Everyone knows about our dairy farms. But have they hiked the Ice Age Trail or experienced our 800 miles of shoreline?
When you ask someone who hasn’t been to Wisconsin what they know about our state, most can easily list the Packers, cheese, Jeffrey Dahmer, and dairy farms. But Wisconsin is home to so much more– especially for outdoor enthusiasts. While we don’t have oceans or mountains, we compensate with two Great Lakes, countless rivers, and an abundance of trails.
Here are five ways to show off the state to all first-time visitors:
1. Visit Our “Greatest” Lake, Michigan
Depending on where you live in Wisconsin and how long your friend is staying, you should definitely plan to visit either Lake Superior or Lake Michigan. (Or both, if you’re really ambitious!) If you didn’t already know, Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world, and Lake Michigan is the largest freshwater lake in the United States. Wisconsin has more than 800 miles of Great Lakes shoreline for you to explore.
If you head east to Lake Michigan, you’ll find places to stay and exciting things to do from Milwaukee all the way up to Door County. Port Washington, less than 30 miles north of Milwaukee, is a great base for fishing trips. The small harbor town is home to several fishing companies. You can even find charter companies that take groups out ice fishing, a must-do in the winter months if you want to give your friend the full Wisconsin experience.
Sheboygan also offers several opportunities for outdoor lovers to spend some time on the water. The “Malibu of the Midwest,” Sheboygan’s shoreline is famous for its waves, making it ideal for surfing and kiteboarding. The city’s North Beach and South Beach are starting points for water sports, but if you’re more interesting in hiking, head to South Beach. Scenic Kohler Andre-State Park is filled with sand dunes and biking trails.
2. Check Out Our Northernmost Lake, Superior
The towns along the Lake Superior shoreline are smaller, but Bayfield is the best stop for all first-time visitors. Known as the “Gateway to the Apostle Islands,” the town is the last stop before you hit the 21-island archipelago along the shores of Lake Superior. It’s the perfect place to hike, kayak, canoe, or fish. All of the islands are inhabited, except for one—Madeline Island. And, you can even camp on 18 of them!
If you’re visiting during the winter, make sure to stop by the incredible ice caves. However, make sure you double-check with the National Park Service to ensure conditions are safe. A trip to the caves is a two-hour hike on a frozen Lake Superior, which can be dangerous.
3. Hike the Ice Age Trail
The Ice Age Trail is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States. The trail basically indicates where the glaciers ended in North America. Hiking on the Ice Age Trail is a unique experience because the unspoiled areas along most of the trail have preserved many glacial features, including kames, kettles, and moraines, which are mounds of sand, depressions in the earth, and masses of rocks left behind by the glaciers. It’s like a workout and a science/history lesson all in one!
The trail spans the entire state TWICE–from Interstate State Park, Wisconsin’s oldest, located on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, to Janesville, then back up to Green Bay. No matter where you live in Wisconsin, you are within an hour or two of a portion of the Ice Age Trail. Some portions of the 1,200-mile expanse also allow bicycling and cross-country skiing.
4. Climb St. Peter’s Dome
Hiking to the top of St. Peter’s Dome is another great activity to experience with a first-time visitor… who has some adventure experience! Located near the tiny town of Marengo way up in northern Wisconsin, St. Peter’s Dome is the highest point in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. It’s not actually a dome: the payoff of your 4.2-mile hike is an incredible, 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape, which is particularly picturesque in the fall.
Leave some extra time for a minor detour to visit Morgan Falls, a 70-foot waterfall that drops diagonally over granite rocks into a branch of Morgan Creek. If you visit in the winter, you can still find Morgan Falls trickling, and the shorter, 1.2-mile round trip from the parking lot is a fun snowshoe adventure.
5. Visit Bubolz Nature Preserve
Finally, you and your friend can explore more than 700 acres and eight miles of trails inside Appleton’s Bubolz Nature Preserve, a short drive from both Oshkosh and Green Bay. This special blend of Wisconsin habitats boasts diverse flora and fauna, which makes it easy for visitors to appreciate and enjoy nature. The preserve is open year-round and offers hiking, walking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Bubolz Nature Preserve also offers some fun seasonal events, such as Ales on the Trails, Brewski, and Maple Syrup Saturday. Whether it’s 10 degrees or 100, there’s something to do at Bubolz!
Can you get any more Wisconsin than that?