Long Island Lighthouse
Nearly a dozen lighthouses dot the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The light tower on Long Island was first constructed in 1897 and staffed until 1964 when it was automated. (Photo by Pat Kreitlow)

Catching a summertime version of cabin fever? Looking to avoid crowded airports? Get on the road for summer’s final long weekend.

So, you were planning a Labor Day staycation and you changed your mind? That’s alright, Wisconsin is full of great weekend getaway destinations, whether you want to play in the water, enjoy the local fare, or simply relax on a beach. 

It takes about seven hours to drive from Superior to Kenosha, which means that depending on where you live, you can be in any number of great Wisconsin getaway locales in a few minutes or a few hours. 

Bayfield and the Apostle Islands

Located as far “up north” as it gets, Bayfield serves as the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a national park that protects 20 of the 21 islands that lie offshore in Lake Superior. The park boasts more lighthouses than any other national park, offering visitors various historic landmarks. 

If you like to rough it and camping is your idea of the perfect Wisconsin weekend getaway, you can find camping on 18 of the islands, if reservations are available. However, many visitors choose to stay on the mainland in Bayfield, where they can enjoy the comfort of a hotel or bed and breakfast. 

Visitors who stay in Bayfield can also find the ferry to Madeline Island, the largest island and the only one that isn’t part of the national park. The ferry offers a breathtaking view of many of the Apostle Islands and takes you to La Pointe, where you can begin exploring the bars, restaurants, history, and trails on Madeline Island. 

If time allows, you can take a 25-mile drive south along Chequamegon Bay (through beautiful Washburn, home of the Vinyl Vault!) and check out Ashland, which we featured recently in a separate story

If you can’t get to Bayfield this weekend, consider a visit Oct. 7-9 for the annual Apple Festival.

Taste of Madison

Whether you’ve been to Madison 50 times or only driven past on the interstate, Labor Day weekend is one of the best times to visit, especially if you are a foodie. Each Labor Day weekend, the city holds the Taste of Madison on Capitol Square. You can find sweet and savory surprises from all corners of the world—not to mention all around the isthmus—as you wander through the various booths. 

Also, entering the festival is free. You don’t have to pay an admission fee to check out more than 70 food vendors, various drink options, and live music. Plus, the money you spend goes to a good cause. The festival donates profits to local charities and nonprofits. 

While you are in town, you can check out the Chazen Museum of Art and the Madison Contemporary Museum of Art as well as the state Capitol and other historic sites throughout the city. If you would rather spend your time outdoors, you will find more than 200 miles of biking and hiking trails in the Madison area, many of which give you access to Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, the two lakes that make up the isthmus where downtown Madison lies.

St. Croix River Valley

The lower 125 miles of the 169-mile-long St. Croix River form the boundary between Wisconsin and Minnesota, right up until the river joins the Mississippi at Prescott. You will find beauty, serenity, and plenty of things to do along the entire length of the St. Croix. However, for maximum accessibility to lodging, dining, and on-the-water activities, consider staying in St. Croix Falls, where you will find some smaller hotels and a variety of bed and breakfasts outside of town. 

St. Croix Falls is right across the river from Taylors Falls, Minnesota. Both small towns offer quaint restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and gift shops if you feel like exploring. Taylors Falls is also where you can catch the Taylors Falls Queen or Princess for a scenic, narrated riverboat ride to explore the Dalles of the St. Croix River. (Yes, dalles—the original French name for the narrow gorges. No offense, Wisconsin Dells!) The river runs through Interstate Park. You can access the beautiful trails and cliffs from both states, but head to the Wisconsin side for swimming at the Lake of the Dalles. 

Interstate Park is also home to the far western portion of the Ice Age Trail, the 1,000 mile trail that winds through Wisconsin and marks the glacial limits of the most recent Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. Hiking and cycling enthusiasts will enjoy the scenic trails showing how mammoth ice sheets sculpted the landscape, and visitors also have easy access to the nearby Gandydancer Trail. 

Manitowoc-Two Rivers

Wisconsin is blessed to have not one but two Great Lakes as its neighbors. If you can’t get up to Lake Superior to see Bayfield, consider hanging out on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Manitowoc-Two Rivers area. This area has recently been designated as the Shipwreck Coast Marine Sanctuary, protecting 36 shipwrecks across more than 960 miles and alongside three counties

Even if you are not a scuba diver, you can still explore a couple of the wrecks while swimming on the beaches at Two Rivers Point Beach State Park. History buffs can learn more about the wrecks at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, one of the largest museums in the Midwest. 

Depending on how you want to spend your weekend, you can find various activities in Manitowoc, Two Rivers, and along the coast. Enjoy some wine and local craft beers at one of the several wineries and breweries in the area. You might also consider going fishing on Lake Michigan with one of the several charter companies in the area or spending some time hanging out at the beach. Nashotah Beach in Manitowoc is a local favorite. It’s a 50-acre, groomed sand beach with areas for swimming and volleyball, restrooms and changing areas, picnic tables, grills, and a concession stand. 

And if you missed our earlier story on quirky Wisconsin destinations, you could see where a 20-pound chunk of the Russian Sputnik IV satellite crashed onto a downtown street in 1962.

Even if you’re not planning a last-minute Labor Day weekend trip, you can get lots of ideas about future road trips by checking the many features we’ve provided here on our website over the past two-and-a-half years. Now get out there and enjoy Our Wisconsin!