A state known for the Green Bay Packers football team and cheddar cheese, Wisconsin has many other hidden gems awaiting discovery. From the elegant museums in Madison to the preserved state parks, you can both learn about history and art in person, see where it happened and read about it in the museums. There are also hands on activities for train lovers or architecture buffs – take a train ride on a historic steam engine powered locomotive or visit the buildings left behind by the architectural genius Frank Lloyd Wright. You’ll never be bored here in Wisconsin, its charm and beauty will win you over for good. Check out our list of the things you can’t miss out on when you’re here, and start planning your Wisconsin trip!
Lets explore the best things to do in Wisconsin:
1. Cave of the Mounds
Cave of the Mounds is located close to Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. The eastern hill of these two hills, called the Blue Mounds, hides the cave on the southern slope. A designated National Natural Landmark, it has been called “the jewel box” of caves in North America and is known for the beautiful limestone formations that decorate its interior.
This beautiful cave was discovered accidentally in 1939 by quarry workers when they were blasting the rock, but wasn’t opened to the public until 1940. Visitors have continued to visit to see the gorgeous limestone stalactites – walkways are there to guide your way and lights artistically placed to highlight the natural beauty of the cave. Enjoy one of the natural phenomenons Mother Nature has left for us.
2. Interstate State Park
Interstate Park is comprised of two state parks, one in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin. The parks are divided by the Dalles of the St. Croix River. You’ll appreciate the raw beauty of the gorge with its deep potholes and striking rock formations. Stop by the park if you’re in the nearby towns of Taylor Falls, Minnesota and St. Croix Falls.
Explore the western terminus of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail or the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. Take a swim at the beach at Lake O’ the Dalles or climb the cliffs that line the river. If you’re up for roughing it, there are several camping sites at your disposal, or visit for the day and explore the 8 miles of hiking trails. It is sure to leave you breathless.
3. Historic Cedarburg
Located on the banks of Cedar Creek in southeastern Wisconsin, this historic town has been charming visitors for decades. Blending the old with the new, you can visit a covered bridge located next to several larger and new McMansions and a shining downtown, or visit an old preserved grist mill. Artists also flock to the town to paint the enchanting, old style streets in an attempt to capture the essence of Cedarburg.
Visit the restored mill, Cedar Creek Settlement, and enjoy the local shops and restaurants – there is even a winery! The town also specializes in throwing parties – they host the Wine & Harvest Festival, the Strawberry Festival and the Winter Festival, just to name a few! Enjoy the charm historic Cedarburg has to offer and relax in the beautiful surroundings.
4. Wisconsin State Capitol
The Wisconsin State Capitol is located in the state capital city of Madison. It is surrounded by the Capitol Square, and houses all 3 government branches of the legislature, state Supreme Court and the Office of the Governor. It is the tallest building in Madison, a fact that has been preserved by state legislature ensuring no other building can be built to surpass the state capitol.
This State Capitol building is actually the third state capitol building – the first was rebuilt to expand, the second burned down, and this one was built in 1917. A statue of Athena holding the state animal, the beaver, stands watch over the building. If you walk through, you’ll see naturally occurring fossils throughout the stone, such as starfish or coral. Definitely a beautiful building, pay homage to the state of Wisconsin by visiting its government’s capitol building to appreciate the stunning architectural design.
5. Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Olbrich Botanical Gardens is located in Madison, Wisconsin. The gardens were founded in 1952 by Michael Olbrich, and named after him. They added a conservatory in 1991, and a Thai pavilion in in 2002, donated by the king of Thailand.
The gardens are divided in 7 sections. There is a traditional English garden called the Sunken Gardens, which has a long reflective pool and is surrounded by limestone terraces. The Thai garden boasts the pavilion, which is filled with Thai sculptures. Also be sure not to miss out on the Rose Garden, which overflows with a wide variety of the flowers. Peaceful and relaxing, you could spend the whole day here exploring and relaxing among beautiful flora and fauna.
6. National Railroad Museum
The National Railroad Museum is located in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin. It is one of the oldest institutions in the US that is dedicated to preserving railroad history. The museum spans more than a century of railroad history and houses some of the largest steam locomotives. There is even a standard gauge track on the perimeter.
If you’re a train fan, you’ve come to the right place. There are locomotives donated by the army, as well as several charming cabooses. They even have a Thomas the Tank Engine ride for young children! Don’t miss out on Halloween, when the museum grounds are turned into a scary attraction called “Terror on the Fox”; you can take haunted train rides at night if you are brave enough!
7. Kohler, Wisconsin
Kohler is located in Sheboygan County, along the Sheboygan River. It was originally built as a planned community by the Kohler Company before being incorporated. Now a charming resort destination, Kohler continues to bring in the visitors.
Treat yourself to a resort vacation here. The American Club, a 5 star hotel, is conveniently close to town. Book yourself a room with a view and a spa treatment or two. You can relax over a game of golf or go shopping. You deserve to pamper yourself every now and then.
8. Apostle Islands
The Apostle Islands are off the coast of Lake Superior. There are 21 islands in total, many full of historic lighthouses, sea caves, and forests. Formed by red sandstone, the islands were created by the water from melting glaciers eroding the land, which has left some gorgeous natural formations.
Come visit this natural paradise in northern Wisconsin. Rent a boat and dock on the islands to explore the natural habitats. You can fish for salmon or trout depending on the season. Kayak from island to island, stay overnight and camp, or go hunting if you have a permit. If you feel like it, go scuba dive to see the rock formations and remnants of shipwrecks!
9. EAA AirVenture Show Oshkosh
Held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the Airventure Show is an annual summer gathering of aviation lovers at Wittman Regional Airport. It is sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association, and is the largest of its kind in the world. The first gathering was held in 1953.
Thousands of visitors flock to the week long event to see the flying or attend a workshop or forum. After catching a show, peruse the EAA AirVenture Museum. It displays experimental and historic aircraft and houses both indoor and outdoor displays. Some airplanes are French and German fighter jets from WWI! The airshows and history will keep you entertained and teach you some fun new facts about aviation.
10. Milwaukee Art Museum
Located in Milwaukee, the art museum is one of the largest in the country and houses over 35,000 pieces of art. It was founded in 1872 in an attempt to bring art to a port town that still had limited capacity to house art exhibitions. A collection was donated by Alexander Mitchell after 9 years and the permanent art exhibit was founded. It was officially declared a museum in 1957.
The Museum is comprised of 4 floors and displays works that span from the ancient times to present day. Their collections of American decorative arts, German Expressionism and Haitian Art are some of the best, Perfect for art lovers of any kind, you’ll find plenty to keep your eyes occupied here at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
11. Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings
Frank Lloyd Wright is a famous American architect who grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and later in life in nearby Spring Green. He built some of his well-known Prairie-style houses and public buildings in the area, and while some are still private residences, others are available for public viewing. Check out some of these if you’re an architecture buff.
Places like the Monona Terrace and First Unitarian Meeting House are open to the public. You can also drive by the Walter and Mary Ellen Rudin house, designed according to his Usonian project. Don’t miss the Eugene A Gilmore House, otherwise known as the Airplane House. You can’t go inside, but the outside is well worth the trip. Have a coffee on the Monona Terrace and finish planning your architectural tour of Madison.
12. Minocqua Lake
Located in Oneida County, Minocqua Lake is part of the Lakeland of Northern Wisconsin. Drive up here for some lush countryside and countless lakes, there are plenty of photo opportunities to commemorate your trip. Whether you’re into watersports or just want a lakeside retreat, this county has plenty to keep you busy.
Best in the summer months, go water skiing or boating on Minocqua Lake. Take a swim in the lake or work on your tan lakeside. You can rent a summer home or stay at a resort to relax. If you’re here in the winter, you’ll find there are plenty of skiing and snowboarding opportunities to keep you busy.
13. The Wisconsin Great River Road
The Wisconsin Great River Road is the only officially designated national scenic route in Wisconsin. Hop behind the wheel and hit the road to cover 250 miles and 33 cities along the way. Load up that road trip playlist and get ready, whether you are an outdoors enthusiast or an art fan, there many stops along the way that will interest you.
If you’re a fishing enthusiast or boater, check out any of the lakes and rivers lining the route. Stop in at the small towns to check out the shops and art galleries, or to break the trip for the night. You can even tour some wineries as you explore, or stop to camp and hike. The scenery is gorgeous and sometimes getting off the beaten path is exactly what you need.
14. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Dells is a city in south central Wisconsin, and is named for the Dells of the Wisconsin River, a gorge on the Wisconsin River. It’s a popular Midwestern tourist destination because of the sandstone formations and beautiful river scenery.
Come visit this beautiful corner of Wisconsin and get a break from the bustle of city life. Take a boating tour to see the beautiful sandstone formations and gorge firsthand. Or, visit one of their many waterparks, something this county is famous for. Take a duck tour or explore the miles of wilderness trails. Enjoy the resort destination and natural paradise getaway.
15. Door County
Door County is located in eastern Wisconsin and is named for the narrow strait of water between the Door Peninsula and Washington Island. That strait is lined with shipwrecks from older times when sailors struggled to navigate the narrow passage. The county is filled with state parks and beautiful coastlines.
Come visit the Cape Cod of the Midwest, it is especially pleasant during summer months. There are five state parks in the area for those looking to hike and get back out into the outdoors. Visit Cave Point County Park for the gorgeous coastline or visit any of the 10 historic lighthouses in the county. Come in cherry season to pick your own cherries, or go wine tasting at any of the 8 local wineries.