Thanks to the state of the economy and world events, staycations are not only present in 2020, they’re trendy. While it has made sense since the beginning of time to live somewhere you love, the recent rise of the staycation gives you an opportunity to embrace your backyard like never before. For those of us who live in Wisconsin, that is a special treat. From lakes to forests, cities to state capital, there are endless ways to adventure in the Badger State. I’ve compiled five fun Wisconsin staycations everyone will love! To help you even more with travel planning, consult this Wisconsin reading list and check out my free packing lists.
Southern Wisconsin Staycation: Lake Geneva
Geneva Lake in Walworth County is the second deepest lake in Wisconsin and more than twenty miles around. Along its shoreline lie three vibrant communities, each with their own personality and attractions. For the classic “Geneva Lake” experience, you’ll want to visit the aptly-named Lake Geneva. This small city is brimming with beaches, boats, and bayside eateries. It is also home to Big Foot Beach State Park, which is a great place to hike in southern Wisconsin. On my most recent visit, I stayed at the Harbor Shores on Lake Geneva. I love that hotel overlooks the lake and is attached to Gino’s East, which is the best place to eat pizza in Lake Geneva.
My favorite thing to do in Lake Geneva in the summer is spend time on the water. Two great ways to do this are by taking a tour with Lake Geneva Cruise Line or renting a boat from Lake Geneva Boat Rentals. In the winter, time your visit around the US National Snow Sculpting Competition and Winterfest to watch artists create breathtaking ice sculptures. You can also explore life-sized Ice Castles and hit the slopes at the Grand Geneva Resort. Whenever you visit, Lake Geneva offers great options for shopping and dining. Make the most of even a short trip to Lake Geneva with this one-day travel itinerary.
The two smaller communities along Geneva Lake include Williams Bay and Fontana-On-Geneva-Lake. These are great destinations to visit if you want to avoid the crowds in Lake Geneva. Williams Bay hosts a Corn and Brat Fest each August, but calls many great restaurants home. Kids will love eating breakfast in an igloo at Daddy Maxwell’s, while adults will enjoy winding down at Harpoon Willie’s Pub and Eatery.
Fontana is a hot spot for water sports enthusiasts. Gordy’s Marine has everything you need to enjoy life on the water. You will find boat and equipment rentals, a pro shop, and a restaurant all within walking distance. They can also teach you how to water ski, wakeboard, or wake surf behind your boat or one of theirs. I also have some easy tips to get you up on water skis this summer that most instructors won’t teach you.
Eastern Wisconsin Staycation: Milwaukee
Milwaukee is Wisconsin’s largest city, both by population and land area. Naturally, that means you can expect Milwaukee to be a fun staycation destination that everyone will love. Brew City, despite its name, offers great options for explorers of all ages. Milwaukee’s best museums are a great example of that! Kids will love that the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is created just for them, but adults and kids will both enjoy the interactive experiences at the Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, and Harley-Davidson Museum, too.
If you want to avoid crowds in Milwaukee, the city offers many great places to get out in nature. You can find a state park, state forest, and state trail all within the city limits! My ultimate Milwaukee travel guide lists even more parks, beaches, and trails that everyone will love. Milwaukee lies along the western shoreline of Lake Michigan and has a freshwater beach scene that rivals oceanside states. Swimming, surfing, and sand volleyball are just some of the activities you can enjoy at award-winning Bradford Beach. Getting on the water is easy with Riverwalk Boat Tours & Rentals, who offers private, self-captained pontoon rentals for a fun family cruise.
In the winter, bring out the ice skates (or rent some for cheap) at Slice of Ice in Red Arrow Park. This rink in the heart of downtown offers picturesque views that make for a great date night in Milwaukee. Enjoy downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing at The Rock Snowpark in nearby Franklin. This smaller ski hill is a great place to enjoy a snow day in Milwaukee County. They also offer ski lessons to people of all ages! One of the best winter hikes in Milwaukee is at Havenwoods State Forest. Located on the city’s northwest side, is has more than six miles of woodland trails to explore.
Milwaukee has a great restaurant scene that is sure to satisfy your tastebuds. As a vegetarian, my favorite local spot is Beans and Barley on the city’s east side. Other great restaurants in Milwaukee that everyone will love include Sweetdiner for brunch, the Milwaukee Public Market for lunch, and Cafe Hollander for dinner. When choosing where to stay in Milwaukee, there are lots of great hotel and rental options. Best Western recently opened a new location on the city’s west side that is both an affordable and quality place to stay. Sign up for a free Best Western Rewards membership to start collecting points with every stay.
Northern Wisconsin Staycation: Oneida County
Northern Wisconsin, aka “Up North” or “the Northwoods,” is where you can explore our impressive boreal forests. The Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest and Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest both reside partially in Oneida County and make great day trips or camping trips. Some of the activities you can enjoy in the Wisconsin woods include hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Oneida County is a fun summer and winter staycation in Wisconsin that everyone will love.
In addition to its beautiful forests, Oneida County is one of the best places in Wisconsin to enjoy its lakes. Over 400 named lakes call this part of the northwoods home. On the lakes of Oneida County, you can enjoy canoeing, kayaking, boating, and my personal favorite, water skiing. Water ski shows are a classic Up North attraction; you can learn more about the history of water ski shows in Wisconsin here. Even in the winter, many people can be found “on the water” riding the snowmobile trails that cross local lakes.
Each town in the county has its own personality, but I’ll share two of my favorites to visit. Three Lakes, Wisconsin is home to the largest inland chain of lakes in the world. Twenty-eight lakes connect in this corner of the northwoods. This is the “Up North” town I grew up going to, as my grandparents owned a cottage there. Three Lakes has lots of natural beauty and charm, making it a very relaxing place for a Wisconsin staycation. Though many tourists visit this area, the abundance of connected lakes makes it easy to find a secluded spot to ski or fish. There are many great restaurants in and around Three Lakes, including one accessible by car, boat, snowmobile, and airplane!
Another great place to explore in Oneida County is Rhinelander. Like Three Lakes, it has some great lake frontage and forests to enjoy. In the summer, Hodag Water Shows performs every Wednesday and Sunday at 7:00 PM along Boom Lake. Although it is also a year-round destination, Rhinelander is an especially great place to visit in the fall. The northwoods is known for its breathtaking fall colors and Rhinelander is a great place to see them. You can see more pictures of fall in Rhinelander taken during my visit last October.
Central Wisconsin Staycation: Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin Dells is both an iconic part of Wisconsin’s geologic history and the Waterpark Capital of the World. Situated along the Wisconsin River, the bluffs and valleys that make up the Dells were formed during the last Ice Age. About fifteen thousand years ago, the collapse of an ice dam dramatically altered the landscape. A great way to immerse yourself in this geologic wonder is by taking a guided horse-drawn carriage tour through Lost Canyon. Remember to dress in layers, as it can get chilly in the valley!
Two state parks located near Wisconsin Dells also showcase the area’s unique features and are great hiking spots. Rocky Arbor State Park comes highly recommended for summer camping and has exposed rock formations lining its main loop trail. I visited during the winter and was impressed by the contrast of the rocks against the snow. As the trail is not maintained in the winter, I recommend bringing snowshoes. Just south of town lies Mirror Lake State Park, where tha water is a breathtaking shade of blue. While you’re there, stop by the famous Ishnala Supper Club for a classic Wisconsin meal.
One thing I love about Wisconsin Dells is that has a cozy, western charm. The Wilderness Resort is one of many places with log cabins for rent and woodland-inspired decor. I have stayed in both a cabin and main hotel here and enjoyed both experiences. A cabin rental is a great option for a family vacation in Wisconsin Dells. The four waterparks at the Wilderness also makes it America’s largest waterpark resort. Tyler and I enjoyed a couples getaway here, but it is also a great trip for kids!
The town itself is full of things for visitors to do. The Tommy Bartlett Ski, Sky, and Stage Show is the only professional water ski and stunt show in Wisconsin. It has remained an iconic part of any Wisconsin Dells vacation since the 1950s. The town also has multiple options for unique museums, mini golf courses, tours, and more. You will never run out of things to do during a staycation in Wisconsin Dells!
South-Central Wisconsin Staycation: Madison
Madison is as much a lake town as it is a college town and Wisconsin’s state capital. It is one of only two cities in the US located on an isthmus between two bodies of water. In Madison, those are Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. The lakes are great for sailing and boating in the summer. To experience Lake Mendota, book a tour with Betty Lou Cruises. To take in the views of Lake Monona, stop by Law Park to enjoy a free water ski show by the Mad-City Ski Team on Sundays throughout the summer at 5:15.
Any visit to Madison feels incomplete without exploring the campus of the University of Wisconsin – Madison. You don’t have to be a student to enjoy some of its best features! The Memorial Union and Lake Path are open to the public, and tickets for Badger football games are available at affordable prices. Stick around until the end of the game to enjoy the marching band’s “Fifth Quarter” celebration. Many buildings on the UW-Madison campus have a unique history. North Hall, Science Hill, and the Red Gym are even National Historic Landmarks!
The lakes and hills in the Madison area offer many great places to get outside. Governor Nelson State Park is the closest to town and lies along the northern shoreline of Lake Mendota. It has a public beach that is great for swimming in the summer and has more than eight miles of trails for hiking. To view some of the effigy mounds left across Wisconsin by ancient tribes, take the park’s Woodland Trail. Blue Mound State Park lies a bit further west but boasts a spectacular view. It is also a great place to see the fall colors near Madison. This is an especially great park for those who enjoy mountain biking.
Finally, a proper Madison staycation includes a visit to the Wisconsin State Capitol. This impressive architectural wonder is just a couple of feet shorter than our nation’s capitol and equally unique. Groups under ten can show up for a tour without a reservation, but any party larger than that will need to call in advance. On Wednesday nights in the summer, folks gather around the capitol for the Concerts on the Square outdoor music festival. Hosted by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the series features many local performers.