Wisconsin, a state with an infinite and sublime spread of meadows and farmlands, is more than just cheese and football (but those are already a pretty fantastic start). The towns of this ever-friendly midwestern state, each with a distinct character, are endowed with scenic beauty, captivating historical sites, and many things to do. From the tranquil riverbanks of Spring Green to the Norwegian roots of Mount Horeb, these towns do an excellent job of capturing the quintessential Wisconsin experience.
Located along the Wisconsin River, Spring Green is a delightful small town surrounded by endlessly lush fields and forestry. Regarding "things to do," many visitors like to attend the American Players Theatre. This outdoor classical theater hosts Shakespearean and other plays during the summer months. Architecture enthusiasts will love Taliesin, the home and studio of the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Designed in harmony with the surrounding landscape, this 800-acre estate offers guided tours that provide insight into Wright's life and work. Finally, a trip to Spring Green is never complete without exploring House on the Rock. This Japanese-inspired tourist attraction features a sprawling complex of rooms, gardens, and exhibits, including one of the world's largest indoor carousels. A curiosity in the middle of the midwestern expanse, Spring Green is definitively Wisconsin.
A pleasant little town huddled away in Door County, Ephraim was founded in 1853 to be a sanctuary for practitioners of the ancient Moravian Church. Their values were steadfast, which is apparent in how it was the only dry (alcohol-free) municipality in Wisconsin until 2016. This 'narrowing' has helped diversify other activities in the areas, and for instance, many outdoor enthusiasts venture into Peninsula State Park. These wilderness folks typically seek out hiking, biking, and camping opportunities, as well as the gorgeous views of Green Bay. Furthermore, art lovers tend to appreciate Anderson Dock, a historic warehouse transformed into a gallery showcasing regional talent. Last, for those more 'stomach-minded,' a famous place to recharge in Ephraim is Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, a classic establishment serving delicious ice cream and other treats since 1906.
Cedarburg, found just 20 miles north of downtown Milwaukee, is a small town that was first incorporated in 1885, and it has blossomed into a sanctuary for the art community. The Cedarburg Art Museum highlights local artists, offering a glimpse into the creative spirit of the region. Wine aficionados will enjoy visiting the Cedar Creek Winery, housed in an 1864 limestone mill, where they can sample a variety of wines and learn about the winemaking process. For those who prefer exploring the outdoors, the Ozaukee Interurban Trail provides 30 miles of paved trail, perfect for biking, walking, and birdwatching. This trail connects Cedarburg with neighboring communities, and it also creates accessible views of the countryside and a chance to experience the natural beauty of Wisconsin.
Bayfield, the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, offers a mix of maritime history and natural beauty. The Lakeshore comprises 12 miles of coast and 21 islands with sandstone cliffs, old lighthouses, and sea caves. Kayaking is the locally-recommended way to explore these wonders, and companies like Makwa Den will happily arrange tours for interested parties. The Bayfield Heritage Association provides insights into the area's past, with exhibits on Native American history, maritime artifacts, and local lore. Every October, the town hosts the Apple Festival, where visitors can indulge in a variety of apple-based foods, witness a grand parade, and engage in fun-filled autumn activities.
Often referred to as a "living museum," Mineral Point is bursting with mining-related history after it was settled by folks like Henry Dodge in 1827. The Pendarvis Historic Site offers a glimpse into the lives of these early Cornish miners with preserved stone cottages and mine shafts. The Mineral Point Railroad Museum further showcases the town's historical significance, highlighting the importance of railroads in 19th-century mining operations. For art lovers, Brewery Pottery is a necessary destination. This gallery, housed in a renovated brewery, exhibits the works of local artists, providing an opportunity to appreciate regional creativity.
Known as "America's Little Switzerland," New Glarus celebrates its Swiss heritage with pride. The New Glarus Brewing Company, famous for its Swiss-style beers, offers tours and tastings that draw beer enthusiasts from around the country. The Swiss Historical Village takes visitors back in time, demonstrating how Swiss settlers lived in the 19th century through 14 reconstructed buildings. For nature lovers, the Sugar River State Trail offers a scenic 24-mile hiking and biking path winding through woods, meadows, and rolling hills, providing a tranquil passage through a softer world.
Set along the banks of the Mississippi, Stockholm is a quaint town where tradition meets creativity. Most importantly, this tightly-packed community has a population that hovers at just over 70, so you can expect to be treated like a long-lost family member. The Stockholm Pie and General Store is an iconic stop, offering mouthwatering pies that have garnered national attention. The nearby Lake Pepin, the largest lake on the Mississippi, offers excellent opportunities for boating and fishing. It also comes, quite uniquely, with a working lighthouse, and many consider it to be the birthplace of water skiing. Regarding activities, Many folks will tour around and visit Maiden Rock Bluff or the Little House Wayside Cabin, a mid-1800s hut with a sentimental story to tell about its original inhabitants.
Elkhart Lake is a paradise for motor and nature enthusiasts alike. Road America, a world-renowned racing venue, is an incredibly fast permanent racing track. The lake itself, known for its crystal-clear waters, offers opportunities for boating, swimming, and fishing. Kayaking is also fairly popular, and it is a common sight to see a 'school' of little boats drifting from one shore to the other. For those inclined towards outdoor pursuits, the nearby Kettle Moraine State Forest also allows for hiking, biking, and camping options. The Throttlestop Motorcycle Museum maintains a rotating collection of 200 antique bikes as well as cars and vintage engines. Elkhart Lake, therefore, is best described as a little slice of everything.
Rooted in Norwegian heritage, Mount Horeb offers a proper blend of history and nature. The region was originally the home of the Ho-Chunk nation, but European settlers aggressively managed to make room for themselves and name the site after a biblical place. The Cave of the Mounds, a National Natural Landmark, possesses tunnels of mesmerizing and beautiful limestone formations, available for viewing on guided tours. Mount Horeb's main street, known as the "Trolley," is lined with whimsical troll statues, offering a fun and quirky experience for visitors. The Grumpy Troll Brew Pub, a beloved local brewery, serves a variety of craft beers, the consumption of which is arguably the official state sport of Wisconsin.
These towns are more than just dots on the map; they are living, breathing entities that continue to evolve, carrying forward traditions while welcoming change. Whether it is the Swiss heritage of New Glarus, the mining history of Mineral Point, the maritime allure of Bayfield, or the motor racing excitement of Elkhart Lake, each town portrays a different aspect of Wisconsin life. Together, they paint a picture of a state that is as diverse as it is beautiful.