Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of DEVIL’S LAKE STATE PARK via Instagram

By Erin Yarnall

August 16, 2023

The highlight of summer for many people is going on a family vacation, where they create lasting memories. But, as relaxing as summer is supposed to be, it can oftentimes be a stressful season. 

Between figuring out ways to keep kids entertained while they’re out of school and trying to stay on top of work even when all you want to do is enjoy the weather, sometimes the summer flies by too fast and you’re left not having taken any trips. Are you in need of a last-minute trip idea? That’s not a problem when it comes to Wisconsin destinations.

The key to enjoying a summer in Wisconsin is taking it simple—a nice day by the lake with family makes for a perfect summer memory. There’s plenty of opportunity to do that throughout the state. Whether it’s going for a hike along trails packed with waterfalls, or a boat ride to enjoy some of the state’s unbeatable scenery, there are plenty of easy, last-minute trips for the whole family to enjoy.

Here are some of the best last-minute day and overnight trips you can take with the family to soak up the end of summer before starting a brand new school year.

Lake Geneva

Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of VISIT Lake Geneva via Instagram

It’s not truly summer in Wisconsin if you haven’t spent some time around a lake. To take advantage of the season, stop by one of the most luxurious lakes in the state, Lake Geneva. Located in the southeastern part of the state, there’s plenty of things to do in the small city beyond lounging at one of the lake’s four beaches—but that’s always a plus, too. 

Take advantage of some of Lake Geneva’s hiking and biking trails, hit the streets on a scooter tour with Lake Geneva Scooters, or take to the skies with Skydive Milwaukee in nearby East Troy. If you’re feeling extravagant, book a night at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, a deluxe resort with 358 rooms and five restaurants. Or, keep it more lowkey at the Lake Geneva Lodge, a motel that’s a six-minute walk from the lake, with separate cottages available to rent.

Wisconsin Dells

Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau via Instagram

There’s a reason that the Wisconsin Dells is nicknamed the Waterpark Capital of the World. The city is home to 20 different water parks, all with their own unique slides and rides. In addition to the city’s water parks, there’s also the Timber Falls Adventure Park, which has three mini-golf courses that overlook the Wisconsin River as well as duck boat rides, which offer 55-minute tours of the river’s dells and its unique rock formations.

Even if water parks aren’t your thing, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a last-minute overnight trip up to the Wisconsin Dells. Once you get away from the theme parks, souvenir shops and water parks, there’s plenty of nature to explore. The city’s surrounded by Mirror Lake State Park, which is great for hiking, swimming, and kayaking. There are plenty of cabins to rent along the Wisconsin River, which cuts through the city, as well as the nearby Lake Delton.

The Apostle Islands

Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of National Park Service via Instagram

The Apostle Islands, an island group located just about as far north as you can get in the state, are a popular destination in the winter because of their majestic caves. The well-known caves are home to stunning natural ice formations, but the islands are just as fun to visit when the ice melts away during the summer. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a great spot for kayaking on Lake Superior, and there are plenty of lighthouses to visit on several of the islands. You can take your own boat out to the islands or rent one while you’re up there, but if you don’t feel like being the captain of your own ship, take an Apostle Islands cruise. There are several cruise options, lasting between two-and-a-half to four-and-a-half hours.


Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of Bayfield and the Apostle Islands via Instagram

One of the closest towns to the Apostle Islands, Bayfield is commonly used as a jumping-off point to start a trip out to the island group, but the small town is worth a visit itself. Check out Bayfield’s charming downtown area, or enjoy trekking on one of the several hiking trails surrounding Bayfield, including the 6-mile Meyers Beach hiking trail, which overlooks numerous sea caves. There are plenty of lakeside cabins and cottages available to rent just outside of the town, or stay in one of Bayfield’s bed and breakfasts, like the Old Rittenhouse Inn, which offers views of Lake Superior in a stunning Victorian home built in 1890.

Devil’s Lake State Park

This state park near the middle of the state may have an intimidating name, but it’s all fun and games once you visit. The park is ideal for fishing, swimming, and kayaking, while also offering great opportunities for hiking along its glacier-carved bluffs. Many visitors spend a night or two camping at one of the park’s 423 campsites—spread across three different campgrounds. If you don’t feel like camping, the park is conveniently located near Baraboo, a small city that’s home to the Circus World Museum and Ringling House Bed & Breakfast, a charming and historic accommodation based in the former house of Charles Ringling, the founder of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.


Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of VISIT Milwaukee via Instagram

One of the perks of staying in a big city is that there’s so much to do, especially when you’re visiting Milwaukee in the summer. The city, known for its many festivals, has hundreds of musicians playing at Summerfest each year, but the fun lasts all season long with festivals like Chill on the Hill, Irish Fest, and Mexican Fiesta happening late in the summer. Spend some time visiting one of the city’s great, kid-friendly restaurants, like the SafeHouse, a spy-themed restaurant that requires a secret password to enter (or a quick, silly song-and-dance in front of a video camera that’s broadcast to the restaurant). There’s also AJ Bombers, an award-winning burger joint where customers are encouraged to write on the walls. Check out a Milwaukee Brewers game, or make long-lasting memories on one of the city’s many waterfront hiking trails.

Door County

Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of Destination Door County via Instagram

Jutting off the eastern side of Wisconsin, Door County is a long peninsula known for its lengthy shoreline, unique cuisine, and stunning state parks. While the entire peninsula is surrounded by Lake Michigan, there’s also a few inland lakes that are worth a visit, including Clark Lake, which lies adjacent to Whitefish Dunes State Park and has plenty of cabins to rent along its shores. The lake is also near Sturgeon Bay, the county’s largest city, which has a quaint downtown as well as plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoors, like cliff diving at nearby Cave Point County Park.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service – Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest via Facebook

If you’ve ever driven through northern Wisconsin, there’s a good chance you’ve been near Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest—the massive forest takes up more than 1.5 million acres in 11 different counties. Originally two different forests—the Chequamegon National Forest and Nicolet National Forest—they’ve been managed as one unit since 1998. There are more than 600 lakes within the national forest’s borders, and a majority of them are available for fun, summertime activities like swimming, fishing, and canoeing. The forest also has more than 800 miles of trails to venture out on if you’re interested in going on a hike. Turn a fun day into an overnight adventure by staying the night either at one of the forest’s numerous campgrounds or in a rented cabin.

La Crosse

Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy Explore La Crosse via Instagram

For the most part, Wisconsin is a pretty flat state with the occasional rolling hills, but that changes once you head west near the city of La Crosse. The city, which lies against the Mississippi River, is known for its multiple universities, lively downtown area, and of course, its surrounding bluffs. The most famous of the city’s bluffs is Grandad Bluff, a 600-foot-tall formation that offers unbeatable views of the Mississippi River and several fun trails for hiking. Not a hiker? Spend a day lazing on the river aboard a La Crosse Queen Cruise, which take you sailing on a replica of the riverboats that navigated the river in the early 1900s. 

Hayward Lakes

What’s better than one lake? How about 500 of them? Sawyer County in northern Wisconsin is home to more than 500 different lakes, and dozens of them are located in the small city Hayward. Because of that, the Hayward Lakes area is renowned for its kayaking, swimming and, of course, fishing. The city is even home to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. If you’re in Hayward Lakes in mid-September, don’t miss the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, filled with off-road bike races for all rider levels. Stay in one of the city’s many hotels or rent a cabin on any of its numerous lakes.

Copper Falls State Park

Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of Friends of Copper Falls State Park via Facebook

When you think of land carved by lava flows, your mind might wander to island chains like Hawaii or highly volcanic countries like Iceland. But Copper Falls State Park in northern Wisconsin was also shaped by ancient lava flows, which helps to create the park’s deep gorges and breathtaking waterfalls. The highlight of any trip to Copper Falls State Park is spotting the park’s many waterfalls. One of the most spectacular is the park’s namesake, Copper Falls, which can be easily viewed from the Doughboys Nature trail, a 1.7-mile loop hiking trail that passes by three different waterfalls. Spend the night camping in the park or book a hotel in Ashland, a small city filled with parks, murals, and historic buildings that’s a 30-minute drive from the park.


Last-Minute Wisconsin Day & Overnight Trips to Take Before School Starts

Photo courtesy of Destination Madison | WI via Instagram

As the state’s capital, Madison is the center of Wisconsin’s government and political activity. It’s informative to make a stop in the city and learn how the state functions, but the kids don’t want to start school early, do they? Luckily, Madison isn’t all bureaucracy, there’s also plenty of outdoor activities to do to help you make the most of those last weeks of summer. Stay at a downtown hotel, get some shopping done, and stop at one of the city’s well-known restaurants. You can also enjoy summer in the city at one of its many festivals, like Taste of Madison, which takes place in the first week of September. Or, you can go more off the grid. Rent a cabin on nearby Lake Waubesa, which is adjacent to Lower Yahara River Trail, an ideal spot for bike riding.


READ MORE: 5 of Wisconsin’s Cleanest Lakes and Most Pristine Beaches to Visit


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