WHY VISIT WISCONSIN
Pack your bathing suit because it’s all about the water in Wisconsin. Home to some 15,000 lakes, streams, and rivers, the so-called ‘Badger State’ is cherry ripe for aquatic adventure… and badger watching, apparently.
Kayakers paddle around the red cliffs and sea caves of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. Winter surfers catch impressive swells on Lake Michigan at Sheboygan, nicknamed the ‘Malibu of the Midwest’ (though with freezing water temperatures and drifting ice floes, take that with a fistful of salt). And those less inclined to strenuous exercise float lazily down Wolf River by tube.
Back on dry land, cyclists have the pick of 80 routes in the Rails-to-Trails network, including the first of its kind on the continent, the 51km (32 miles) Elroy-Sparta Trail.
Eye-popping architecture is more common here than you might expect. The Milwaukee Museum of Art is a thrilling meld of three striking buildings built by three legendary architects – Eero Saarinen, David Kahler, and Santiago Calatrava. And native Wisconsinite Frank Lloyd Wright spent nearly 50 years perfecting his Taliesin Estate, now a National Historic Landmark and home to six structures designed by Wright.
This state does a good line in quirky attractions too, boasting museums dedicated to mustard, accordions, and circuses. The National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is home to 50,000 angling artifacts, but it’s the giant fish outside that is likely to remain indelibly imprinted on your memory. The Big Musky is half a block long, and four and a half stories tall, but he won’t bite if you climb into his jaw.
WHAT TO SEE IN WISCONSIN
- Madison: this small but lively college town is a peach of a place. It happens to be the state capital, but the real attraction here is the mix of outdoor recreation and affordable amenities. There is a great scene for dining, shopping, and bar hopping around Capitol Square and along State Street, Monroe Street, and Willy Street. Two lakes on either end of Madison offer easy water recreation, while the summer Dane County Farmers’ Market is one of the country’s nicest. The university ensures everything stays fresh and engaging.
- Wisconsin Dells: this geological wonder sits an hour north of Madison, with 15 miles of weather-sculpted sandstone cliffs punctuated by wooded ravines and meadows. You can hike, bike, ride horses, or go boating on the water that runs through the Dells. But the real attraction for most visitors is the 20 outdoor and indoor water parks. They don’t call it the ‘Waterpark Capital of the World’ for nothing, and two of America’s largest water parks are here in Noah’s Ark Waterpark and Wilderness Lodge. These parks are open all year, providing loads of family fun to go with the natural outdoor options.
- Milwaukee: most Americans think of beer when someone mentions Milwaukee. But this up-and-coming city on the shore of Lake Michigan has a lot more on the menu than its abundance of breweries. The Milwaukee Art Museum and Harley Davidson Museum are two very impressive attractions, as is Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin with its cool interactive science exhibits. A free tour of the massive Miller Brewing Company is always a treat, and the lake itself is a major source of summertime festivals and water sports.
- Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: adding to the impressive selection of inland state parks is this stunning protected area on Lake Superior. Made up of 21 islets and 12 miles of lake shoreline, Apostle Islands is one of the finest places in America for kayaking and canoeing. The wind has carved the sandstone cliffs into whimsical formations, peppered with caves, coves, and 240 species of birds. Eight historic lighthouses on the islands add to the ambiance. If paddling isn’t your thing, simple hike the Mainland Lakeshore Trail or grab a boat to any of the 12 islands that have developed hiking trail systems.
- Door County: often compared to Cape Cod, this stretch of Lake Michigan is a wonderful peninsula dotted with old fishing villages that have discovered tourism provides a better income. There is 250 miles of coast to play with, featuring sand dunes, quiet beaches, and neat sandstone cliffs. Stay in a lakeside village like Ephraim, Sister Bay, or Fish Creek for daily jaunts into Peninsula State Park or Whitefish Dunes State Park. Door County is laid-back and undeniably charming, with loads of romantic inns, great restaurants, and interesting crafty boutiques in most of the villages.
- Taliesin: the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright had a thing for Wisconsin. He lived here for 40 years, working on his masterpiece living environment named Taliesin for that entire period. Today, his former home is 600-acre National Historic Landmark with a farm, studio, and architecture school. Visitors can choose from six tours of the property, each with a varying degree of depth or a particular focus. The property is in a stunning location and the home itself is a genuine work of art.
- Circus World Museum: any fan of the circus will want to make the journey to the town of Baraboo, home to Circus World Museum. This 50-acre property was once the winter home of the Ringling Brothers and their hugely popular circus show. Today, it serves as a living museum of sorts to the art of the American circus. Summer is the best time to visit because various live performances are held on a daily basis. But this attraction is open all year, displaying a fascinating collection of circus memorabilia dating back decades.
WHEN TO GO TO WISCONSIN
The best period to visit Wisconsin is from June to September.
The climate throughout Wisconsin is a typical continental humid climate, which means warm humid summers and cold snowy winters. The southern region of the state is slightly warmer than the northern parts around the Great Lakes. The lakes create their own microclimate that brings significantly more snow during winter and colder temperatures in general.
Few places in Wisconsin get much hotter than the upper 80s°F during the peak of summer between June and August. Thunderstorms are common most weeks, with the occasional heat spell that pushes the mercury into the 90s°F. While summers are usually very nice here, the humidity levels get pretty high, creating plenty of stuffy sweaty days in summer. September is a great month in terms of weather, with highs in the 70s (°F) and less precipitation. October gets even better as the hardwood trees turn color and the weather cools off nicely.
Winter is the rough season in Wisconsin. Between December and February, the daytime highs rarely top 30°F, and night lows dip well below freezing. Wisconsin gets a lot of snow, with an average of 40 inches in the south and up to 160 inches in the north within the Lake Superior snowbelt. Travelers who like white snowy weather will be very pleased with Wisconsin in January. Spring is a mixed bag, with frequent rain but plenty of beautiful weather as well. By May the temperatures are back to the mid-60s (°F).
WHAT TO DO IN WISCONSIN
Freeze your ass off at Lambeau Field
Sports fans love to describe themselves as “diehards,” but few tempt actual death quite like they do in Green Bay, where people brave hypothermic temperatures multiple times a year to cheer on the Packers. Not only do fans pack the stands at Lambeau Field, but they also show up in the parking lot at ungodly hours in inhuman temperatures to chug beer, grill meats, and have a puzzlingly good time. Tailgating at Lambeau is as much an exercise in alcohol tolerance as it is in proper winter layering. Make it out for a game and the entire city will be there to welcome you with classic Midwestern hospitality, and probably a cheese hat.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Wisconsin.
- St Patrick’s Day Parade: Milwaukee is the place to be in Wisconsin on St Paddy’s Day in March. More than 100,000 people come out to watch the big parade that features 150 different groups marching through downtown along with marching bands, bagpipers, celebrities, and clowns. After the parade, the party starts, with all the city’s bars in fine form and plenty of side activities in the city parks for more family-oriented fun.
- Brat Fest: we all know Wisconsin has a strong German heritage, and each May the capital Madison goes out of its way to help everyone remember. The Brat Fest is a major party with the famous sausage at its heart but loads of supporting activities like live music, kayaking, and a fun fair full of carnival rides. It all happens at the Alliant Energy Center, and it’s free to get in though you’ll pay a little for the brats and the fun.
- Milwaukee’s Summerfest: Milwaukee’s Marcus Amphitheater is transformed into a wonderful amusement park each summer for one month in June and July. Each day from noon until midnight the venue puts on a huge variety of events and activities that appeal to kids as much as adults. From magic shows and literacy workshops to live music and a kiddie kingdom, this popular summer festival draws nearly one million visitors each year.
- Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival: America’s Dairyland is naturally going to have at least one major cheese festival, and this one in the charming village of Little Chute is the best of the bunch. For a three-day weekend, each June the town’s Doyle Park opens its doors to a vast range of bizarre cheese-related activities and competitions. From the cheese carving contest to the cheesecake baking competition, this is a fun local-style festival that perfectly defines Wisconsin.
- Lumberjack World Championships: Wisconsin has a strong heritage of timber cutting and lumberjacking. Each July the Lumberjack Bowl in Hayward invites around 200 genuine lumberjacks from around the world to compete in classic events and contests of skill and strength. Besides the competitions, there are cool exhibits, performances, and other fun events over the three days this annual festival runs.
- Wisconsin State Fair: each August the Wisconsin State Fair Park outside of Milwaukee revs into life for another year of classic American fair activities. Farming features heavily in Wisconsin’s state fair, with pedigree pig contests and hundreds of other competitions focused on food and livestock. Tractor pulls, concerts and a huge carnival add to the fun. Best of all is the local product store where you can buy all the delicious products created in Wisconsin.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH WISCONSIN
With a car it is infinitely easier to move around each town as well as reach the state’s star attractions, which are almost always located on the outskirts. Even in big cities like Milwaukee and Madison, a car will be very useful for dining and evening entertainment. When compared to taxi fares, the costs of renting will likely be even cheaper. There are several major car hire chains to choose from at the airports and in the downtown districts of most large towns.
Should you need a taxi in one of Wisconsin’s larger towns there is typically at least one cab company available. Most taxis will use a meter to determine the fare and in this state no taxi driver cruises around town looking for fares.
Travelers who want a scenic ride into Wisconsin can hop on the train. It’s a slow means of travel, but Amtrak has two lines running through Wisconsin that are very comfortable. The Empire Building line runs from Chicago to Seattle, making stops in Milwaukee, La Crosse, Portage, Tomah, and the Wisconsin Dells. The Hiawatha line goes from Chicago to Milwaukee with a stop right at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport and the town of Sturtevant. While not ideal for traveling between towns in the state, the Amtrak trains are great ways to get here.
The bus is more flexible and covers many more towns in Wisconsin. Greyhound operates the largest route network, with connections to Milwaukee and Madison from all over the region. For travel within the state, the bus is a good choice for those without a car. There are several companies to choose from, including Jefferson Lines, Indian Trails, Badger Coaches, Lamers Coaches, and Wisconsin Coach. Fares are very reasonable and the buses are fine for a short trip around the state.
Main airport is:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON WISCONSIN
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-6 (-5)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN WISCONSIN
typical food in Wisconsin
- Wisconsin Cheddar Beer Soup
- Limburger Sandwich
- Cornish Pasties
- Poached Burger
- Wisconsin Kringle
- Butter Burger
- Garlic Butter-Stuffed Chicken
- Beer Brats
- Cheese Curds
- Honey Bee and Vanilla Bean Pudding
- Frozen Custard
- Fish Fry
- Cream Puffs
- Sprecher Root Beer
- Beer Cheese Soup
- Macaroni and Cheese Pizza
- Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese
- Brandy Old Fashioned
souvenirs from Wisconsin
Edible and drinkable products are what Wisconsin really excels in. If you’re heading straight home, this state has some seriously tasty cheeses, sausages, and craft beers. You can find locally made food items in every town in Wisconsin because most people here prefer to consume local goods. But the big cities of Milwaukee and Madison are particularly ripe with goodies. The Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward is the best one-stop spot for Wisconsin edibles, while just down the street is one of the state’s most respected butcher shops, Usinger’s.
Milwaukee has both shopping districts and shopping malls. The Third Ward and East Side are perhaps the most interesting neighborhoods to hunt for uniquely Milwaukee trinkets. The downtown Grand Avenue Mall is another good place to check out. Madison’s downtown district has plenty of independent shops worth poking around. The capital also has several nice indoor malls like Hilldale Mall and the matching East and West Towne Malls on either side of the city.
Wisconsin is also an excellent destination for antique hunting. Its smaller towns like Appleton in the Fox Valley have several large venues like the Fox Valley Antique Mall with 165 different vendors inside the massive space. Crescent Moon Antiques & Salvage is also nearby, offering a unique niche of vintage salvage materials and decorative art. The Columbus Antique Mall between Madison and Beaver Dam is the biggest mall of its kind in Wisconsin, with 222 dealers, and is open all but three days each year. The Haywood Lakes area is another hot spot for vintage gear thanks to its Northwoods lake culture and lumberjack heritage. The capital Madison also holds its own when it comes to antique and vintage collectibles shops.