Erin Hills

Summer is a festival frenzy for Wisconsin vacationers

Summer in Wisconsin is a thing of pure beauty. Over a million people from our state and around the world take advantage of warm sunshine, sparkling lakes and brisk summer breezes, spending over $11 billion annually.

It’s the perfect time to experience Wisconsin’s many festivals. Locals and visitors can choose from a plethora of music festivals like Summerfest, Hodag or Country USA. They can pick boat or air festivals, beer festivals, cheese celebrations, or enjoy Wisconsin’s diverse heritage and history at cultural festivals and county fairs.

While Milwaukee’s Summerfest is the world’s largest music festival and Madison hosts the globe’s most massive brat feast, there is plenty to discover a little off the beaten path. Below is a sample of Wisconsin’s less traveled summer gems.

Lumberjack World Championships, Hayward

Fifty years ago, businessman Tony Wise established an annual event to celebrate Wisconsin’s logging heritage and the workday skills perfected by lumberjacks in forests across the nation. Today over 100 loggers travel from all over the world to compete in more than 21 events including log rolling, chopping and the 90-foot tree climb. Last year, both male and female athletes competed for more than $50,000 in prize money.

The World Lumberjack Championship was previously held at Historyland – a theme park that commemorates the heritage of Wisconsin’s fur trade, Native American culture and the logging industry. Today, the three-day event takes place at the Lumberjack Bowl, formerly a holding pond for the North Wisconsin Lumber Company.

EAA Air Venture, Oshkosh

More than 60 years ago, EAA started as a small gathering of aircraft and aviators. At the time, it was known as The Experimental Aircraft Association’s Fly-In Convention and was held at what is now Timmerman Field in Milwaukee.

Today the EAA Air Venture is one of the world’s largest aviation events, attracting more than 10,000 aircraft and 500,000 people to Oshkosh for a seven-day celebration of aviation. The event showcases flying machines from all eras of flight, plus over 500 forums, workshops and seminars, world-class aerobatics, music, food and fun for aviation enthusiasts from around the world.

Cranberry Festival, Warrens

Warrens is considered the cranberry capital of Wisconsin, so it’s no surprise that it’s home to the world’s largest cranberry festival. Each year, more than 120,000 visitors flock to Warrens for an immersive cranberry experience.

Once visitors have toured the cranberry marshes, they can explore more than 1,200 vendors offering arts and crafts, a flea market, antique booths and countless homages to the amazing bog-grown berry. Nowhere else is there such an abundance of fresh cranberries, cranberry cream puffs, deep-fried cranberries on a stick and cranberry wine to be sampled while taking in a recipe or costume contest, a flower show, or a cranberry pie-eating contest.

Like your berries with brass? The festival is also home to one of the largest high school marching band parades in the Midwest. Best of all, in the festival’s 44-year history, it has given more than $2 million in donations to community organizations, area schools, the local fire department and the Warrens Lions Club. It has also established its own scholarship fund for college students.

Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival, Superior

Dragon boats are an impressive sight: 40 feet of fiberglass and wood, dragon-dressed and carrying a crew of 22 that includes 20 paddlers, one drummer and one steer person. Fifteen years ago, the city of Superior held its very first Dragon Boat Festival. Today, the two-day event includes more than 100 teams and boatloads of spectators who root for their favorite crews while taking in the all-around festive atmosphere.

Since its inception, the festival has raised more than $1 million for the Superior and Duluth communities and is one of the largest dragon boat races in North America.

Iola Old Car Show and Swap Meet, Iola

One of America’s largest collector car shows takes place in one of Wisconsin’s quietest villages. Iola has approximately 1,300 residents, but during the second week in July since 1972, thousands descend on this quiet town for the Old Car Show and Swap Meet.

The show sits on 300 acres of land and features more than 2,200 show cars from the 1930s through the ’70s surrounded by swap and retail spaces, corrals and camping. The 2016 celebration will highlight the truck and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dodge Charger.

Iola knows how to treat company. The event offers food, refreshments and entertainment throughout the day plus free parking, shuttle services and complimentary wireless internet service.

Waterford Balloon Festival, Waterford

There’s no sight quite like hot air balloons illuminating a Wisconsin summer skyline at sunset. Waterford offers that and more at its annual two-day Balloon Festival. The family-friendly event attracts about 20,000 spectators and balloons from all over the country.

With hot air ballooning, everything is naturally weather-dependent. When all is fair, visitors can get close to tethered, inflated balloons and even take paid rides before watching all of them light up the
evening sky at dusk.

The otherwise early evening event also features a 5k run/walk one morning, a photo contest, kite-flying, bingo, kids’ activities, live entertainment and a vendor craft and art fair. Devotees can hang around until Sunday morning for a final mass ascension at dawn.

More world class golf coming to Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a world class golf destination. The Straits Course at Whistling Straits near Sheboygan is ranked 48th in Golf Digest’s World’s Greatest Golf Courses list and was the site of the 2015 PGA Championship, won by Jason Day of Australia.

Whisting Straits, owned by the Kohler Co., has become a frequent site of championship golf events featuring the world’s greatest players. The PGA Championship was also held there in 2004 and 2010; it hosted the U.S. Senior Open in 2007 and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020.

Erin Hills in Washington County. (Paul Hundley)
Erin Hills in Washington County. (Paul Hundley)

But Whistling Straits is not the only golf course in the state attracting professional championship events. Erin Hills, located in Washington County 35 miles northwest of downtown Milwaukee, will host the 2017 U.S. Open. The course, which ranked as the 42nd best golf course in the nation by Golf Digest, was also the site of the 2011 U.S. Amateur.

Blackwolf Run in Kohler was the site of the 1998 and 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. Blackwolf Run’s River Course is the 91st best course in the nation, according to Golf Digest.

The PGA Tour’s Champions Tour (formerly known as the Senior PGA Tour) is coming to Wisconsin in 2016; the American Family Insurance Championship will be played at University Ridge in Madison in June. Madison-based American Family Insurance has signed a three-year agreement to be the tournament’s title sponsor.

The LPGA Tour will come to Wisconsin in 2017. The event, which will be called the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, will be held at Thornberry Creek, a course owned by the Oneida Nation and located near Green Bay. The Oneida Nation has agreed to a three-year deal with the LPGA Tour starting in the summer of 2017.

The biggest golf event in Wisconsin in 2017 might not be the U.S. Open or the inaugural Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, however. Anticipation is high for the opening of Sand Valley Golf Resort. Situated on a 1,700-acre sand dune site near Nekoosa in central Wisconsin, the resort is being developed by Mike Keiser, who developed the acclaimed Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. Two of the courses at Bandon Dunes made the Golf Digest World’s Greatest Golf Courses list, and Sand Valley is also expected to be a top attraction. The first course will open there in 2017, and the second in 2018. Keiser hired some of the best golf course architects in the world for Sand Valley. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed the course that will open in 2017. David McLay Kidd designed the course that will open in 2018.

Kohler Company is also working on plans for another course, which would be built south of Sheboygan along Lake Michigan. The company says it will be a “world-class public course that offers golfers an unmatched experience.” The course will be designed by Pete Dye, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who also designed Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run.

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