Lakefront hotels in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Editorial credit: lito_lakwatsero /

9 Serene Towns in Wisconsin for a Weekend Retreat

Wisconsin may be known for its impressive dairy production, but there is far more to this midwestern gem than just milk and cheese. Wisconsin is a truly beautiful slice of the country. Between small town lighthouses, winding hiking trails, and state parks hugged by intricate sandstone formations-nature lovers will have the time of their lives during a weekend getaway in The Badger State.


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

Bayfield, Wisconsin is a delightful town situated on the shores of Lake Superior. With less than 600 residents, Bayfield is the lowest-populated city in the entire state. But, what the town lacks in size, it makes up for in things to do. Start a visit off on the right foot by scoring accommodations at one of Bayfield’s top-rated spots including the elegant Queen's View Bayfield, the lake-side Seagull Bay motel, or the charming Old Rittenhouse Inn bed and breakfast. Once settled, hit the town for a day filled with hiking along the Big Ravine Trails. Next, take to the water for a boat tour of the Apostle Islands. For a relaxing break, pack a picnic and visit Bayfield Civic League - Memorial Park where guests are free to lounge on the grass and admire the waterfront views. Finally, dive deeper into the town's maritime history at the Bayfield Maritime Museum.

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 /

Hundreds of miles from Bayfield, on the shores of Lake Michigan, travelers will find Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. According to Elkhart Lake’s website, the town was originally named “Me-shay-way-o-deh-ni-bis” by the indigenous Potawatomi people who called this land home. This name translates to “Great Elk Heart Lake” and was inspired by an elk heart-shaped lake inside the town. Today, Elkhart Lake draws in tourists from all over with its racing history, charming pubs, and beautiful outdoor spaces. Those seeking serenity and relaxation will want to book accommodations at Siebkens Resort. The resort is close to all kinds of fun activities and features multiple restaurants, various room styles, and charming amenities including an outdoor pool and a private sandy beach. In the 1950s, Elkhart Lake was known for hosting car races on public county roads. These days, curious travelers can enjoy similar thrills at Road America-a popular track nearby. Visitors can also enjoy a day of watersports and serene views at The Shore Club.


The world's largest muskie, at the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, is Hayward's most famous landmark
The world's largest muskie, at the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, is Hayward's most famous landmark, By Bobak Ha'Eri, CC BY 3.0 - Wikimedia Commons

Similar to Elkhart Lake, Hayward, Wisconsin is also known for hosting popular racing events-the only difference is Hayward’s races do not involve cars. Each year tourists and locals alike flock to Hayward to watch the Slumberland American Birkebeiner and the Chequamegon Fat Tire Bicycle Race. Additionally, the town has a reputation for good fishing and offers an abundance of ATV trails for visitors to explore. Those looking for more laid-back activities can pose for a photo with the world's largest musky statue at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. The statue, which stands at a whopping 143 feet long and 41 feet tall, features interior stairs so museum visitors can pose inside the fish's mouth. Those looking for relaxing hiking opportunities in town can visit the public library where they will find the half-mile Library Nature Trail which features educational information along the way. As far as Hayward accommodations go, visitors will find a slew of chain hotels including a Holiday Inn in the area.

Lake Geneva

Lakeside of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Lakeside of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Image credit VinayPathak87 via Shutterstock

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin is a beautiful town located less than 80 miles from big city attractions in Madison and Milwaukee. Despite Lake Geneva’s proximity to larger cities, it still has a distinct small-town charm. Outdoor enthusiasts are sure to have a blast exploring places like Riviera Beach and Big Foot Beach State Park. In the state park, visitors can enjoy 5 miles of hiking trails, swimming, cute picnic areas, playground equipment, and campsites. Those looking to dive deeper into the town’s history should pay a visit to the Geneva Lakes Museum. For comfortable accommodations, head to Maxwell Mansion-a boutique hotel less than a mile from the sandy shores of Riviera Beach.

Port Washington

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

Port Washington, Wisconsin is another charming town located not far from Milwaukee along the shores of Lake Michigan. Known for having a “New England flair,” Port Washington offers visitors a wide range of things to see, taste, and do. Start the trip off on a relaxing note with a visit to Coal Dock Park. The park features walking paths along the waterfront, easy access to downtown amenities and attractions, picturesque views of the Port Washington Breakwater Lighthouse, and an Avian Sanctuary for birdwatching. Coal Dock Park is also conveniently located near the town's marina for anyone looking to dock a boat during their stay. For a fun change of pace, head to Harbor Hills Recreation Bowling & Lounge for a few hours of fun. After all that bowling, travelers with a sweet tooth can check out local sweet shop-The Chocolate Chisel, for some hand-crafted goodies. Those craving a taste of that New England charm should also consider booking weekend accommodations at the Port Washington Inn.

Eagle River

Street view in Eagle River, Wisconsin
Street view in Eagle River, Wisconsin

Anyone traveling with kids should set their sights on the serene town of Eagle River, Wisconsin. Known as the “snowmobile capital of the world,” Eagle River is littered with family-friendly things to do in every season. Spend a few hours igniting the imagination of children and adults alike at Pirates Hideaway. The local family-owned business offers pirate ship cruises as well as a tiki bar and ice cream shop. Next, pay a visit to the Northwoods Children’s Museum & Discovery Toy Store where children are encouraged to learn via the power of play. And the excitement does not stop there-after a trip through the museum, keep the good times rolling with a few rounds of mini putt at Eagle Falls Adventure Golf. Finally, to slow things down, head to the World Snowmobile Headquarters to dive into the history of Snowmobiling and how it relates to Eagle River. As for weekend accommodations, check out places such as the Eagle River Inn & Resort or the Wild Eagle Lodge, which both offer stunning outdoor landscapes, pools, and comfortable rooms.

Wisconsin Dells

Tourists enjoy a ride on the Original Wisconsin Ducks 2.5ton six-wheel amphibious truck ride in Wisconsin Dells.
Tourists enjoy a ride on the Original Wisconsin Ducks 2.5ton six-wheel amphibious truck ride in Wisconsin Dells. Editorial credit: Aaron of L.A. Photography /

Another perfect weekend destination for families traveling with kids is Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Highly regarded for its glacier-carved sandstone formations, this naturally beautiful town has plenty to offer visitors. In the warmer months, pay a visit to the Wisconsin Deer Park. The education-focused petting zoo is home to over 100 deer and other wildlife that visitors can admire and hand-feed. Another must-visit spot during the summer is Noah's Ark Water Park. With over 70 attractions on site, Noah’s Ark is the largest waterpark in America. Those who didn’t get their wildlife fill at the deer park can head to Timbavati Wildlife Park which houses over 400 animals including sloths and red pandas. Next, spend a day exploring the rock formations this town is known for, including the picturesque Witches Gulch. To do this, travelers will need to book a Dells Boat Tour, but don’t worry the boats take scheduled shore landings, allowing guests to get off the boat and explore the grounds a bit. Finally, plan to take a walk through Rocky Arbor State Park where guests can enjoy hiking, stunning sandstone bluffs, and cozy campsites.

Sturgeon Bay

Overlooking Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
Overlooking Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

If the last two destinations were all about the kids, then Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin is all about the adults. Between state parks, museums, and wineries, relaxation awaits around every corner in this charming maritime town. Settle into incredible weekend accommodations at the Snug Harbor Inn which offers luxury rooms, waterfront views, communal fire pits, BBQs, and picnic areas. Once checked in, it is time to explore the great outdoors of Sturgeon Bay. Start with Cave Point County Park where hiking trails, underwater caves, and a rocky beach await. Certain trails in the park run adjacent to Whitefish Dunes State Park, which is also worth a visit. Plant enthusiasts will then want to visit The Garden Door-a wonderfully manicured and maintained public garden, designed to educate and inspire home gardeners. History buffs looking to learn more about Sturgeon Bay’s past can spend an hour or so wandering the ​​​​​​​Door County Maritime Museum. And to finish the weekend off in good spirits, do not forget to check out local wineries including Door Peninsula Winery.


Aerial Sunset View of Sheboygan, Wisconsin on Lake Michigan
Aerial Sunset View of Sheboygan, Wisconsin on Lake Michigan

Roughly 100 miles from Sturgeon Bay, on the shores of Lake Michigan, travelers will find the truly serene town of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Here, expect to spend most of the weekend slowly wandering through outdoor spaces, and getting spa treatments at the wonderful Blue Harbor Resort. In addition to the spa, the Blue Harbor Resort also offers luxury rooms, a massive water park, restaurants, and magical views of the lake-making it an ideal home base for a weekend getaway. Sheboygan also boasts several local parks, all of which are worth exploring. For example, Maywood Park features eight hiking trails while Evergreen Park is home to a baseball diamond and horseshoe pits. For something truly enchanting visits to the Bookworm Gardens and the Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden are a must.

In Conclusion…

With so many serene and fun-filled towns in Wisconsin, picking which one to see first is the hardest part of planning a weekend getaway. Between the sandstone bluffs in Wisconsin Dells, the magical storybook-themed garden in Sheboygan, and the New England vibes in Port Washington, there is something for everyone here in America’s dairyland.

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