Moon Wisconsin

Lakeside Getaways, Scenic Drives, Outdoor Recreation


By Thomas Huhti

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From majestic forests and verdant farms to rushing rivers and tranquil lakes, experience the Badger State’s classic Midwestern charm with Moon Wisconsin. Inside you’ll find:
  • Strategic itineraries, from a weekend in Milwaukee or Madison to a week-long getaway to Door County, with advice for architecture buffs, foodies, families, outdoor adventurers, and more
  • The top activities and unique experiences: Museum-hop in trendy Milwaukee, discover the joys of the open road at the Harley-Davidson museum, and savor the laidback college town vibe in Madison. Check out a typical Wisconsin dairy farm and sample fresh bites of cheese or learn how to churn butter with the whole family. Dig in at a Friday night fish fry and unwind with a locally-brewed craft beer in a historic taproom. Kayak to sea caves, cycle through rolling hills of apple orchards, or hike the rugged cliffs of Devil’s Lake
  • The best road trips in Wisconsin, including the state’s designated Rustic Roads
  • Honest advice from native cheesehead Thomas Huhti on when to go, what to pack, and where to stay, from luxe hotels to historic lodges and lakeside cabins
  • Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
  • Recommendations for getting to Wisconsin and getting around, by plane, train, bus, or car (or even boat!)
  • Thorough background on the culture, weather, wildlife, outdoor recreation safety, and history
With Moon’s practical tips and local insight, you can experience the best of Wisconsin.

For more Midwestern adventures, try Moon Minneapolis & St. Paul or Moon Michigan.


hiking in Devil’s Lake State Park

crabapple blossoms in spring

Discover Wisconsin


Planning Your Trip

Wisconsin Weekends

Rustic Road-Tripping

Following Frank Lloyd Wright

Geologic Wonders

Door County Escape

Get Out on the Water

Say Cheese: Sampling America’s Dairyland

Family Fun

roadside stop in Door County

For generations, bumper stickers proclaimed “Escape to Wisconsin.” The Department of Tourism later shelved this for other “genius” PR slogans, but so overwhelmingly opposed were the citizenry that the state chambers of commerce resurrected it. Succinctly Wisconsin: a retreat, a sojourn, a mental breather—a genuine escape.

Heck, even onetime Badger John Muir had it figured out in the 19th century when he proclaimed Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness! That still holds true today for the hordes coming into the state pulling boats, bikes, kayaks, and canoes, all for that chance of bucolic splendor.

Wisconsin also isn’t what you might think it is; it’s even better. Wisconsin is truly Midwestern. It is generally content to remain in the middle on most things—except such important issues as livability quotients, at which it tends to excel. It’s one of the top five most livable states in the nation. It’s also the Midwest’s overall most popular travel destination. And it boasts the planet’s most diverse glacial topography, the United States’ middle section’s most amazing cataracts, and an immense North Woods region—so big that its national forest has two names. Oh, and recreation? We’re tops (or thereabouts) in bicycling, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, and scenic hiking trails.

sandhill cranes

superb views from Trempealeau Mountain

relaxing on Lake Geneva

Indeed, Wisconsin puts the lie to all those clichés about flyover land, cowflop redolence, hayseeds, corn-fed . . . you get the picture.

Folks come for a visit or to attend university and genuinely miss it when they leave. In fact, many come back. I’ve met more than a few who came for a visit decades ago and loved it so much that they return, often to the same cabin on a lake, every single year.

This has as much to do with the people of Wisconsin who, I’m happy to report, are the type who will chat you up and consider you a friend only five minutes after they meet you.

If this makes us rubes, then we’ll happily plead guilty.

rock formation on Basswood Island

jogging in the University of Wisconsin Arboretum

cow statue in New Glarus


1 Get Out on the Water: Every vehicle in Wisconsin seems to be either towing a boat or lugging a canoe on the way to a watery escape from routine. Choose your destination: a stream, a lake, or the mighty Mississippi.

2 Pick Door County Cherries: Plan your own cherry harvest or snap a photo of the flowering orchards.

3 Say “Cheese!”: Wisconsin produces over 650 varietals and makes one-quarter of U.S. cheese. Learn why Badger State denizens wear foam cheese heads with pride!

4 Grab a Beer: Head to Milwaukee to find out how the “Beer City” earned its nickname at one of the many micro- or mega-breweries.

5 Follow Frank Lloyd Wright: The native architect shaped the natural beauty of the state into numerous famed buildings.

6 Root for the Packers: You don’t need to bleed green and gold to get swept up in the Green Bay Packers fandom. Tour Lambeau Field, make the pilgrimage to the Hall of Fame, or watch a practice.

7 Feast at a Fish Fry: Given the 15,000 lakes, it’s no wonder that fish is a mainstay here. A Friday night is simply not a Friday night without a fish fry.

8 Go Snowmobiling: What better place to rush along the frozen landscape than where snowmobiles were first invented?

9 Take the Great River Road Trip: Explore one of the most precious, undeveloped areas of the state along the famed road that parallels the Mississippi.

10 Enjoy Thrills and Spills: You just haven’t “done” Wisconsin without a trip to one of the boisterous Wisconsin Dells Waterparks.

Planning Your Trip

Where to Go

The low-key residents are proud of their cultural, educational, and architectural gems along Milwaukee’s fabulous lakefront. The wonderfully preserved ethnic neighborhoods and Historic Third Ward offer the state’s best urban trekking tours. See what beer hath wrought at the sublime Pabst Mansion. Yet that lakefront beckons—hop aboard a fishing charter. Meander along the spectacular bike paths. And don’t forget the names that made Milwaukee famous: the gargantuan Miller Brewing and Harley-Davidson.


The Mad City, also known as Madtown or the island surrounded by reality, is a vibrant and fetching city among a quartet of jewellike lakes, upon one of which sits eye-catching Monona Terrace. There’s push and pull with the state government, represented by the grand State Capitol, and the University of Wisconsin. But most residents are nature lovers; you’ll find no better chances to walk amid native state flora than at the UW’s Arboretum and the Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

Southeastern Wisconsin

This true gateway region welcomes many travelers from Chicago. Extraordinary museums and parks await in Kenosha and Racine, the latter also home to much Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. Take the smaller roads and discover the Geneva Lake area. A crucial North American migration flyway with literally millions of birds is Horicon Marsh.

Door County

Jutting into Lake Michigan, the geographic “thumb” of Wisconsin offers the sublimest collection of state parks in the Midwest and the highest concentration of lighthouses of any U.S. county. How about picturesque towns right out of 19th-century postcards? Off the northern tip lies Washington Island, an isolated community where time seems not to matter. Beyond is another island, Rock Island State Park, the most superb camping spot in the state.

East-Central Waters

These waterways truly made the state, welcoming legions of immigrants and floating timber for paper mills of the Fox Cities, dominated by the enormous Lake Winnebago. To the west are such picturesque resort lands you’ll run out of digital storage space, as well as the wild and wonderful Wolf River. No visit to Wisconsin would be complete without a pilgrimage to one of the NFL’s most sacred institutions: Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.

Northeastern Wisconsin

Find one of the world’s highest concentrations of lakes and two of the Midwest’s grandest rivers, the Peshtigo River and the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. Marinette and Iron County waterfalls offer the most scenic drive in the region. Sleds have always ruled in northern Wisconsin, and the mecca is Snowmobile Central near the Eagle River Chain of Lakes.

Indianhead Country

Hydrophiles adore the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Anglers battle lunker muskies near Hayward. From preciously anachronistic Bayfield, head to the magnificent Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Everyone should trace the Lake Superior coast along Highway 13—the most scenic drive in the state, bar none. Pattison State Park offers the best glimpse at the region’s superb waterfalls, but don’t forsake Superior’s hardest-working harbor in the country.

Great River Road

For 200 miles, find untouristed river towns: Alma, funky Trempealeau, or Cassville, where eagles soar and one of the nation’s last river ferries chugs across the Mississippi River. See the commanding view at Granddad’s Bluff in La Crosse. At Wyalusing State Park, a ridgetop hike offers lovely views of the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. No better example of what sprang from enterprising settler souls exists than Prairie du Chien’s Villa Louis.

The Driftless Region

This, the largest unglaciated region in the northern Midwest, is where the land gets ambitious. Spring Green was the home of Frank Lloyd Wright. Nearby is the architectural opposite, The House on the Rock. Roll through Mineral Point, very nearly still a 19th-century Cornish village, and New Glarus, a slice of Switzerland. Water lovers head for Lower Wisconsin State Riverway and, particularly, the Kickapoo River, which meanders through the twists and turns of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. The Elroy-Sparta State Recreational Trail is the original U.S. rail-to-trail cycling route.

Central Wisconsin Sands

Central Wisconsin has the state’s number-one family attraction—water park-heavy Wisconsin Dells. The preternaturally lovely sandstone rises are easily the nicest boat tour in the state. Stretch your legs at the outstanding Devil’s Lake State Park, including Parfrey’s Glen Natural Area. Continue east on a scenic drive to Merrimac and its ferry across the Wisconsin River. Farther north, Wausau’s Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum houses one of the state’s most fascinating collections, dedicated to ornithological art.

La Crosse Queen river boat tour

When to Go

Wisconsin is a four-season place with something for everyone in any season. Most visitors do come between Memorial Day and Labor Day. All accommodations, restaurants, and attractions will be open during this time; prices also rise significantly in more popular spots, and many lodgings will require a two- or three-night minimum stay. Another peak season is from late September through late October, when throngs arrive to witness fall’s splendorous colors. Between Labor Day and late September you can often get great rates and, if cold weather comes early, great colors. Winter in general sees fewer visitors except for snowmobilers and skiers, and areas popular for those activities will not have lower rates. Other places may shut down entirely from November to April. Few people come in March and early April, as these months are grim, gray, muddy, and windy. Garrison Keillor said it best: March was intended by God “to show people who don’t drink what a hangover feels like.” Then again, it’s dirt cheap to visit during this time.

Wisconsin Weekends

These itineraries can either be used as weekend getaways or combined for longer trips. Door County and the Wisconsin Dells are the most popular getaways in the state.


Save this beer-centric city for a long weekend. After exploring Milwaukee, head to Door County or westward to the capital, Madison.


Driving to Milwaukee from Chicago, choose Kenosha, Racine, or a boat tour of Geneva Lake along the way. A drive through the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit is a primer on glacial history right near a walk-through people’s history at Old World Wisconsin. In Milwaukee, stay downtown in the historic Pfister or at Brewhouse Suites in the renovated Pabst Brewery just northwest of downtown.


The Milwaukee lakefront is a must. Tour Miller Brewing or the Harley-Davidson Museum and step into the unparalleled Milwaukee Public Museum. If you have time, go north to postcard-perfect Cedarburg.


After exploring Madison and Devil’s Lake, you’re so close to the Wisconsin Dells that you should try to combine the trips if you can.


In Madison, start with the architectural gems: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace and, a few steps away, the magnificent State Capitol. Stroll the pedestrian-friendly State Street area to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The University of Wisconsin Arboretum has the best urban trails anywhere, or visit the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Downtown is the lovely Mansion Hill Inn.

Monona Terrace


Choose a longish drive northeast to the extraordinary Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area or a combination circus experience and workout in Baraboo and Devil’s Lake State Park. During the spring or fall migratory periods, visit Horicon Marsh; otherwise, Devil’s Lake is a gem of a park.

Door County

Door County is easily reached from Milwaukee and Madison. It’s also customary for Wisconsin football fans to pilgrimage to Green Bay and Lambeau Field on the way to Door County or on the way back.

You could substitute one of the days in Door County with a ferry ride to quiet, great for biking Washington Island and potentially another short ferry ride to Rock Island State Park to hike as far as you can get from the mainland.


First day—explore the bay side of the Door’s sublime natural environment and grand food, lodging, and shopping. Must-sees for nature and recreation are Potawatomi, Peninsula, and Newport State Parks. Spend the night in Fish Creek for the food and shopping; top picks for lodging are the White Gull Inn or the Whistling Swan.


On your second day, explore the lakeside. Must-sees are hiking or kayaking at Whitefish Dunes State Park or The Ridges Sanctuary as well as the nation’s densest county concentration of lighthouses. This is the more tranquil side of Door County, and some people spend their entire weekends on this side for that reason.

Wisconsin Dells

Following a riotous trip to the Dells, you could head southwest to explore the rivers of Wisconsin.


Pick a megaresort and let the waterslide fun commence. Make sure you do your homework; you can get some amazing deals. Top choice for a place with capital-E everything is the amazing Kalahari Resort Convention Center for indoor and outdoor water parks, rooms, villas, and many other options.

Devil’s Doorway at Devil’s Lake State Park


See the real Dells of the Wisconsin River on the World War II-era duck boat tour. If you’ve had your fill of water, Devil’s Lake State Park down the road offers superb hiking and, next door, fetching Baraboo is small-town quaint and has a grand circus museum, replete with outdoor shows.

The Northern Cap

From the Northern Cap, the Great North Woods are nearby.


Drive to Bayfield on a Friday and eat whitefish. Stay at the budget Seagull Bay Motel, or for a splurge, the Old Rittenhouse Inn cannot be beat for the historic lodgings and epicurean delights.


In the early morning either kayak the sea caves or cycle the rolling hills filled with apple orchards, then in the afternoon either take a shuttle to an island and hike or take the grand evening boat tour of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for amazing vistas.

the Apostle Islands cruise


Spend today driving the extraordinary Highway 13 along Lake Superior to Superior to see the big lakers (freight ships) and waterfalls.

Great North Woods

Combine the Northern Cap and the Great North Woods for a week of outdoor bliss.


Get a cabin, cottage, or resort room in Hayward in northwest Wisconsin, or in the northeast, in the Minocqua area, Eagle River, or Boulder Junction. Spend the day with a rowboat, canoe on the lake, or nap to the sound of lapping water.


On Sale
May 19, 2020
Page Count
500 pages
Moon Travel

Thomas Huhti

About the Author

Thomas Huhti is a native Cheesehead who wound up studying in China during university (wanderlust has been a familial curse) which ultimately led to a five-year stint traveling the globe and living out of a backpack. A fortuitous meeting with a travel writer on a Chinese mountain opened his eyes to the possibilities of combining travel and writing, his two loves, as a career.

Half a decade of wandering the world made him long for his birthplace, about which he realized he knew precious little. Thomas's four-year pilgrimage around the state to research the first edition of Moon Wisconsin was a gift for his parents, worthy Badgers both. Ultimately, he discovered he bled Badger red and understood where "home" really was.

Now it's a lifelong labor of love (at least outside of deadline crunch times). With the tent drying in the back of the car and a Brewers game on the radio, Thomas can be found wandering Wisconsin's highways, searching for the next hidden spot to uncover.

Learn more about this author