Downtown street in Stockholm, Wisconsin in the summer. Image credit Angelika Lindner via Wikimedia Commons

7 Most Charming River Towns in Wisconsin to Visit in 2024

Wisconsin is a colorful destination chock full of opportunities for year-round fun, ranging from a plethora of winter sports to an array of summer activities, with plenty of ways to celebrate each season. Travelers come from far and wide to enjoy the world's largest music festival, known as Summerfest in Milwaukee, or indulge in some of the more niche events that are only accessible with a visit to some of the state's small towns. Wisconsin is also known for its collection of rivers, home to the Great River Road, with plenty of appealing small towns dappled along the shoreline of popular destinations such as the Mississippi River.

So, why not enjoy all of Wisconsin's charming events and gorgeous river views with a trip to some of its charming small towns in 2024?


Public library in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, designed by Claude and Starck and built in 1907
Public library in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, designed by Claude and Starck and built in 1907. Now a bed and breakfast. By Jeff the quiet - Own work, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

The town of Ladysmith sits on the shores of the Flambeau River, which is one of the best summer vacation spots in Wisconsin. The destination is a canoer or kayaker's dream, with hiking trails accessible along the shore of the river. It does not fail to delight in winter, either, with opportunities for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Travelers may indulge in the history of the area by perusing the rail museums and displays throughout town, such as the Rusk County Visitors Center & Rail Museum, as well as the Rusk County Historical Society Museum.

There are cultural arts, music, and dance performances, such as the annual Northland Mardi Gras each July, or Music in the Park in Veterans Pavilion in Memorial Park every Thursday in June through July.


Looking east in downtown Tomahawk
Looking east in downtown Tomahawk, Wisconsin, By Royalbroil - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Tomahawk sits at the confluence of the Wisconsin, Tomahawk, and Spirit Rivers, with plenty of room for travelers to cast a line or head out on the water for a day of summer fun. It is also a hiker's paradise, overflowing with trails open year-round, whether visitors are wearing hiking boots or snowshoes. Bearskin State Trail, stretching from Minocqua to Lake Tomahawk in the Northwoods, is one of the best fall hikes in Wisconsin, with a snowmobile trail in the winter months. ATVing, camping, and birdwatching are also popular activities. There are several parks with views of the water, such as Bradley Park, or beaches like Frenchtown Beach, Crystal Beach, and Spirit Flowage Beach.

Events in 2024 include Fun Runs, Beer Tents, the Slow Bike Race, Bonfire and Brat Fry, and more, all featuring local vendors, live music, and good eats.

Prairie du Chien

Villa Louis, Villa Louis Historic Site, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
Villa Louis, Villa Louis Historic Site, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

Prairie du Chien, one of the oldest founded towns in Wisconsin, sits just above the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, two of the longest rivers in Wisconsin. Villa Louis Historical Site is a must-see from spring through fall. It is a beautifully preserved Victorian mansion that offers guided tours and shares insight into the unique history of the area and its role in the fur trade. There is also the Fort Crawford Museum, open from May through October, once an outpost of the United States Army in the 19th century. Pikes Peak State Park is just outside of town on the Great River Road, ideal for hiking, camping, and scenic views of the rivers.

Events in 2024 include the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, FolkFest in May, the Historic Prairie du Chien Riverfront Walking Tour in June, and the Prairie Dog Blues Fest in July.


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

Stockholm is one of the most scenic Wisconsin towns, situated on the Mississippi River. The town offers plenty of opportunities to indulge in the local arts and culture with a trip to the WideSpot Performing Arts Center or local wine and ciders at the Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery. Stockholm also sits on the banks of Lake Pepin, where visitors enjoy water sports and swimming, not to mention scenic views. The town, founded by Swedish immigrants, has a culture deeply rooted in Swedish traditions, hosting God Jul: Three Weekends of Celebration each December, highlighting local artists and artisans, workshops, and great food.

Maiden Rock

Downtown Maiden Rock, Wisconsin
Downtown Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, By Royalbroil - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Maiden Rock is just under ten minutes from Stockholm and is one of the most unforgettable small towns in Wisconsin, just one hour south of the Twin Cities. The area is a popular destination for yoga retreats, whether for work, with a partner, or on your own, home to the lovely Maiden Rock Retreat. The quaint river town is an ideal fishing destination, but it is also popular among hikers and outdoor adventurists. Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area is nearby, overlooking Lake Pepin and is one of Wisconsin's limestone cliff faces, sitting high above the Mississippi River. Nearby events in 2024 include Blues on the Chippewa, Valley Springs Dual Sport Motorcycle Ride, and the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival.


Great River Road Overlook at Alma, Wisconsin.
Great River Road Overlook at Alma, Wisconsin.

Alma also sits on the shoreline of the Mississippi River on the western Wisconsin border. Many visitors enjoy exploring the “stairway streets” that climb scenic river bluffs, as well as fishing, skiing, pontooning, canoeing, kayaking, or cruising along the river. Birding is also a popular activity as bald eagles gather in large numbers in the winter months as the fish in the river. The best places for hiking are Mossy Hollow, a gentle trail, and Buena Vista, a steeper trek, both of which offer views of the Mississippi River Valley.

Local events and festivals include the Fire in the Shire, Swiss Heritage Day, Alma Music & Arts Festival, and Christmas in Alma.


Part of Pepin's business district
Part of Pepin's business district in Wisconsin

Pepin is just 20 minutes from Alma and also sits on the shores of the rushing Mississippi, as well as the serene Lake Pepin. The lake is a popular destination for beach days and hours spent cruising along the water, as well as jet skiing, swimming, fishing, and more. In winter, it continues to delight, with opportunities for ice fishing, ice boat sailing, snowmobiling trails, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and of course, birdwatching for bald eagles. The town once housed author Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie children's books, a story discoverable at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, open spring through fall.

Events in 2024 in Pepin include the Leap Year Masquerade Ball in March, Open Mic Nights every Friday at the Humble Moon Saloon, the Spring Flood Run in April, and the Little House on the Prairie 50th Anniversary Cast Reunion from May 10 to 12 at the Villa Bellezza Winery.

Enjoy a Trip to Wisconsin's River Towns!

Wisconsin explodes with beauty, and a trip to some of its smaller river towns promises a unique adventure in 2024. There are plenty of events and happenings no matter the destination, ensuring a memorable vacation in Wisconsin. From the regular Fun Runs and Beer Tents in Tomahawk to the enticing Northland Mardi Gras in Ladysmith in July, there is plenty to enjoy throughout the year in Wisconsin's charming river towns.

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