A Midwestern state located on the Great Lakes Michigan and Superior, Wisconsin is covered in forests and farms that are begging to be explored. Take a few days, hop in a car and leave the big city lights behind you. There is plenty to keep you busy both outdoors and in town. Whether you are eating some of Wisconsin’s famous cheese or trying their artisanal beers and wines, you’ll be both well-fed and soothed by the lakefront views and forests that hide these small town gems.
Check out our list of the best small towns to visit in Wisconsin:
1. Cedarburg, Wisconsin
About 20 miles north of Milwaukee, you’ll find Cedarburg. Originally founded in 1842 by Ludwig Groth along the banks of Cedar Creek, the name means “Castle of cedars”. A lumber mill, Columbia Mill, was soon built following the arrival of settlers, and soon, business expanded and the town thrived and grew. More recently, the old wool mill was purchased in the 1960s and converted into a restaurant, winery and shops, drawing in more tourism to Cedarburg with these fun activities.
You can wander the quaint streets of Cedarburg and see buildings still standing from the 1800s. There are many galleries and studios to visit, as well as the Covered Bridge, the oldest historic covered bridge still functional in Wisconsin. Visit in the summer to enjoy their concerts or at Christmastime to appreciate the picturesque historic buildings. Whether you’re wine tasting or shopping, you’ll always have something to do!
2. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Located in Walworth County, Lake Geneva is a resort destination on Geneva Lake, and popular for tourists, especially from the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. It originally had an intriguing, but not as appealing, name, Muck Suck, for a Potawatomi Native American chief. It was later changed to something more western-sounding, Lake Geneva, on the waterfront of Geneva Lake (don’t confuse the two!).
If you’re looking for a luxury getaway, Lake Geneva is the place for you. Take a relaxing boat tour or rent your own to explore the lake. Spend an afternoon at Riviera Beach, or browse the goods at Galerie Matisse & Matisse Too. You can always have a spa weekend at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, and have a delicious meal at Ristorante Brissago. As a fun fact, Hugh Hefner built his first Playboy Resort here in the 80s, but it has since been converted into the Grand Geneva Resort.
3. New Glarus, Wisconsin
This hidden gem is in Southwest Wisconsin. It feels like you’ve traveled back to the 13th century when you visit New Glarus, a charming village that retains the Swiss culture brought there by the first settlers who named it after the canton of Glarus in Switzerland. Fiercely proud of their heritage, New Glarus started performing German and English plays that commemorate their history and help preserve their German language heritage, and have preserved many Swiss German customs apart from the language, like yodeling and flag tossing.
Come visit the best known Swiss settlement in the US and feel like you’ve left the country! Famous for its small breweries, we recommend having a pint at New Glarus Brewing Company. Attend any one of their fun festivals, such as Winterfest, Swiss Volksfest, or Oktoberfest, and enjoy some of the many diverse and delicious food options like roschti, a potato and meat dish, or a kalberwurst, a delicious Swiss sausage. Enjoy this little pocket of Swiss heaven hidden in plain sight in Wisconsin.
4. Mazomanie, Wisconsin
A village in Dane County, Mazomanie was built on the old hunting grounds of the Winnebago Indian Nation. Edward Brodhead named this town after a Native American chief he knew when he settled here. While the town did not grow much after the end of the railroad days that had helped develop it, this also allowed Mazomanie to preserve its 19th century charm. The town has several buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has many galleries and B&Bs.
There is some lovely lakefront nearby at Mazomanie Bottoms State Natural Area, where you can hunt, fish, or hike in this wilderness habitat. There is one beach for families and children with recreational boating available, or, if you’re more of a clothing-optional person, head a little further down to the nudist beach along the Lower Wisconsin River. Leave your cares (and clothing!) behind, and enjoy some rest and relaxation.
5. Port Washington, Wisconsin
Just north of Milwaukee, Port Washington was named in honor of George Washington, and is the county seat of Ozaukee County. First inhabited by the Sauk Tribe, the French arrived in the late 1600s. Port Washington has a natural harbor at the mouth of Sauk Creek and later became a port on Lake Michigan. Its growing economy relied on mainly exports after it was founded, and now is a historic tourist destination. Port Washington now has the largest number of pre-Civil War buildings in Wisconsin, including their courthouse which doubled as a jail when it was first in operation.
An ideal getaway for a sailing enthusiast, don’t forget to check out the Maritime Heritage Festival, or rent your own boat and go boating on the lake. Put on those walking shoes and explore the Interurban trail, perfect for photography or birdwatching. If you’re more of a shopper, Port Washington has plenty of boutiques and specialty shops to entertain you. Stay over at the Country Inn & Suites and enjoy a few days relaxing in the slow-paced environment.
6. Ephraim, Wisconsin
A town in Door County, Ephraim is located across Eagle Harbor, and boasts excellent views of both the harbor and the bluffs of Green Bay. It was founded in the 1850s by a Moravian reverend, and now the Ephraim Moravian Church and Lutheran Church are the village landmarks that can be seen across Eagle Harbor. Ephraim also has worked hard to preserve the original town buildings, such as their Pioneer schoolhouse, and was a dry community until 2016, when they voted in favor of legalizing beer and wine sales only.
Take a walking tour of the village with the Ephraim Historical Foundation before heading over to the Francis Hardy Gallery to enjoy the art. Treat yourself to a spa day at the Spa at Sacred Grounds, or enjoy a night at the theatre at Northern Sky Theatre! Take a boat out on the water or walk down to the South Shore Pier. You can even stay over at Village Green Lodge and continue enjoying your small town holiday.
7. Stockholm, Wisconsin
Stockholm is a small town in Pepin County. As the name suggests, it was founded by Swedish immigrants in the 1850s. Located in the Town of Stockholm, the Scandinavian influences are obvious here with the abundance of Scandinavian food options, such as the Stockholm Pie Company. While not the original capital of Sweden, the town offers a glimpse into the Scandinavian American culture.
Drive down the Great River Road for some excellent views and make sure to bring your camera. Visit the Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery for a refreshing drink, or visit the Black Cat Farmstead for a blast from the past before sampling some of the local food specialties. Enjoy a quiet night at Great River Bed & Breakfast before heading back to the big city.
8. Bayfield, Wisconsin
Located in Bayfield County, Bayfield is named after Henry Bayfield, a British Royal Topographic Engineer who first came to the region in 1822. A former fishing and lumber community, the town is now a popular tourist destination right at the very northern tip of Wisconsin, on Lake Superior. If you’re looking for a waterfront view, Bayfield is the place for you.
Visit Bayfield for the sports and activities: take a boat out on the lake, go kayaking or sailing or explore the picturesque small downtown. If you make your way here in the fall, check out Apple Fest or the Annual Race Week Regatta in July. You should explore the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – small, untouched islands where you can camp and hike, or go scuba diving to check out the hidden sea caves.
9. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Located in Sheboygan County, Elkhart Lake was first inhabited by Potawatomi Native Americans, who named it “Great Elkhart Lake” because they thought that the shape of the lake resembled an elk’s heart. Nowadays, it is better known for its dedicated race track, Road America, which is just outside of the village.
Take a rural getaway to this isolated village and catch a race or two at the track before heading over the Fireman’s Park to relax in the outdoors. If you’re in the mood to treat yourself, try the Aspira Spa for some well-earned pampering. You can relax at the Eastlake Victorian Bed and Breakfast and enjoy some delicious food at Lola’s on the Lake. You’ll be able to determine for yourself if you agree with this assessment or not.
10. Columbus, Wisconsin
Columbus is in the south-central part of Wisconsin and northeast of Madison. The Crawfish River is nearby the town, which is full of historic buildings and scenic walks through downtown. Take a stroll and check out the City Hall or the historic Post office and enjoy the Midwestern charm of Columbus.
After you’ve explored the historic district, don’t forget to go to Columbus Antique Mall if you enjoy antiquing. They also have Christopher Columbus Museum for those museum lovers out there. Columbus Carriage House Bed & Breakfast is waiting to welcome you, so drop your bags here before enjoying a cocktail at Club 60.
11. Fish Creek, Wisconsin
An unincorporated community in Door County, Fish Creek is located along Green Bay. A former logging and fishing town, Fish Creek’s dock was built in 1855. Nowadays, the town is a popular summer vacation destination with its ideal lakefront location and art community.
Explore Peninsula State Park – the main entrance is in Fish Creek. Walk out to the historic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse that was built in 1866. The land will never be developed so the great views from Fish Creek Harbor are here to stay. An art community nestled in beautiful nature, Fish Creek is home to one of the last remaining clockmakers in the state, and there are many galleries that sell artwork. Find something special for your home or simply enjoy browsing.
12. Mineral Point, Wisconsin
Mineral Point is a town in Iowa County and is Wisconsin’s third oldest community. The first territorial governor was inaugurated here in town! It used to be a lead and zinc mining center after it was settled in 1827, and is now a popular tourist destination.
Come visit Mineral Point and walk a ways down the Cheese County Trail, or rent an ATV and have an adventure. The local restaurants are known for their Cornish food, so try the pastries and figgyhobbin! Stroll down High Street and stop in for a coffee at Red Rooster Cafe. Breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the chance to disconnect.
13. Egg Harbor, Wisconsin
Egg Harbor, a town in Door County, is located on the lakeshore. A perfect vacation from city life, head out to this northeastern corner of Wisconsin for some relaxation and rejuvenation. The scenery is beautiful – you can see even the limestone outcroppings of the Niagara Escarpment, especially if you head out to the Bayshore Blufflands.
Egg Harbor is full of a lot of fun activities for foodies – head over to the Wisconsin Cheese Masters or Fat Louie’s Olive Oil Co, or go wine tasting at Harbor Ridge Winery or Stone’s Throw Winery. Have a delicious meal at the Parador or try the bread at Macready Artisan Bread Company before pampering yourself at Newport Resort.
14. Algoma, Wisconsin
A town in Kewaunee County, Algoma was settled by Irish and English pioneers who called the area “Wolf River”. The local Native Americans told legends about the great gray wolf, and the gray wolf eventually became the mascot for the local high school. The name it now bears, Algoma, is said to come from a Potawatomi word for “park of flowers”.
A great vacation destination for avid fishermen, Algoma is a major destination for sport fishing. You can also catch the Shanty Days Parade in August to enjoy the ethnic foods, music and parade. Algoma hosts summer concerts in the park at Heritage Park during July and August as well. Don’t forget to go wine tasting at Von Stiehl’s or beer tasting at Ahnapee Brewery!
15. Ashland, Wisconsin
A port town on Lake Superior, Ashland is in the northern part of the state. Ashland has a colorful past: eight Native American nations have lived on Chequamegon bay, and 4 different flags have been flown here: Spanish, French, English and American. French fur traders arrived to the bay in 1659 and founded what is known as the first European dwelling in Wisconsin. Later a logging community, the town is still made up of small businesses that support the town economy.
Take a trip up to historic Ashland to see some beautiful views of the bay and fish. Or, take a boat out and explore! You can relax at Maslowski beach if you’re more of a land lover, or walk around Prentice Park. Don’t forget to pamper yourself at Inland Sea Therapeutics Massage and Bodywork! Finally, curl up with a good book at Black Cat Cafe.