An outdoor beer garden in New Glarus, Wisconsin. Editorial credit: Kristen Prahl /

12 of the Most Charming Small Towns to Visit in Wisconsin

As the biggest producer of dairy products in the United States, Wisconsin is literally a land of milk, albeit one without honey. The Badger State was named after the Wisconsin River, which in turn was named after the Algonquin word Meskonsing meaning "this stream meanders through something red” (an allusion to the red sandstone bluffs at Wisconsin Dells). But aside from being the place where the first ice cream sundae was served and where Soviet satellite Sputnik IV plummeted in 1962, Wisconsin is also renowned for some of the most charming small towns to visit this 2024. Beyond the cityscapes of Sheboygan and Milwaukee, you will be mesmerized by the natural splendor and historic appeal of Wisconsin’s quaint hamlets and villages. Strengthen your bones for travel with Badger State’s premier milk, and sightsee the most charming small towns to visit in Wisconsin.

Sturgeon Bay

Canal in the town of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
Canal in the town of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Located at a small strait connecting Sturgeon Bay with Lake Michigan, the alluring town of Sturgeon Bay has been hailed as one of the Top 10 Happiest Seaside Towns in the U.S. by Coastal Living magazine. Only 43 miles from the city of Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay exemplifies its merry atmosphere thanks to several local landmarks and attractions. From beautifully intricate and colorful glassware in the Popelka Trenchard Glass to stunning art pieces in the Millers Art Museum and Margaret Lockwood Gallery, Sturgeon Bay has been a patron of cultural refinement and personal joy in the Door County.

One can walk through the doors of the Door County Maritime Museum to become more knowledgeable of the town’s past and of Door County. Or you can head straight to Sturgeon Bay Canal and ogle over the canal light and pierhead lighthouse that guide ships to and from Lake Michigan. In the period of May 25 - 26, attend the local Sturgeon Bay Fine Arts Fair. And in fine lodgings like White Birch Inn or The Foxglove Inn, relax and enjoy your stay in Sturgeon Bay.

Elkhart Lake

Overview of the Gather on the Green vintage car show on the grounds of The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Overview of the Gather on the Green vintage car show on the grounds of The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, via ajkelly /

When it comes to tranquility, quietude, and scenic spots in Wisconsin, Elkhart Lake does not disappoint. Approximately 26 miles away from Lake Winnebago, the town that shares its name with an adjacent lake creates many memorable opportunities for exploration and enjoyment. Go rowing, fishing, and swimming on the clear-watered Elkhart Lake, or go trekking and camping in La Budde Creek State Wildlife Area and Kettle Moraine State Forest. Outdoor enthusiasts will feel revitalized while venturing into the nearby Sheboygan Marsh State Wildlife Area, especially as one can kayak along Sheboygan Lake and out into Sheboygan River.

Meanwhile, thrill-seekers can admire the Road America racetrack, built in 1955 and continuing to venue many local races in the region. Henschel's Indian Museum and Hidden Springs Trout Farm gives visitors a good idea of the regional cultures and Native Americans who once inhabited Elkhart Lake. Need a place to stay? Fortunately for you, The Osthoff Resort has all the accommodations you will need to satisfy your trip in Elkhart Lake.

Lake Geneva

Lakefront hotels in Lake Geneva
Lakefront hotels in Lake Geneva, via lito_lakwatsero /

Just like the Geneva Convention, Lake Geneva in Wisconsin promises peace and prosperity for everyone. As a premier resort village on Geneva Lake (quite different from Lake Geneva in Switzerland), one can experience all manner of activities. For example, cruise lining across Geneva Lake, safaris with many iconic animals from Africa, ziplines, and recreational pastimes in Big Foot Beach State Park. Although Lake Geneva is popular for its fantastical attractions such as the magic and wonder in the Tristan Crist Magic Theatre, the town is also home to a handful of historic landmarks.

The Black Point Estate and Gardens, for example was the summer estate of Chicago beer baron Conrad Seipp in 1888, open to visitors from May 1st - October 31st. The Baker House was also built around the same period (in 1885 specifically), and now functions as an eloquent venue for live music, cocktails, steak, mimosas, and more. Finally, there is the Yerkes Observatory, an academic home for many Nobel prize-winning astronomers since 1897 and one of the ten best astronomical observatories in the world. For those of you who wish to spend a longer time in Lake Geneva, then book a room at the Seven Oaks Bed & Breakfast or Lake Geneva Lodge.

Sister Bay

Colorful street in Sister Bay, Wisconsin
Colorful street in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. Editorial credit: Nejdet Duzen /

As a seven-minute-away neighbor to Ephraim, Sister Bay offers splendid views of Green Bay, the watery barrier between Wisconsin and Michigan. In the dagger-shaped Door Peninsula, travelers can go beyond Sister Bay’s village quaintness and gallivant through a handful of the area’s natural parks. First is the Three Springs Nature Preserve, a hotbed of riverside and forested wildlife for those eager to appreciate Wisconsin’s wilder side. Second, Mink River Reserve, where travelers can go fishing and kayaking in a river fed by Lake Michigan. And lastly is Wagon Trail Campground for a vintage and old school experience of the outdoors.

If you want to stay closer to Sister Bay but still relish in its natural features, go swimming in the beautiful Pebble Beach and Sister Bay Beach. You can also charter a boat in the Sister Bay Marina. On June, celebrate the annual Goat Parade and Al Johnson's Goat Festival, so fondly memorialized due to an incident where a goat was found on a roof. For lodgings, look to Open Hearth Lodge, The Coachlite Inn, or County House Resort for your daily necessities.


Downtown Stockholm, Wisconsin.
Downtown Stockholm, Wisconsin. Image credit: Royalbroil via Wikimedia Commons.

You will feel a more hospitable and exciting kind of Stockholm Syndrome as the town of Stockholm captivates you with its cozy, Americana charm. Situated on the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin, the town was named after the capital city of Sweden when immigrants from Sweden moved to Wisconsin, which the Stockholm Museum chronicles. Among the Swedish delicacies one can savor in Stockholm is the Stockholm Pie Company, a delightful bakery that has baked many excellent breads since the 19th century.

The nearby Heritage Woods is also a sweet spot to explore, as many beekeepers there protect honeybees and harvest their exquisite nectar in turn. The Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area is a similarly diverse and ecologically friendly region for adventurers yearning to go trekking, climbing, and walking. If the night calls you back to blissful sleep, then go to your bed in invigorating establishments like Rivertown Landing or Art Orchard & Guesthouse.


Aerial view of Hayward, Wisconsin.
Aerial view of Hayward, Wisconsin.

Head sunward bound to Hayward, a village where the wilderness is at its most serene and untroubled. Hayward is popular for its access to several fishing lakes and ponds, such as Hayward Lake, Round Lake, Grindstone Lake, and Bass Lake. There are also a number of parks and preserves surrounding Hayward, like the Kissick Swamp State Wildlife Management Area and Bean Brook State Wildlife Management Area.

In the town itself, the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame exhibits vintage motors, antique rods and reels, and mounted fishes as a proud display of prowess. Tourists can watch exhilarating and adrenalin-pumping action at the Sawyer County Agricultural Fair Association. And in the first days of August, get pumped as you watch the Lumberjack World Championship, an international competition showcasing the efficiency and mastery of every Paul Bunyan wannabe. When it comes to accommodations, the Flat Creek Lodge caters to your every whim and more.


People enjoy the Annual Applefest in Bayfield, Wisconsin
People enjoy the Annual Applefest in Bayfield, Wisconsin, via Jacob Boomsma /

Around 73 miles from Hayward, the beachside town of Bayfield gives visitors unparalleled access to the Apostle Islands, the Jewels of Lake Superior. Each island—from Outer Island, Oak Island, and Madeline Island to the Cat, Devils, and Bear islands—have their own unique ecosystems and natural features that will give you a superior appreciation of Lake Superior’s flora and fauna. Go kayaking through the hidden caves and canals between the 22 islands. Marvel at the geographic masterpieces of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Madeline Island, the largest of the islands.

Stand atop Devils Island Lighthouse, one of many historic lighthouses in the Apostle Islands, for majestic views of the vast and fathomless Lake Superior. Sample handmade beer from the Copper Crow Distillery, the first Native American owned distillery in the US. Admire the oldest pottery in Wisconsin at the Eckels Pottery and Fine Craft Gallery. In October 4 - 6, ready your baskets as you pluck fresh apples during the Bayfield Apple Festival. And in impeccable lodgings like the Old Rittenhouse Inn, Lake Superior Lodge, and Pine Cottage, relax and relish in your vacation in Bayfield.


Street view in Ephraim, Wisconsin
Street view in Ephraim, Wisconsin

Only 29 miles from Sturgeon Bay, the splendid village of Ephraim shares many of the bucolic and arboreal beauties with its close-by neighbor, Sister Bay. Adventurers of all sorts can still go traipsing through the Three Springs Nature Preserve, the Mink River Reserve near Lake Michigan, and the Wagon Trail Campground. However, unlike Sister Bay, Ephraim is a convenient gateway to the 38-acre wide Peninsula State Park, a spring- and summertime paradise for bikers, hikers, and even golfers. Atop the wooden Eagle Tower, one can be humbled by panoramic sights of Green Bay.

In the town confines, history enthusiasts can be awed by the Moravian and Nordic influences of Ephraim’s architecture, as best exemplified by the Moravian Church and the Anderson Store from 1858, as well as the Pioneer Schoolhouse and the Anderson Barn from 1880. There is more to discover in Ephraim, but you should find yourself a place to settle in the evening like The Water Street Inn, the Eagle Harbor Inn, or Bay Breeze Resort.

Fish Creek

Fish Creek and Peninsula State Park Door County, Wisconsin.
Fish Creek and Peninsula State Park Door County, Wisconsin.

On the other side of Peninsula Park in Door County and opposite Ephraim is the refreshing town of Fish Creek. The Gibraltar Historical Association provides pristine and accurate exhibits depicting the historic episodes of Fish Creek’s past. Similar to Ephraim, Fish Creek gives visitors a convenient getaway into Peninsula Park, where limestone cliffs and captivating vistas in the Peninsula Park White Cedar Forest State Natural Area rejuvenate the weariest of people. Park your car and grab a bucket of popcorn in the nearby Skyway Drive-In Theatre, or purchase vibrant flowers at the Door County Botanicals (Lavender Farm Stand). Visitors can watch exhilarating races during Derby Day on May 4, or charter a merry, ferry trip at the Fish Creek Scenic Boat Tours. For lodgings, look to the White Gull Inn, Thorp House Inn & Cottages, or Little Sweden for your daily and nightly needs.

Port Washington

Downtown Port Washington, Wisconsin.
Downtown Port Washington, Wisconsin.

Only 27 miles north of The Cream City of Milwaukee, the humble village of Port Washington has all the allure of a New England settlement despite being far away from the New England states. The Judge Eghart House is a prime example of how Victorian life was lived in the 1800s. Lake Michigan’s waves spray and kiss the iconic Port Washington Breakwater Light, a historic landmark from 1860 that now serves as a museum chronicling the town’s foundations since 1848.

Elsewhere, the Luxembourg American Cultural Center’s Roots and Leaves Museum tells the story of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the struggles of Luxembourg immigrants in the US. With a reputation for fishing, the Nicky Boy Charters allows visitors and locals to hire the best captains in Port Washington for fishing trips from April to October. Anyone can also undertake scuba diving experiences to sightsee shipwrecks and other oddities deep in Lake Michigan’s waters. Should you wish to retire someplace nice and cozy for the evening, The Harborview has all the accommodations you require for a leisurely stay in Port Washington.

Chippewa Falls

Chippewa River Dam with Lake Wissota in the distance in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
Chippewa River Dam with Lake Wissota in the distance in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

Fall in love with Chippewa Falls, a verdant utopia sheltering some of the vibrant habitats in the US. Less than ten miles away from Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls flows down into the sparkling Lake Wissota. There, you can go kayaking and fishing across the placid waters and into a few excellent destinations like Lake Wissota State Park and Skydive Wissota, the latter letting you go skydiving atop Lake Wissota and Chippewa Falls. At the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, one can whoop and cheer at several local festivities and playgrounds, while the Micon Cinemas Chippewa Falls creates an old school ambiance when watching the latest or oldest of films. Irvine Park Zoo shelters and protects some of the most unique animals in the world, while Erickson Park houses many breathtaking nature trails and treks. On September 20 and 21, Chippewa Falls celebrates its German roots with Oktoberfest. See more of what Chippewa Falls has to offer.

New Glarus

New Glarus has often been referred to as the “Little Switzerland of America.” As a 34-minute getaway from the city of Madison, you need not travel far to appreciate the vivacious Swiss culture best exemplified by the Wilhelm Tell Festival on September, a local event commemorating one of the greatest archers in Europe during the Medieval Age. There is also a Polkafest in June 7 - 8, a Heidi Folk Play on June 8, Swiss Volksfest (Swiss Independence Day) on August 4, and many more Swiss festivities in New Glarus.

Golfers can play fun games at the Edelweiss Chalet Country Club, while alcohol aficionados can sample award-winning produce at the New Glarus Brewing Company or the Whiskey Run Distillery. The New Glarus State Park provides relaxing trails and treks in the Wisconsin wilderness, and the Swiss Historical Village & Museum showcases recreational exhibits of early settler life. Let the semi-alpine atmosphere of the town lull you to rest in fine establishments such as the Chalet Landhaus Inn, The Blanc Chalet, or Wolf’s Den.


Magic and wonder shimmer the air in the state where the legendary magician, Harry Houdini, was born. Besides the many geographical landmarks like the Cave of the Mounds and the House on the Rock, the most charming small towns to visit in Wisconsin are stunning landmarks of historic value and seasonal delight. From seaside villages like Elkhart Lake and Lake Geneva to magnificent destinations such as New Glarus and Bayfield, you will feel rejuvenated and restored while exploring these majestic locations in a state built by badgers (aka miners in the 1820s). Cheer for your favorite lumberjack at Hayward or absorb the festive energies of Sturgeon Bay. Wherever you go, have a drink of milk or beer in a state renowned for making both.

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