From Milwaukee to the Apostle Islands, Wisconsin is a land of ever-changing landscapes. In the lowlands in the state’s south, cheese and dairy farming have given the state a renowned reputation.
Some of the best things to do in Wisconsin are found throughout all the major towns, but hidden gems from parks to historic homes lay quietly for you to stumble upon them. As you move throughout Wisconsin, the prairies give way to rugged coasts shaped by the Ice Age and volcanic eruptions. Here, trails take you along spectacular shorelines to where rock caverns have been carved beneath the surface and the Great Lakes shine underneath the sun.
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Hearthstone Historic House Museum
In 1882, Hearthstone became the first residential home on earth powered by hydroelectricity. In Appleton, the home was built by Henry Rogers, who lived with his wife and family. The building was connected to a local hydroelectric station, the first of its kind in the United States.
90 years later, the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and turned into a museum. Today, the original wiring and fixtures still exist, with the same light switches still in place. It’s an incredible look into the dawn of the electric age that has spawned a whole manner of amazing inventions.
16. Washington Island
There was once a time when few would venture across the treacherous waters of Death’s Door. But now the safe and easy ferry makes it a breeze to travel to this one-of-a-kind destination. The island is diminutive and is home to only 600 residents. It’s grid-like layout with nigh a car in sight makes it a wonderful place to walk or cycle.
The island is home to the largest lavender farm in the Midwest, among several other historic and natural attractions. These include the Sunset Resort, which opened in the late 1800s and the Little Lake Nature Preserve. The highlight, however, is the Stavkirke, a replica stave church that celebrates the island’s Scandinavian heritage.
15. Bay Beach Amusement Park
For over a century, Bay Beach Amusement Park has entertained Green Bay locals and travelers alike. The family-friendly attraction is a great day out, while also being within walking distance of the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary.
The classic amusement park bucks the trend of the modern times and remains easy on your wallet. Bay Beach features all your favorite rides from roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls to bumper cars and the big wheel. The traditional wooden roller coaster is a replica of Elvis’ favorite ride at Libertyland.
You’ll also find community events, dancers, and plenty of concession stands and the park is free to enter.
14. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
In 1868, the lamp atop the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse shone for the first time. With the help of the tireless keepers, sailors received solace and help to guide them through the storms and pitch-black nights out on Green Bay.
Regardless of the torrid conditions, the lamp kept burning until 1926, when the last shift at Eagle Bluff Lighthouse was complete. Now fully restored, the historic 76-foot lighthouse can be explored alongside knowledgeable guides. Learn the history of the building and the stories of the keepers, some of whose furnishings and belongings remain on display.
Tours and tower climbs run every 30 minutes between June and October.
13. Milwaukee Art Museum
Set out in chronological order, take a journey through artistic history as you travel from the 13th century to now at the Milwaukee Art Museum. It features a wonderful collection of 30,000 pieces, all within the eye-catching Quadracci Pavillion.
The museum began with a collection donated by Alexander Mitchell, as a way to bring fine art to what was then a remote port town. Now covering four floors, admire pieces from around the world, from Europe to Asia and the Americas.
A highlight for many locals is the extensive collection of work from Georgia O’Keefe, a celebrated Wisconsin artist. Afterwards, admire the winged roof of the postmodern building from the exterior grounds.
12. Bookworm Gardens (Sheboygan)
Bringing a touch of literature to your garden experience, the Bookworm Gardens references more than 60 iconic children’s books. The gardens’ fantastic layout allows it to be interactive and fun for children who can explore the extensive park, learn about the flowers, and read.
As you make your way through, you’ll enjoy distinct sections that celebrate, music, art, nature, and literature. Each section explores the flora on display while having several cozy reading nooks. In Bookworm Gardens, the kids can also learn to make music and search for the hidden alphabet.
11. Copper Falls State Park
Shaped by the ancient flow of lava and with waterfalls tumbling into the valley, Cooper Falls State Park is a northern Wisconsin gem. In the state park, two major rivers, Tyler Forks River and Bad River, connect before surging down a steep and narrow gorge.
Eventually, the body of water cascades over the cliff, forming a series of three dramatic waterfalls. The tallest measuring in at 30 feet. Throughout the park, you’ll discover prehistoric rock formations, including the aptly named Devil’s Gate.
The best way to explore the park’s waterfalls and expansive viewpoints is along the 1.7-mile Doughboy’s Trail. The loop brings you to each waterfall, Devil’s Gate, and several observation points with views of Lake Superior.
10. Olbrich Botanical Gardens (Madison)
If you’re seeking peace and tranquility in the state capital, then make your way to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Designed and created by Michael Olbrich, the gardens opened in 1952 after years of efforts, and have since expanded through the decades.
The botanical gardens are now divided into seven sections, each with distinct vistas and vibrant colors. Highlights of the gardens include the Perennial Garden, the Sunken Garden, and the extensive Rose Garden.
In 2002, the Thai Pavilion was donated by the King of Thailand, bringing international esteem to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. You could easily spend a pleasant afternoon wandering between each garden, taking time to enjoy a scenic picnic in one of the many open spaces.
9. Mt. Olympus Water and Fun Park
In the “Water Park Capital of the World” the Wisconsin Dells, Mt. Olympus Water and Fun Park rises above the chasing pack to be the best in town. The park has an indoor and outdoor section, making certain that the weather won’t diminish your enthralling day.
When the sun is out in the Wisconsin Dells, there’s no better place to be than Mt. Olympus. The park’s outdoor section has six stories worth of water adventures to embark on, before venturing over to the theme parks’ heart-in-mouth roller coasters.
On any day, you can enjoy the indoor water slides and whirlpools. When you need a breather, relax down the lazy river, or compete against friend and foe in the arcade room.
8. Cave Point County Park
In beautiful Door County, Cave Point County Park has revered limestone ledges worn down by the eternal rhythm of the waves. Cave Point is a haven for divers and photographers who can capture otherworldly vistas from below the surface, in the blue waters of Lake Michigan.
These include masterful rock caverns teeming with fish and glistening limestone. You don’t have to get into the refreshing lake to appreciate the unique dolomites along the coast. In fact, kayaking is perhaps the most popular activity in the park. Paddle along the banks with close-up views of the caverns shining through the clear water.
If you prefer to keep your legs on solid ground, enjoy the half-mile coastal trail with beautiful rock formations and lakeside forests where birds flutter through the canopy.
7. Devil’s Lake State Park
In Baraboo, north of Madison, Devil’s Lake State Park is Wisconsin’s most popular. With over three million visitors per year, the state park offers miles of hiking and biking trails, rock climbing, boat rentals and beaches.
The 1000-mile Ice Age Trail makes its way through the park, highlighting the region’s fascinating natural history. On your travels through the park, you’ll be able to enjoy amazing views from atop the 500-foot quartzite bluff that overlooks the sprawling lake.
For those that want solitude, you’ll find that in spades in Wisconsin’s largest state park. While you’ll also have social picnic areas and spacious beaches in which to hang and swim with friends and family.
6. Geneva Lake Shore Path
Wisconsin is home to an abundance of beautiful hiking trails, but beating stiff competition to first place is the breathtaking Geneva Lake Shore Path. Far from a thigh-burning hike, the trail is a delightful but long stroll.
Covering 21 miles, the trail caresses the banks of the crystal-clear Geneva Lake. Along the way, you’ll mix natural beauty with some stunning resorts and 19th century vacation homes. Its proximity to the town of Lake Geneva, restaurants, shops, and cafes means you can take multiple breaks on your walk. Or even turn around once you’ve had your fix.
If the sun is out, why not head onto the water and paddle your way along. Another option is joining the Lake Geneva Cruise Line providing an up-close experience to the brilliant estates.
5. Wisconsin State Capitol (Madison)
Almost as tall as the nation’s capitol building in Washington D.C., the Wisconsin State Capitol is striking, even from a distance. Built in 1917, the capitol features a towering dome that measures at over 280 feet.
You can tour perhaps the most beautiful piece of architecture in Madison on a free guided tour. Your expert leader will take you through the capitol’s top highlights, from monuments and rotundas to murals and marble designs.
The tours last an hour, leaving you with plenty of time to visit the sixth-floor museum. Here, you can learn about the process of building Wisconsin’s third state capitol. It’s the tallest building in Madison and, to truly appreciate its presence, capture the building from the Monana Terrace Community and Convention Center.
4. Harley-Davidson Museum (Milwaukee)
With its instantly recognizable logo, Harley-Davidson is a brand that represents much more than just motorbikes. In Milwaukee, the famed brand is celebrated at the impressive Harley-Davidson Museum.
Featuring over 450 motorbikes and provocative artifacts, you can learn about the history of Harley-Davidson, from its start here in Milwaukee in 1903, to the present day.
Always a brand of innovation, Harley-Davidson has long loved to go against the grain. The museum lets you experience that thrill in virtual reality by jumping on the back of one and making your way through the Midwest. Gearheads will have a blast tinkering with original engines, while you can also learn how to gain rep in the Rebels and Outlaws exhibit.
3. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Along the northern coast of Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is as historic as it is eye-catching. Featuring 21 islands, six storybook lighthouses and glistening sandstone, there’s no better place in the state to go for a kayak.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, hundreds of ships navigated the foggy Lake Superior with the guiding help of the Apostle Islands’ lighthouses. Today, you can visit the many that still stand. With the adjacent watcher’s cabin showing a lonely and romantic life.
You can explore the national lakeshore on foot, before kayaking or joining a cruise. On many of the islands, you can camp out and enjoy what is a stunning landscape shaped by thousands of years of glacial movement.
2. Witches Gulch
In Wisconsin Dells, Witches Gulch is a narrow canyon carved by surging water and the timeless efforts of the wind. Once an ancient lake, the sandstone canyons will remind some of the iconic slot canyons in Utah. Along the way, you’ll bear witness to whirlpool champers among the gloomy scenery, where thick ferns hover overhead.
Over the years, visitors have been able to make the trip to the intriguing canyon on foot. However, rules have changed to mitigate erosion and now those who wish to see Witches Gulch must sign up for the Upper Dells bout tour.
The trip reaches its zenith at the end of the canyon at Stand Rock. The towering, thin sandstone holds a larger rock on top. Here, the tour’s trained dog leaps from the peak of the pillar, leaving the crowd with bated breath.
The work of Frank Lloyd Wright can be seen all over Wisconsin. Born and raised in the Badger State, Wright is an influential architect whose designs include the Milwaukee’s beautiful Greek Orthodox Church. But his most iconic piece is Taliesin, a countryside estate that Lloyd himself perfected over the course of almost five decades.
Set in the gorgeous countryside with the rolling hills like waves across his 600-acre property, Lloyd went to work in the summer of 1911. The estate continued to improve until his death in 1959. Today, you can tour the property, including the beguiling home, which features a gallery, theater, and school.
Also known as Taliesin East, you can receive the full experience by journeying to Taliesin West in Arizona, where Frank Lloyd Wright spent the winter.