I like to amuse my out-of-state friends (or maybe just myself) with fun facts related to the geography of my location in a tiny northwest Wisconsin town. A drive to Target is over 75 miles round-trip. The nearest city with an actual skyline is Minneapolis, almost 80 miles southwest. I actually live closer to the capital of North Dakota than Wisconsin’s capital.
Despite my close proximity to nothing, there are things to do, and I’m better at finding them now.
1. Spend Time On the Water
Land of 10,000 Lakes it is not, but the largest cities in Wisconsin aren’t dotted along the eastern edge of the state for no reason; they’re built along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Not to mention Lake Superior to the north and the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers along the western border. We have lots of water here.
Door County is a hugely popular spot for summer vacations, but there are something like eleven million other places to enjoy your time afloat. You can go tubing down pretty much any river if you have a tube, or there are more commercial places that offer pretty cheap tube rentals and will shuttle you back to your car. Kayak and canoe rentals are also easy to come by, and I hear fishing and swimming remain popular throughout greater Wisconsin.
Bottom line: water is a way of life here.
2. Take A Cheese Tour
Or a brewery tour, if you love that other thing Wisconsin is famous for. There are a lot of breweries here for your pleasure, but I’m more a fan of cheese. There are dozens of little Wisconsin towns built around cheese, and you can go to all of them.
Seriously, you can get an actual cheese map that lists cheese stores, factories, and creameries throughout Wisconsin. You can take factory tours, learn about the cheese making process, and load up on your favorite variety. Many of these places also sell ice cream and other locally made items, so you’ll probably find something you like even if you’re not a cheese lover. Plus, you’ll see a lot of giant mouse-clutching-cheese statues. I sense a new profile picture in your future.
Every summer Milwaukee has what it bills as the “world’s largest music festival” featuring a lot of well-known musicians from a wide range of genres. For a pretty cheap price you’ll hear some live music, be among friendly people in the sun, enjoy some good drinks, and finally have a chance to wear that perfectly summery 70s Halloween costume.
4. Visit the Apostle Islands
In 40 years I’m going to be the dork in pleated khakis and a Hawaiian print shirt getting the last stamp in my national parks passport book. I am a National Parks Service devotee. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is one of many NPS-operated attractions in Wisconsin, but I’m going to talk about it because it’s particularly awesome.
To catch a glimpse of the islands, you can launch your own boat onto Lake Superior (scary), catch a commercial tour boat launching from Bayfield for a quick look, or have one of them dump you on an island for a night of camping. You can also ferry your car to Madeline Island to browse specialty shops in their cute downtown area if you want a break from nature.
Regardless, go there. Lake Superior is beautiful, and there will be sea caves. Sea caves.
5. See the Wisconsin Dells
Any Wisconsin natives reading this are probably rolling their eyes thinking back to the family vacation they took to the Dells back in junior high. Nothing like forced family bonding to forever cloud your judgement of an otherwise perfectly adequate place. There are a bunch of water parks in the Dells, not to mention a ton of silly tourist traps. I’m a fan of the upside down White House.
When you visit the actual Dells, you’ll probably find your tour guide to be witty if not cute, and that will make your time trapped on a boat with twelve bored kids and their parents more enjoyable. Whatever you do I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more than you did when you had no one but your thirteen-year-old brother to keep you company.
6. Ride the Pizza Train
OK this is ridiculous but Spooner, Wisconsin has an old train that you can ride on an hour long scenic route through Washburn County while eating pizza. Come on, that’s just fantastic. We just have to navigate their circa 2002 website to reserve our spots. Who’s with me?
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