Aerial View of Downtown Janesville, Wisconsin during summer.

The Best Small Towns To Retire In Wisconsin

One of the pillars of the Midwest, Wisconsin is famous for its diverse and beautiful geography, delicious dairy products, and the kind of midwestern charm known throughout the country. For seniors and retirees looking for a comfortable and affordable place to retire, the cities, towns, and villages of Wisconsin offer all and more that anyone could ask for. Cities like Milwaukee and Green Bay can provide urban life and professional sports while the state is full of quaint villages ripe for small-town life. However, if it is a natural beauty and the outdoors you are searching for, these six Wisconsin towns can provide it in spades. Fishing, boating, hiking, and biking are among only a few of the outdoor activities these communities offer, as well as the culture and history that comes with living in the heartland of the United States.


Aerial view of Lawrence University, Appleton Wisconsin
Lawrence University, Appleton Wisconsin.

Resting on the Fox River and only 30 miles from Green Bay is the 6th largest city in the state, Appleton. With a population of 75,000, it strikes the balance between small towns and urban, providing the best of both. It is also a great city for fishing. The Fox River has been the site of many state fishing records, including those for the striped bass and shortnose gar. However, fishing is only part of the outdoor experience in Appleton. There are many trails that run alongside the river, most of which are paved and perfect for hiking, biking, or skating. There are even unpaved trails for horseback riding. There is also Lake Butte des Morts not far from the town. During the summer, the lake is a great spot for fishing, but it is also a great spot for ice fishing during the winter. There are also many trails around the lake for those more interested in the dry land. Combining these outdoor opportunities with all the amenities of a city and exciting spots like The History Museum at the Castle, Appleton is a great spot to call home.


Riverfront and buildings in Janesville Wisconsin
Riverfront Janesville, Wisconsin.

If you want a similar feel to Appleton but also want to stay close to the Illinois border for travel and tourism, Janesville is the place to head. A city of 65,000 people, Janesville has many exciting outdoor experiences. The Rock River bisects the city as it flows and with the river comes great opportunities for fishing, water sports, and paddle sports. There is also a great system of paved trails along the river. For hikers, there is also the Sugar River State Trail that has beautiful views through parts of both Wisconsin's natural history and rail history. For those who want a great urban hub to explore the outdoors, Janesville is the right choice.


Baraboo, Wisconsin, Ringling Theater exterior, named for the home of the Ringling Brothers Circus
Baraboo, Wisconsin, Ringling Theater. Image credit lynn friedman via Shutterstock

For a more small-town feel, Baraboo is a great destination. With the Baraboo River flowing through the town and a wide variety of natural landmarks in the surrounding area, it is a great place for anyone with a love of the outdoors. The Baraboo River is a great spot for fishing and running alongside it is the nearby Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail for hiking, biking, and skating. Just south of town is Devil's Lake State Park, the largest state park in Wisconsin. It has many beautiful rock formations and glacial features, as well as hiking trails, biking trails, campsites, rock climbing spots, and a sledding hill. There are also several Native American burial grounds. There is another great park near Baraboo as well, Pewit's Nest State Natural Area that has many more beautiful views of Wisconsin's glaciated landscape. These great natural places combined with the homey Midwest feel of Baraboo make for a great place to call home.

Sturgeon Bay

An image of steel bridge and boats located in historic Sturgeon Bay located in Door County Wisconsin
Sturgeon Bay in Door County Wisconsin.

For those who want live lakeside on Lake Michigan, Sturgeon Bay is the place to be. The largest city on the Door Peninsula that struts out into Lake Michigan, a population of just over 9,500 gives the place a great small-town feel. For anyone with a love of boating, this a great spot. The town has a port onto Sturgeon Bay, the water feature the town draws its name from. Recreational boaters will enjoy easy access to the lake while those with a love of fishing can find spots on the shoreline or take a trip out onto the bay. There are also recreational cruises that leave from the docks and sail around Sturgeon Bay. For those with an interest in the maritime industry, Sturgeon Bay is also a great place for ship spotting, as the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal cuts right through the area. For those who are not as interested in spending time on the lake, there is also the Potawatomi State Park, a stunning location with amenities for hiking, biking, snowmobiling, fishing, and canoeing. Alongside the incredible amount of Native American historical landmarks in the area, Sturgeon Bay is a great place to call home for those who love the water.


Aerial view typical suburban street. Residential houses, agricultural field from above. Autumn Fall scenery, Rural landscape. Grafton, Wisconsin
Farmlands and homes in Grafton, Wisconsin.

A small town full of local history, Grafton can cater to history lovers of all kinds as well as those who love the outdoors. With a population of just over 12,000, this small town has a great midwestern atmosphere. The Ozaukee Interurban Trail runs through the town and out into the countryside, as well as through the wilderness. This a great spot for hiking and biking, as well as spotting animals and admiring the glaciated plain where Grafton sits. The Milwaukee River also runs through the town and is ripe for those who enjoy fishing. Alongside the natural beauty, there is a wealth of local history. Many landmarks remain from the early colonial era including the lime kilns of the Milwaukee Falls Lime Company and the Grafton Flour Mill. There are also many historical spots related to Paramount Records, a major records company that specialized in producing African American music in the early 20th century.


Buildings in downtown Elroy, Wisconsin.
Downtown Elroy, Wisconsin.

If even towns like Sturgeon Bay or Grafton sound too large, then Elroy is the place to head. In a small village numbering just under 1,500, peace and quiet are in abundance. Situated in the western plains section of the state, Elroy has many exciting outdoor opportunities despite its small size. The Elroy-Sparta State Trail runs through the town, a paved trail for hiking, cycling, and skating. This trail is also a rail trail, running along the path of an abandoned railway, and as a result, there are railway tunnels you can walk or bike through. There is also the nearby 400 State Trail which is not only for hiking and biking but also offers access to snowmobiling and equestrian trails. Both the Elroy-Sparta Trail and 400 State Trail pass historic buildings and connect to many other trail systems, allowing dedicated bikers or hikers to travel many miles.

Wisconsin is a great place to travel and an even better place to retire to, especially if the outdoors and natural beauty are important parts of your life. Whether it is boating on the bay, fishing in a river, or hiking through a glaciated plain, Wisconsin has it all and its cities are all great hubs to explore this heartland of the Midwest.

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