People at a Jetskis rental-shop at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin

11 Most Underrated Towns In Wisconsin To Take A Trip To

Wisconsinites consume almost 21 million gallons of ice cream annually! While many tourists visit to experience its milky delights, there is more to see and do in America’s Dairyland. From scenic natural beauty and captivating history to friendly, down-to-earth communities, you can always look forward to something exciting. Naturally, most travelers gravitate towards big cities like Milwaukee and Madison, but hidden in the backcountry are cute locales showcasing the uniqueness of small-town Midwest life. 

These quaint communities offer a needed break from the tumult and turmoil of urban living. Although grossly overlooked, they present the perfect mix of attractions for an engaging holiday. Whether you are looking for an authentic experience of rural Wisconsin life, curious to discover unexplored historic sites, or buzzing to partake in rare outdoor thrills, prepare for this and more in these underrated towns in Wisconsin.


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

Popularly called the “Birthplace of Waterskiing,” Pepin presents unlimited water-based fun. This small lakeside community of less than 1,000 features a laid back atmosphere that draws visitors around the state. Guests enjoy beautiful views of Lake Pepin and the Mississippi River at the Pepin Marina, providing various opportunities to get on the water, from boating to kayaking. Away from the water, you will encounter the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park near downtown. This urban oasis charms with a relaxed setting, providing the ideal escape from the activities in the town center. The park houses the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, which celebrates the life and legacy of Laura Ingalls. You can browse a diverse collection of farm tools, furniture, household items, and other memorabilia related to the iconic author. Pepin also hosts a thriving restaurant and bar scene, with multiple joints treating travelers to delicious dishes. Homemade café is a popular eatery in town and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a charming outdoor seating area. 

New Glarus

People enjoying a beer outdoor in New Glarus
People enjoying a beer outdoor in New Glarus, via Kristen Prahl /

New Glarus is aptly nicknamed “America’s Little Switzerland” and harbors a rich Swiss heritage, evident in its chalet-style architecture and sumptuous Swiss cuisine. Culture connoisseurs can look forward to an authentic experience at the Swiss Historical Village Museum, which preserves the town’s culture and history. It features an original old Swiss settlement with different historic buildings displaying various artifacts. The cultural experience continues at the Chalet of the Golden Fleece Museum, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It boasts a massive collection of items that immerse you in a wealth of Swiss art, culture, and history. 

Those looking to step outside can visit the New Glarus Woods State Park to enjoy a cozy green space. It offers countless outdoor opportunities, from hiking and cycling to snowmobiling along the 22-mile Sugar River State Recreation Trail. For the complete Swiss experience, try stopping by Glarner Stube to enjoy delicious Swiss fare. 

Ellison Bay

Looking southerly in downtown Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, on Wisconsin Highway 42
Looking southerly in downtown Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, on Wisconsin Highway 42, By Royalbroil - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

This easygoing waterfront community in northern Door County is the quintessential small-town retreat, delivering a slow pace of life, green surroundings, and a mix of outdoor opportunities. Adventurers gather at the Ellison Bluff State Natural Area to enjoy scenic lake views. The park features a forested bluff, picturesque nature trails, and enough seating areas for picnickers. You can continue exploring the great outdoors at Newport State Park, which straddles at least 2,300 acres with 11 miles of picturesque Lake Michigan shoreline. It is a popular hub for swimmers, hikers, campers, backpackers, and snowmobilers.

Meanwhile, those who prefer outdoor pursuits can peek into the area’s maritime history at the Death’s Door Maritime Museum. Housed inside is a sizeable collection of artifacts, including scuba diving equipment and a shipwreck documenting Ellison Bay’s nautical exploits. Alternatively, you can enjoy refreshing locally crafted brews at Mink River Basin while admiring beautiful river views. 

Lake Geneva

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

This adorable resort city on Lake Geneva is famous for glistening waters, luxurious mansions, and a bustling downtown. Most visitors to the town gather at Riviera Beach to take advantage of lakeside recreation like swimming, sunbathing, hiking, and boating. The popular beach is perfect for a family day out, offering enough real estate to accommodate multiple beachgoers. Just next to the beach is the Lake Geneva Shore Path, a popular walking route with stunning lake vistas. The path passes along the town’s beautiful historic estate with gorgeous mansions and well-manicured gardens. 

Visitors also tour the Geneva Lake Museum for some informative background to the town. This fine facility exhibits interactive exhibits and relics from bygone eras, featuring archaic artifacts from the Potawatomi Indians. Lastly, one of the best local experiences involves getting on the Lake Geneva Cruise Line to get a unique perspective of the town from the water. 


Aerial view of a small midwestern town of Sparta, Wisconsin
Aerial view of a small midwestern town of Sparta, Wisconsin.

The “Bicycling Capital of America,” as it is popularly known, has a rich cycling heritage that can be seen in different aspects of the town. This is especially true at the Deke Slayton Memorial Space and Bike Museum. The venue celebrates the “Progression of Transportation” while honoring astronaut Deke Slayton. It houses a charming collection of exhibits, including over 100 unique bikes and other artifacts from NASA. Another interesting stop for history lovers is the Monroe County Local History Room and Museum, which connects people to their family history through old photographs, archives, and online databases.

For a community reputed for biking exploits, Sparta presents generous opportunities to hop on two wheels and explore the great outdoors. The La Crosse River State Trail stretches 22 miles from the town to La Crosse, inviting bikers, walkers, and runners to exercise their legs. Come the cold season, all roads lead to the Whitetail Ridge Ski Area for fun in the snow. 


Annual Applefest in Bayfield, Wisconsin.
Annual Applefest in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Image credit Jacob Boomsma via Shutterstock

An escape to the beautiful Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Bayfield is an exquisite destination for outdoorsy travelers. The Apostle Islands Cruises Boat Tour is the best way to explore the magic of the water. This fun trip lets you explore the unique scenery of the Apostle Islands and make the most of wild camping, hiking, and wildlife-viewing experiences. Those too coy to get on the water can hang out at the Bayfield Lakeside Pavilion, a lovely event area with outdoor seating overlooking Chequamegon Bay. 

Bayfield is also home to the Bayfield Maritime Museum, which documents the nautical history of the town and the Apostle Islands area. It exhibits a vast collection of artifacts offering a window into over 150 years of Bayfield’s history. Finally, art enthusiasts can enjoy local art pieces at Bayfield Artists Guild. 

Egg Harbor

Egg Harbor Village sign in Door County, Wisconsin.
Egg Harbor Village sign in Door County, Wisconsin.

Despite its modest population, Egg Harbor has enough attractions to entertain all travelers. This Door County gem offers picturesque outdoor scenery, which you can soak at the Egg Harbor Marina. It boasts a family-friendly atmosphere perfect for chilling and people-watching. However, the best way to explore the town is to book a tour on the Door County Trolley. Guests enjoy fun sightseeing trips that take you through all the top sites in Egg Harbor tailored to your preferences. 

Egg Harbor boasts a thriving art and culture scene, housing a charming mix of art venues showcasing works by local creatives. An example is Off the Wheel Pottery, which invites connoisseurs to peruse sculptures, paintings, and glass art by local, regional, and local artists. 

Fish Creek

The White Gull Inn is a historic bed and breakfast inn and restaurant in Fish Creek.
The White Gull Inn is a historic bed and breakfast inn and restaurant in Fish Creek. Image credit Malachi Jacobs.

Fish Creek is one of the best towns in Wisconsin if you want to experience the beauty of the state’s backcountry. It is well-known for hosting the Peninsula State Park, which is easily the biggest draw in the area. Straddling over 3,700 acres, it is the third largest park in Wisconsin and welcomes an average of one million annual visitors to camp, hike, wildlife spot, and bike in a unique wilderness area. With so much to explore, visitors prefer taking the Fish Creek Scenic Boat Tours to discover the town from the water. This relaxed trip takes you through islands around Peninsula State Park, with stops at gems like the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. 

But if you prefer something more exciting, Door County Adventure Rafting organizes thrilling boat tours on a smaller but faster vessel, exploring the area's caves, lighthouses, islands, and shipwrecks. Finally, history enthusiasts can check out the Alexander Noble Museum from 1875, featured on the National Register of Historic Places. 


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

Sheboygan is a lovely community on the Lake Michigan Shores and a hub for outdoor adventurers. Hikers, campers, surfers, and skiers gather in this exciting town to explore its wild open spaces. Highlights include the Kohler-Andrae State Park, home to at least 100 campsites, 2.5 miles of sandy lake shores, and numerous nature trails. The 135-acre Maywood Park presents more adventures in the wild, especially for birdwatchers, skiers, and hikers, proving to be a hotspot around the year. Those curious about local history will have fun reviewing more than 30,000 artifacts exhibited at the Sheboygan County Historical Museum. Meanwhile, art enthusiasts can enjoy visual and performance art at the Jean Michael Kohler Art Center, which stages performances, events, and exhibitions ideal for all ages. 


Hayward is a small Town in Northern Wisconsin
Hayward is a small Town in Northern Wisconsin

The charming town of Hayward lies along the scenic banks of the Namekagon River and offers something for everyone. Outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy the scenic river trails well-suited for ATVs. Alternatively, they can relax with world-class fishing in the expansive Hayward Lakes system, comprising numerous interconnected lakes, rivers, and ponds. Anglers will find endless spots to try their luck and can learn more about the rich fishing history at the renowned Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. This museum attracts around 100,000 visitors annually, and the outside features a towering 143-foot muskie sculpture proclaimed the world's largest muskie.

Meanwhile, animal lovers can interact with exotic wildlife at the Wilderness Walk Zoo, home to rare species like black bears and tigers. The sanctuary provides an opportunity to appreciate these creatures up close.


Ringling Theater exterior in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Ringling Theater exterior in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Image credit lynn friedman via

Baraboo owes much of its identity, and tourism draws to its deep history with the legendary circus industry. Dubbed the "Circus City," it was here that the iconic Ringling Brothers established their winter quarters, cementing Baraboo's connection to the traveling shows. Visitors can delve into this colorful heritage at the flagship attraction, Circus World. At the Ringling Brothers' original facility, exhibits and artifacts showcase the evolutions in circus performances and periodic live productions. But Baraboo's natural surroundings shine just as brightly. 

Devil's Lake State Park is a jewel along the renowned Ice Age National Scenic Trail, offering scenic hiking trails and pristine shoreline vistas. Not far is the expansive Mirror Lake State Park, a 2,719-acre refuge for outdoor enthusiasts. Paddlers, anglers, and boaters enjoy the opportunities on Mirror Lake within its forests and wetlands. 

Final Thoughts

While big cities like Milwaukee and Green Bay steal much of the Badger State’s spotlight, the smaller, lesser-known towns are worth visiting. They are the true lifeblood of the state, harboring rich cultural and historical heritages that collectively preserve the authentic identity of America’s Dairyland. If you’d like to escape the hustle and bustle in the metro areas for a moment, it doesn’t get better than the laid back setting in any of the above underrated small towns in Wisconsin. This is the perfect opportunity for a fresh experience rarely available in famous cities.  


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