Life is crowded, and a vacation is often first thing to be pushed aside. But what if that change of scenery you crave is closer than you think? Between family attractions in the Dells, cultural outings in Madison and Milwaukee, and shopping destinations such as Minocqua, Pleasant Prairie and Johnson Creek, there is no shortage of vacation options in Wisconsin.
This is an incredibly biodiverse and beautiful state, where new wilderness adventures await with each turn of the season. Here are just a few of the amazing experiences available within a few hours’ drive from where ever you are.
The Sea and Ice Caves of the Apostle Islands
This chain of islands on Lake Superior is a protected National Lakeshore and offers gorgeous hiking along the red sandstone cliffs and pristine waters. Madeline Island is accessible by ferry with a quaint, walkable downtown whose galleries brim with the work of local artists. In summer, don’t miss the breathtaking Apostle Island sea caves by kayak; take a guided tour with Living Adventures. In winter, those sea caves transform into equally stunning ice caves. Bayfield hosts an annual Dog Sled Race: adventurers can book their own mushing experience with Wolfsong Adventures.
Fishing the World’s Largest Chain of Inland Freshwater Lakes
Anglers catch about 67 million fish each year in Wisconsin. For nearly undisturbed waters, get your bait and head up to the 28 interconnected lakes of Eagle River and Three Lakes. One of the most productive musky fisheries, you’ll also find walleye, bluegill, northern pike, catfish, and large and smallmouth bass in these waters. Winter fishing is easily accessible along the 500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails nearby. There are guided fishing opportunities, like Musky Mastery or Ryan Bock’s Guide Service, which guarantees you’ll catch a walleye or your trip is free!
The majesty of Big Manitou Falls
Emerald forests, blooming flowers, the thunderous roar of water cascading down a cliff side, Big Manitou Falls is a gem of northern Wisconsin. Located 13 miles south of Superior in Pattison State Park, the Falls tumble 165 feet into the Black River below, making them the tallest waterfall in the state. Black River’s dark waters wind through dense forest, creating an especially beautiful fall backdrop. For a waterfall excursion, extend your trip to include nearby Little Manitou Falls, or drive 20 miles northeast and explore Amnicon Falls State Park for more family-friendly swimming holes on hot summer days.
Freshwater Surfing in Sheboygan
Lake Michigan, dubbed the Malibu of the Midwest, is actually the world’s freshwater surf capital. Sheboygan offers some of the best surfing on the lake; natural coastal formations on a 5-mile stretch of the city’s shoreline result in 22 breaks, where surfable waves can form. The best waves can be found between September and April, and usually require winds of 15-25 mph. Labor Day launches the season, and it’s one of the busiest beach days for the city. If you’re just getting your feet wet, summer is a great time to practice on smaller waves. Find lessons, rentals and gear at EOS, Wisconsin’s only surf shop. The shop often hosts surf community events from their downtown Sheboygan location.
Wausau’s Whitewater Rapids and Edible Hiking Trails
One of only two urban whitewater kayaking courses in America is located in the heart of Wisconsin, in downtown Wausau. A practice area for Olympians in training, this course can be challenging for beginners. If need be, get started with an intro class, like those offered by Divepoint Scuba & Paddle Adventure Center, with locations in Wausau and Steven’s Point.
If your sense of adventure includes culinary exploration in the wild, head about an hour north and west to the shores of Lake Hultman. There you’ll find the Standish Price Interpretive Trail, marked to help hikers identify the edible foliage along the way. Open May through October, it features 118 edible plants, including over 71 different species. Pick up the guidebook at Holiday Hills Campground and spend a few hours exploring flavors you may already be growing in your own backyard, plus a few brand new tastes to expand your gastronomic vocabulary.
Birdwatching at Horicon Marsh
Less than an hour from Milwaukee sits the world’s largest cattail marsh, and one of the nation’s most important wetlands. Designated a National Wildlife Refuge, Horicon Marsh encompasses 32,000 acres of protected wetland. The marsh is home to over 305 different species of birds, drawing tens of thousands during spring and fall migration. In 2014, CNN named Horicon Marsh among America’s top 50 best natural wonders. Discover the variety of other wildlife residing in these wetlands by hiking, biking, or canoeing the trails. In winter, strap on your cross country skis. Book a charming stay at Mayville’s historic Audubon Inn, where packages include a champagne flight over the marsh in a private plane. Horicon Marsh Educational Centers offer unique events year round, like Movies at the Marsh.