the waterpark capital of the world to big cities and rural towns, these are the best places to visit in the state

I was born and raised near the Wisconsin-Illinois state line—a circumstance that gave me plenty of opportunities for Wisconsin weekend getaways. It started with my parents, camping in the woods or visiting Milwaukee for a city retreat. When I got older, it shifted to my friend group. Wisconsin holds a special and continuous place in my heart; once you get there and discover all the things you can do, it’s easy to see why so many people consider it a personal playground.

Whether you want to enjoy a waterpark with your family, plan a romantic weekend away with your partner, or even go on a quick hiking trip, Wisconsin has a spot for everyone and their interests. And because every good weekend deserves an equally great place to sleep, hunker down in one of these eight lodging options—designed to match the vibe of your trip.

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Splash Around With Your Family in the Waterpark Capital of the World

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Kids of all ages will relish a weekend spent at Wisconsin Dells, also known as the waterpark capital of the world. Splash around in more than 16 million gallons of water in the metro area’s waterparks, both outdoor and indoor. You can enjoy the latest and greatest waterpark technology—like water made sparkling clean with ozone treatments, waterslides like the one at Noah’s Ark that drop you through a trap door in the floor, multi-level lazy rivers with watery elevators built in, and solo surfing simulators. Get on top of the water rather than in it by taking your family on a Wisconsin Ducks tour, amphibious vehicles that tour you around both land and water.

But it’s not all about water activities in the Dells. Once you tire of getting soaked, try some of the other area favorites: buttery fudge done up like they do in Michigan’s Mackinac Island; tourist trap spots like massive dinosaurs, wax museums, and one upside-down White House; and even year-round haunted houses (including one where my dad tried to hand me off to Frankenstein when I was a kid… don’t ask).

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Relive Your School Days With a Friends Getaway in Wisconsin

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Madison, the state’s second-largest city, is built on an isthmus between two lakes, and is home to the main University of Wisconsin campus. The city has a distinct college-town vibe, with quirky coffeeshops, delis, cultural experiences, and a large activist population. It’s also Wisconsin’s capital city, and the square surrounding the capitol building is always overflowing with activity—whether it’s a protest, an art exhibit turning storefronts into murals, or the country’s largest producers-only farmers market during the summer.

Madison is a great spot for a friends’ weekend getaway—and whether you went to college at UW-Madison or not, you’ll still get that college town vibe that so many adults treasure. But you and your buddies can enjoy the outdoor experiences Madison offers, as well. It’s one of five U.S. cities with a platinum-level bike rating. You can hike on more than 200 miles of trail. Or get in a kayak and explore more than 15,000 acres of water.

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Pitch a Cool Tent With Friends or Family in Door County

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If Wisconsin were a hand, Door County would be the thumb, jutting off to the right into Lake Michigan. The resort and vacation area is a mix of camping, cottages, and luxe hotels, with an abundance of beach and lake communities lining the 300 miles of shoreline. If you’re a lighthouse lover, there are 11 of them—and they’re all historic. Prefer state parks? You can hike through five of them. And that’s on top of biking, boating, birding, shopping in quirky communities, exploring art galleries, and kicking back with a glass at local wineries.

Whatever you decide to do in Door County, make sure you don’t miss the two iconic experiences: trying cherry bounce, and attending a fish boil. Door County is famous for its cherries, and locals gather them up, soak them in sugar and alcohol for months, and then enjoy it all winter long in a cordial called Cherry Bounce. Ask anyone there; they’re likely to have some for you to try. And they’ll probably invite you to a fish boil, a dinner experience where local fish is boiled in a massive kettle over a huge fire, which is then doused with water to create a huge plume of smoke before everyone chows down.

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Embrace Brewing's History in the Cream City

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One visit to Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, and you’ll see that it is unequivocally a beer haven. There are more than 30 breweries throughout the city, including big names like Miller and Pabst. It earned its nickname, Brew City, around 1871, when the Great Chicago Fire destroyed many of Chicago’s breweries.

Milwaukee sent water and beer down to thirsty residents and launched nationwide distribution of the city’s beers. It’s easy to find relics of that past, with large historic brewing complexes and taverns throughout the city that still carry decorative globes from when they were tied houses for specific breweries.

Grab a beer at a bar and then take a self-guided walking tour through the Brewery District to check out the remaining beer history. Once you’re done with that, head over to Clock Shadow Creamery, Wisconsin’s first urban creamery, to try a local specialty: cheese. You can take a $3 tour there to see how the cheese is made. Afterwards, head to the river where you can stroll along the riverwalk, taking in all the public sculptures that line the Milwaukee River—including the Bronze Fonz, a sculpture of Arthur Fonzarelli from Happy Days.

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Lace Up Your Hiking Boots for an Outdoorsy Excursion

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For a lot of us in the middle of the state, the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails are a pipe dream. We’re too far away from either of them to make it possible to hike—unless we quit our jobs and have a ton of money to spend on airfare. Luckily, Wisconsin has its own route: the Ice Age Trail. The 1,200-mile trail winds through the state, heading north at the western terminus and south and then back up to Door County at the eastern terminus. It runs through 31 counties, open for bikers, hikers, snowshoes, cross-country skiers, and backpackers.

In the west, the Ice Age Trail butts up to Minnesota, so you can take full advantage of having both states nearby. Don’t miss a chance to hike some of the trail, though—it connects several small communities and historic main streets in an effort to embrace togetherness.

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Enjoy a Wooded Wilderness Getaway in the Northwoods

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Get ready for an outdoor excursion when you spend the weekend in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, the northern part of the state that’s (spoiler alert) heavily wooded. No matter what time of year you go, you’ll be able to embrace both seclusion and nature with outdoor activities like hunting, snowmobiling, or lounging at the lake—and there are more than 3,200 lakes. Add in more than 500,000 acres of public forest, and it’s a wilderness wonderland.

Start your weekend in Rhinelander, the capital of the Northwoods. It’s the only town in the region that fully embraces both the outdoor lifestyle and urban necessities. Rhinelander has the only regional airport up north, and sits on the banks of the Wisconsin River, providing access to more than 1,100 lakes. In the wintertime, outdoor enthusiasts can expect around 60 inches of snowfall.

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Get Immersed in Natural Beauty and Amish Culture Where Glaciers Didn't Hit

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The Driftless region in southwest Wisconsin is one of the lesser-known gems of the state. It’s named so for a unique reason: This was one of the only spots in Wisconsin where glaciers didn’t sweep across the land, flattening everything and leaving rocks and sediment in their wake. Here, the landscape was carved out by flowing rivers, slicing through sandstone to create rolling hills punctuated by deep and narrow valleys.

Today, the wooded and pastured landscape ebbs and flows with solitude, silence, and serenity. The Amish community is large here, hearkening back to days of family farming and a simpler way of life. That farming mindset never left the region, either; the Driftless has one of the biggest concentrations of organic farms anywhere in the country. But it’s also known for excellent craft beer, solitary water sports like fly fishing or gently slicing through water in a canoe, and a commitment to alternative power. One town, Soldier’s Grove, claims to be the first solar village in the United States.

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Live Lake Life in a Romantic Resort Community

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Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, wealthy Chicagoans would come up to Lake Geneva in southeast Wisconsin to spend their summers relaxing at lake houses. The town grew up around them, and is now home to antique shops, candy stores, and a small-town historic main street—all packed onto the shore of the lake. You can still see those vacation houses, too—most of them are mansions—on a hike around Lake Geneva.

In the summertime, Lake Geneva is still a destination, but not just for the wealthy. It’s a playground for anyone with a boat or who just loves being on the water. Some long-standing summertime traditions still persist, too, like getting an ice cream cone at Kilwins to take to the beach, or riding along on the historic mail boat that delivers mail to all the homes on the lake. In the wintertime, it morphs into a snowy paradise, complete with snowmobiling trails, ice fishing, and a snow and ice sculpture competition.

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