Baraboo May Be Known for Its Circus History, but It Offers More Than 3 Rings of Other Day-Trip Activities

Driftless Riverfront

(Photo by Susan Lampert Smith)

By Susan Lampert Smith
August 30, 2022

Apples—both fresh and fermented—are plentiful, along with shopping, dining, and recreational options.

It’s the eve of the apple season, and the names of those early varieties have given Ski-Hi Orchard’s marketing manager Dan Kelter some wild ideas.

“In my mind, the names – Paula Red and Ginger Gold – sound like Hollywood movie stars of the 1940s,’’ Kelter says. “Some year we’re going to have to have a season premiere for them with a red carpet and everything.”

Ski-Hi Orchard signs
Photo by Susan Lampert Smith

You can forgive Kelter if he sounds a little giddy. The 2022 apple season at Wisconsin’s oldest orchard is shaping up as a blockbuster. After a down year in 2021, when a late spring frost knocked the blossoms off the trees, this year the orchard’s 80 acres of trees are loaded with 30 varieties of apples. 

There are so many apples that, for the first time since A.K. Bassett planted the first trees in 1907, Ski-Hi is going to be offering pick-your-own apples.

“It’s looking like a great year,’’ said orchard manager Jake Franzen. “It’s a beautiful crop and we’re very excited.”

Pro tip: the orchard’s name is pronounced “sky high,’’ if you say it like the winter sport, they’ll know that you’re not from around here. The family-owned orchard, now in its 115th year of growing apples atop the Baraboo Hills, is a great place to start or finish a day trip to the Baraboo area.

Tyler Zarrilli and Jake Franzen
Tyler Zarrilli left and orchard manager Jake Franzen at Ski Hi orchard near Baraboo Photos by Susan Lampert Smith

In addition to 30 varieties of apples, Ski-Hi offers its famous cider and cider fermented into a variety of adult beverages. While the kids are sampling apple cider doughnuts and apple pie, Ski-Hi hosts a tasting flight of apple booze. First up is Summer Cider, which is fermented from Ski-Hi cider by Brix Cider in Mount Horeb. 

Moving up the intoxication scale, the orchard fermented their apples with grapes grown at the nearby Wollersheim Winery to create a slightly effervescent grape and apple wine, which comes in cans that are perfect for taking on a hike at Devil’s Lake State Park, which is located just up the road.

And if that’s not high enough proof for you, on Sept. 1, Wollersheim and Ski-Hi will release the 2022 vintage of AuPomme, a French-style wine that is fortified with apple brandy to an ABV of 18. It tends to sell out quickly.

Finally, there are some sassy, flask-sized bottles of the other Wollersheim collaboration, Ski-Hi Rye. Kelter says the distiller tempers the raw flavor of young whiskey with an infusion of apple cider. Just the thing to take the chill off a fall evening around the campfire. The label design came from a vintage Ski-Hi license plate holder discovered in one of the orchard’s barns.

While the Baraboo area’s Big 3 attractions—Devil’s Lake, the International Crane Foundation, and Circus World—are justly well known, you’ll find plenty of other reasons to visit the city where the Ringling Bros. Circus made its summer home.

Heck, if you had a designated driver, you could make it all about the local drinks. In addition to Wollersheim, which is about 15 miles away on the Wisconsin River, Baraboo has three local wineries. You’ll pass Balanced Rock Winery on your way to Devils Lake. The Baraboo Bluff winery is located west of town in the hills, while the Von Klaus Winery has a tasting room on the Courthouse Square. There are also several brew pubs, Tumbled Rocks near Devils Lake and the AL Ringling Brewing Co., adjacent to the historic Ringling mansion.

And if you like some circus with your drinking, you can’t do better than the Driftless Glen Distillery, located right on the Baraboo River. Next door are the old circus barns, and on the opposite bank you can glimpse the big top and circus train cars. Have one too many of the glen’s justly famous blackberry bourbon Old Fashioneds and you might start seeing elephants.

Driftless Glen restaurant and distillery in Baraboo Photos by Susan Lampert Smith

Circus World is hosting part of Baraboo’s Oktoberfest celebration the last weekend in September.

The Baraboo River itself is worthy of a visit. There were once 11 dams holding back water to power mills and generate electricity. When the last dam was removed 20 years ago, the 120-mile Baraboo became the longest free flowing restored river in the country. You can watch “Running Free,” a 2021 documentary on the dam-removal controversy and how removing the dangerous dams has improved fishing and kayaking.

While the river stretches from Elroy to Portage, the most exciting part for paddlers is in the city of Baraboo, where the river drops 40 feet over 4 miles, a section of the river known as the Baraboo Rapids. Restoring the river also prompted the Baraboo Kiwanis Club to build six miles of paved hiking trails along the river.

If you prefer to get your exercise by shopping, Baraboo’s downtown business district is filled with fun shops and restaurants. Bekah Kate’s kitchen store is a must visit for serious cooks and also a good place to stock up on kitschy Wisconsiniana items like Wisconsin-shaped casserole dishes. The store has cooking classes and a well-stocked wine shop in the back.

Bekah Kate's Kitchen Store
Bekah Kates Kitchen Store in Baraboo Photos by Susan Lampert Smith

Another fun Wisconsin gift are the metal bowls that spell out BARABOO, made in India for the Sense of Adventure fair trade shop across the street from the courthouse. The square hosts a farmer’s market on Wednesday and Sundays and is home to several furniture stores. And if all that shopping tires out the kids, you can refresh at an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, The Tin Roof Dairy.


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